Reviews

Red Steel

Azmol Meah

Where's the grit, the dirt? This is the mob we're meant to be dealing with, not Screech and Zack from Saved by the Bell.


Publisher: Ubisoft
Genres: First-person shooter
Price: $49.99
Multimedia: Red Steel
Platforms: Wii
Number of players: 1-4
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
US release date: 2006-11-19
Developer website

Flashback to April 2006, the month that the first in game screens were shown off for a Wii game, in the form of Ubisoft's hard boiled, Yakuza-themed action title Red Steel. A console supposedly lacking in the power stakes defied critics with clean, crisp, sharp images which silenced many of the Wii naysayers. More promisingly were the few gameplay ideas that leaked to the internet. Namely, sword fighting with the Wii-remote and a refined control scheme incorporating the nunchuck and wii-mote to rival mouse and keyboard. Coupled with the fancy gameplay videos of young, fashionable people doing all sorts of amazingly cool things, the rumors and screenshots left gamers frothing at the mouth in anticipation for Wii launch day. Red Steel had gone from relative unknown to system seller overnight.

Could Red Steel live up to the hype? Would it deliver the ninja slicing and dicing that so many hoped for? Would it re-design the landscape of the FPS? Is Jade Goody an elegant, classy lady? Hell no! The only thing that Red Steel delivered was the age old tradition of a developer with no clue as to what they're doing using hype as a smokescreen to conceal a game flawed in practically every department.

Things don't get off too a good start with the menus being obnoxiously confusing. The icons on the main title screen are represented with flashing neon Japanese lights; drag the option you desire into an overgrown TV screen, then further tweak with the wii-mote, and you'll know you've done something, though you'll still have no clue to as to what you just altered.

Red Steel then bombards us with some of the most amateurishly embarrassing presentation seen in a modern game. The menus while being horribly awkward are also unforgivably bland, with none of the flair or panache one would expect from a game so desperate to ape the balletic violence of any given John Woo flick. Surely some Momoyama-influenced art design couldn't have been too much to ask for.

The inescapable cut scenes are typically for an FPS presented in the static first person view during levels, without the option of skipping the cringe-worthy dialogue. Half Life introduced the concept, and nearly every FPS has ripped it off since. It was novel in 1998, and it can still be great if done properly; Red Steel, however, can't even manage that. As for the panel cutaway scenes supposedly meant to be super slick and to immerse us further into the Japanese underworld, well, to put it bluntly, any 12-year-old with Photoshop could have done better. They're simply terrible.

Worryingly and somewhat disturbingly, the voice acting and spoken dialogue borders on racist. The overacted speech sequences and the heavy stereotyping can at times make you wonder if Ubisoft Paris drew on the characterization of the Japanese in South Park as a reference point. To rub salt in the already deep wounds, the gangsters who run the seedy Fast and the Furious-like garage can only muster threats of "Get the moron, kill the jerk." Not only does this sound utterly unbelievable, but it's also patronizingly PC. Where's the grit, the dirt? This is the mob we're meant to be dealing with, not Screech and Zack from Saved By The Bell.

Five minutes into Red Steel, what becomes all too apparent is that visually, it could easily have been achieved on the Playstation 2. While the stylized route that Ubisoft Paris has opted for should be applauded, the graphics show a distinct lack of effort. While pretty in places, marrying traditional Japanese décor with a contemporary twist, they barely scratch the surface of top tier GameCube games.

And yet, despite the title and cover artwork, there is not a single drop of the red stuff, another illogical design flaw and an apparent attempt by Ubisoft to acquire a lower age rating for the 'Nintendo kids.' And what's with the giant borders? It's not as if there can be some technical excuse justifying them. More likely the developers believed that it would create a more cinematic effect -- the problem is, it doesn't, and can actually lead to your death on a few occasions.

Surely, then, the much hyped revolutionary control scheme can breathe life into this soulless, empty shell of a game, right? Alarmingly clear from the opening tutorial is that movement is unacceptably sluggish, aiming, turning and strafing all make you feel as if you're controlling a giant mech as oppose to a smooth, suave, sophisticated ninja killer. This is criminal when one considers the freedom and fluidity the Wii-mote can offer. Your retinal continually moves all over the screen as oppose to staying locked in the center, which makes learning the already complex controls even more of a chore. Aiming is made even more difficult due to your gun constantly being held at an angle, again the presumption being to make things seem "cool", though "desperate" seems more appropriate.

And then, there are the controls. The nunchuck has four different actions assigned to it on top of moving and strafing. The Wii-mote acts as a physical gun and can be just as clunky as the nunchuck. Using the Wii-mote to zoom in and out on a sniper has already become a nuisance and one that could have been better assigned to a button press. Not only are the motion sensoring capabilities of the wii-mote and nunchuck overused, the buttons are also poorly utilized, as the '1' and '2' buttons are made surplus. Considering how cumbersome and unresponsive grenade throwing or just interacting with your environment (a feature assigned to the nunchuck) is, it begs belief that those buttons went unused.

Gunplay boils down to firing as much as possible, with no lateral thinking or requirement for tactical play. Enemies charge at you, or just present themselves to be shot at. Often you can walk straight up to them and they still won't know you're there. Your health recharges automatically (as opposed to, say, acquiring med packs). The only time you'll be killed during gunfights then is when you're overrun with re-spawning enemies, or trying to escape a barrage of bullets. But since movement is so slow even after adjusting the settings, you'll soon find that hiding behind scenery or trying to flank your opponents becomes a task not worth the effort.

Thus, the last bastion of hope for Red Steel is the swordfighting; the Wii-mote should be perfect, with its design and accurate movements able to capture all manners of slashing and slicing. Yet, the biggest selling point of Red Steel is also its biggest handicap. The movements of your arms are not actually mimicked on screen; instead, your movements are acted giving you the illusion of swordplay, when in reality all you're doing is initializing button presses. There's also no duel wielding neither -- the Wii-mote is used for attack while the nunchuck acts as a shield -- and yet another opportunity goes begging.

To make matters worse, the sword fights are entirely scripted. Not just in the nature in which you confront them, but also when they happen. Those hoping to slice through Yakuza at will, will be left crushed when they realize that the game decides when and if you fight with the sword. Not only are the swordfights inescapable but they're also entirely illogical. Having just blasted through 30 enemies with your shotgun, you're suddenly forced to defend yourself with a puny Katana, when surely, using your Uzi would be far more effective.

Keeping with whole illogical mentality, Red Steel incorporates an RPG-lite system. One acquires "Respect points" by making enemies submit in gun/sword fights, or by performing moves learnt at the Dojo in battle (not to mention that those moves are impossible to learn due to the unresponsive sword controls, making it dangerous to use them anyway). Earn 1,000 points and you'll increase ranks and be awarded with titles like "Warrior". To play later levels you must have achieved certain levels, and if you haven't, then you've no choice but to play through earlier levels, which can take a full hour or so to pass. What's worse is that the RPG system plays no relevance in the actual gameplay at all, only managing to hinder your progress.

Yet despite all of this, Red Steel has become one of the best selling Wii titles at launch. Worryingly, there's already been an unconfirmed talk of a sequel on the back of retail success -- hopefully the developers will go some way to address the above issues with any sequels, as opposed to relying on the success of the original to sell copies. For now, however, this will be Red Steel's legacy, keeping with the tradition of console launch titles by bringing no new ides to the table, yet relying on hype and hysteria to sell thousands; it seems that some traditions just aren't meant to be broken.

3

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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