Monthly Archives: July 2010

PLAY FOR TODAY: VIDEO GAMES / AARON BURGESS

Column #8: Singularity, Crackdown 2, The
Cages: Pro-Style Batting Practice, APB: All Points Bulletin, Sniper: Ghost
Warrior

 

By Aaron Burgess

 

 Singularity

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3,
PC

Developer: Raven Software / Publisher: Activision

ESRB Rating: M

                                                                                                                       

The
Cold War may be resigned to history, but in Singularity,
developer Raven Software imagines a world where fallout from that era leads to
grave consequences today. Set on the quarantined island of Katorga-12-a place
where Soviet scientists inadvertently unleashed hell with the discovery of a
new element, E99-the game throws time travel, zombie warfare and tongue-in-cheek
dystopian drama into a blender and asks you to tear your way out of it.

 

Though
the plot doesn’t get much deeper than those few weird points, the action
does-quite literally, as you (playing as modern-day soldier Nate Renko) descend
into a BioShock-esque environment that
covers time, space and other areas where mortals typically tread lightly. Armed
with a gizmo, the TMD (Time Manipulation Device), retrieved from the Katorga-12
experiments, you can revert inanimate objects to previous states, solve puzzles
strewn throughout the game, and generally jack up the course of history in your
favor.

 

 

Weaponized,
the TMD proves even handier: You can change enemies’ physical properties to
make them less of a threat, freeze or cause foes to move at a crawl, and catch
and throw back objects à la the gravity
gun
in Half-Life 2. Along the way, you gain
powers and weapons that prove even more effective in combat-and, as you near the
game’s conclusion (complete with three separate endings), you need all the
heavy ammo you can get. Alternately, in Singularity‘s
simple-but-fun multiplayer mode, characters from the game (the monster-sized
tick being a personal favorite) also become weapons, so if the whole
playing-on-the-side-of-good thing becomes too much, you can jump into the claws
of a creature for some face-ripping fun.

 

Rating: 8/10

 

 

 

 

 

Crackdown
2

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Ruffian Games / Publisher: Microsoft
Game Studios

ESRB Rating: M

 

Second
verse, same as the first: At least that’s the feeling fans of the 2007 smash Crackdown may have after spending a few
hours in the zombie-ravaged, over-the-top world of Crackdown 2. The difference this time is that up to four of you can
have the same reaction at once, as Crackdown
2
adds four-player co-op support to what’s essentially the same experience of
its predecessor. Beyond that, the game’s updates-a few new weapons here, some different-colored
Agent uniforms there-feel like nothing a little DLC couldn’t have provided.

 

 

Despite
a 10-year stretch (in game time, at least) since the original, Crackdown 2 takes place in a very
familiar Pacific City where you, working as a heavily armored Agent of, well,
the Agency, spend your time cleaning house: human enemies by day, vicious mutants
by night. While combat is simplistic and level-ups again find you chasing orbs
like Mario in a mech suit, the open-world game provides a fun, gritty sandbox,
full of absurdly powerful weapons and dark corners to explore. Just make like
the game’s mutants and shut off your brain: With little in the way of story or
enhancements to snare your imagination, it’s your best chance for making it
through this city.

 

Rating: 7/10

 

 

 

 

 

The Cages:
Pro-Style Batting Practice

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Developer: Alpha Unit / Publisher: Konami

ESRB Rating: E

 

Score
one for truth in advertising: Though it’s not much to look at, The Cages: Pro-Style Batting Practice delivers exactly the pro-style training experience you’d expect from its name.
Using the Wii Remote either with or without the Wii Motion Plus accessory, you
step into a virtual batting cage and face off against a pitching machine that
makes its real-world counterparts seem positively Stone Age.

 

You
start with the basics, taking swings at fastballs and targeting selected areas
of the field to build accuracy. From there, though, you get over 40 challenges’
worth of slugger training designed to sharpen everything from your distance to
your technique. (Thanks to a multiplayer mode, you can even invite friends over
for a game of home run derby.) Switch on the Wii Motion Plus accessory, and
things get even more realistic as the game transforms from a simple hitting
exercise into a challenge where nuance, stance and timing truly matter. Batter
up!

 

Rating: 8/10

 

 

 

 

 

APB: All Points Bulletin

Platforms: PC

Developer: Realtime Worlds / Publisher: Electronic
Arts

ESRB Rating: M

 

Good
guys, bad guys-you’ve seen this formula before. But in the open-world- MMO
third-person-shooter APB, the theme’s
meaning changes depending on which side you choose. Set in the fictional world
of San Paro, APB pits two sides of
the city-Criminals and Enforcers-against each other, with up to 80 players per
side having a seat at the table.

 

After
tricking out your player through an insanely deep customization menu (you can
even edit your own vehicles and incidental music), you choose a side and brace
yourself as the objectives start to flow. Admittedly, APB gets you off to a rocky start, with lopsided player matching
sometimes dumping you into clashes where you can barely get your head around
the action, let alone compete against your more seasoned competitors. But as you
fine-tune your character through challenges and upgrades, APB‘s dynamic matching system makes for a much more balanced, and
tight, game.

 

While
San Paro itself isn’t much to look at, there’s a lot of room for action in the
city’s relatively lean maps-provided, of course, both sides of the law are
packing equal muscle. Objectives can end quickly even across the best-prepared
teams, so adrenaline junkies will find more replay value than will those
looking to get lost in the city. It seems like a minor detail, but when you
consider that APB comes with just 50
hours of play (with more available for purchase), you’ll want to note it before
you plunk down for a copy. Then again, depending on how far APB can expand, it might be worth it
just to buy in, hang out and wait.

 

Rating: 7/10

 

 

 

 

 

Sniper: Ghost
Warrior

Platforms: Xbox 360, PC

Publisher: City Interactive

ESRB Rating: M

 

Playing
as a sniper in first-person shooters can significantly up the tension and drama
of your game (not to mention its ability to strengthen your trigger finger), so
the idea of playing Sniper: Ghost Warrior exclusively in the sniper role sounds appealing. In practice, however, the game
is a different experience, even though most of the headaches aren’t on your end
of the sight. Erratic AI, frustrating levels plagued by invisible walls, and a
plot (something about cleaning up a banana republic) with more holes than your
last kill are all problems-and unfortunately, your sniper rifle won’t take care
of any of them.

 

Difficulty
varies based on your challenge and settings-sometimes you’ll be tasked with
taking out multiple enemies in way-too-rapid succession; other times you’ll be
focused on a single kill, literally trying to hold your breath to keep from
going off-target. This ballistics realism, however, can be dialed back to match
your skill level-and if you’re up for the challenge, it makes the game’s “Bullet
Cam” money shots that much rewarding. Unfortunately, even a stellar
killing experience can’t make up for the AI that makes your enemies as erratic
as your allies are useless. Best just to turn to the game’s more forgiving (and
fun) multiplayer mode, where you can at least share the frustration with real
people.

 

Rating: 6/10

 

 

***

 

Our game guru, Aaron
Burgess, lives digitally but dreams in analog down in Round Rock, Texas. Contact him at first2letters@gmail.com  / AIM: First2Letters

 

 

Blurt’s Video Game Guide #8

 

Announcing the latest installment in our
“Play For Today” series of video game reviews. This time out we take on Singularity,
Crackdown 2, The Cages: Pro-Style Batting Practice, APB: All Points Bulletin,
Sniper: Ghost Warrior.

 

 By Blurt Staff

 

Head over to
BLURT blogger Aaron Burgess’ “Play For Today” blog – he’s just posted some
action-packed (term used relatively and literally) reviews of a slew of more
top-rated games. Included are his own ratings plus screenshots – like the ones
below – and trailers. Game on!

 

Singularity

 

Crackdown 2

 

The Cages:
Pro-Style Batting Practice

 

APB: All Points
Bulletin

 

 

Sniper: Ghost
Warrior

 

 

 

 

Weekend Reading: New Phish Bio

 

With the second leg of
their summer tour about to kick off next week what better summer reading than
the recent authorized biography, penned by respected
Rolling Stone contributor Parke Puterbaugh.

 

By Jedd Ferris

 

After Phish reunited last year after two break-ups (the
first deemed a hiatus in 2002, the second supposedly final in 2004, longtime
fans were hoping this authorized biography from former band in-house writer
Parke Puterbaugh would answer a lot of questions. The jam kings spent two
decades building one of the most loyal underground followings rock ‘n’ roll has
ever seen, but their abrupt crash-and-burn ending in 2004 – concluding with two
of the sloppiest shows the group ever played at their own festival in Coventry,
Vermont – left many loyal Phishheads with puzzled emotions.

 

Author Parke Puterbaugh, too, is an admitted fan. He came to
the band through a 1995 Rolling Stone assignment and ended up becoming the group’s staff writer. Along the way, he
not only compiled plenty of interviews with each member of the quartet – guitarist
Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon
Fishman – he also tasted the magic of their adventurous live shows and stayed
along for the ride for pleasure as much as profession. As he plainly states in
the book’s intro: “I firmly believe they are one of the great American bands – and
not just jam bands.”

 

The author’s personal fascination both helps and hurts the
authorized Phish: The Biography. He
clearly understands the geeky minutiae of the Phish experience – tracking every
show set list and distinctly defining the band’s different musical eras. The
book is a solid overview of the group’s gradual rise from crunchy college kids
in Vermont playing dance halls and local bars to regional New England
grassroots favorites to theatre-level mainstays to arena rock heroes.

 

 

Along the way, Puterbaugh covers all of the band’s notable
highlights. He looks into the early years when they created many of their
compositionally driven rock epics like “You Enjoy Myself.” He also discusses
much of the band’s underground lore, like an onstage secret language and the
fictional back-story of Gamehendge, Anastasio’s college thesis turned never
fully realized rock opera. With these quirky elements and boundless sonic
exploration, the band was able to earn fans one at a time with little
mainstream recognition. With persistence they eventually lured the multiplying
herd to big arenas and their own massive festivals, including the all-night
millennium marathon at Florida’s Big Cypress Indian Reservation. For the
outsider, this is a comprehensive read through Phish’s unconventional and
intriguing story of success.

 

On the downside, hardcore fans have little to learn here.
Besides briefly discussing Anastasio’s upbringing in New Jersey, Puterbaugh
doesn’t offer too much background on the individual band members before their
formation. He also doesn’t offer much more than what’s already known about the
break-up. In initially calling it quits, Anastasio admitted fatigue and
insecurity about the band’s ballooning, self-sustained organization. It also
became apparent that drug use was a factor – fully revealed with the
guitarist’s 2006 arrest. Limited details surface at the book’s conclusion. Even
in an epilogue Q&A interview with Anastasio, it feels like Puterbaugh’s relationship
with the band made him skittish about asking the tough questions about what
went wrong. Not that the band owes anyone any juicy tales of debauchery, but a
deeper explanation would have been appropriate, especially as the band seems
fully invested in their third chapter.

 

Phish starts the second
leg of their extensive summer tour on August 5 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley,
California. Dates at Phish.com – sorry kids, but most of the shows are already
sold out.

 

 

 

Robert Pollard to Have NYC Art Display

 

Coming to 45 Space in
late August.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

Robert Pollard will have an exhibit of his collages on
display at NYC’s The 45 Space on August 27 and 28 – it’s dubbed “The Public
Hi-Fi Balloon: Robert Pollard, Scrap-Builder of Imagery.”

 

The artist and Guided By Voices frontman created most of the
works for this show in the past six months. “I’ve been working long hours
daily getting ready for this show, he says. “It’s going to be
insane.”

Among the works on display will be more than 60 imaginary record sleeves, as
well as dreamed-up magazines and coffee table books. “You can see Duchamp
in Pollard”s collages, as well as the influence of the painterly spaces of
De Chirico and Yves Tanguy,” the novelist Rick Moody wrote in the
introduction to Town of Mirrors: The
Reassembled Imagery of Robert Pollard
, a 2008 collection of Pollard’s
collages published by Fantagraphics Books. Moody also noted “a residual
pulse in the images of the swinging sixties, not the flowers-in-their-hair
iteration, but the dark bad-acid psychedelia of that low, dishonest
decade.”

Most people know that Pollard created the cover art for the majority of Guided
by Voices releases, not to mention those of his many other musical projects.
The cover collage for Guided by Voices’ 1997 album Mag Earwhig was displayed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

Pollard’s music and his visual art are unified at a fundamental level.
“They both have to do with re-assembling familiar imagery to create
interesting landscapes,” he says. “One with sight, the other with
sound.”

Pollard was introduced to the New
York art world in 2007, when visual artist Todd
DiCiurcio and actor Michael Imperioli co-hosted “Do the Collage,” a
show that included the original art for several classic Guided by Voices album
covers. DiCiurcio will co-host “The Public Hi-Fi Balloon” with Vanity
Fair executive online editor Michael Hogan.

The 45 Space is located at 45 Bond
Street (between Lafayette Street and the Bowery) in Manhattan. Opening night
is Friday, August 27, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. The exhibit will also be open to
visitors on Saturday, August 28, from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m.

 

 

Gorillaz’ Damascus Show Streaming Free at NPR

 

And you thought the Middle East was just about guns and jihad… Concert was
performed earlier this week by the ‘toon’d in superstars.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

Last
Sunday, July 25, Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz project gave a special performance in
the Syrian capital of Damascus.
NPR Music documented this historic spectacle that took
place within a 1,000-year-old walled palace through a specially edited version of
the show now streaming at the NPR site.

 

In an
introduction taped just for NPR Music, animated Gorillaz bassist Murdoc Niccals
(in his rambling fashion) thanks the NPR audience for naming their album the best
of the year so far and eventually also goes on
to call their trip to the Middle East “the pinnacle of our exploits so far.”

 

Murdoc
certainly isn’t joking about that, as joining
him (well, as much as he can really be there) and Brit-pop icon Albarn onstage
for the occasion are Syria’s National Orchestra and an all-star cast of
musicians, including Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones of
the Clash, and Syrian rapper Eslam Jawaad (the latter gets an immense crowd reaction
by rapping a verse of the hit “Clint Eastwood” in Arabic).

 

 

 

 

Calexico To Headline Free AZ Rally/Show

 

Free show intended to
boost voter registration in addition to continuing to aim the spotlight on the
controversial AZ immigration law.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

Artists for Action and Viva Arizona.org is has announced a
Phoenix Voter Registration Concert and Rally for August 27 at the Marquee
Theatre in Phoenix with performances by Calexico (above), Miniature Tigers, Sergio
Mendoza Y La Orkesta, Big Son featuring Sam Means of The Format and Jeff and
Chris of Reubens Accomplice, Sand Rubies
(shown below), Salvador Duran, Kinch, and more.

 

The event is FREE for anyone that pledges to vote on November 2nd. Voter
registration will be available for first time voters and those who need to
update their registration. In addition, representatives from local non-profit
human rights and immigration organizations will be there to provide information
about SB 1070, immigration, and related human rights issues.

Artists for Action member Joey Burns, of Calexico, explains, “This will be
a great way to get people in the Phoenix area excited about voting this fall
and educated about the immigration issues facing Arizona today.”

Artists for Action/VivaArizona.org’s mission is to offer support and resources
for artists who want to mobilize their fans and promote civic activism,
including helping artists connect with non-partisan voter registration, legal
defense funds, and organizations that promote education and the protection of
civil rights. In addition to connecting artists with non-profit organizations
at scheduled performances, Artists for Action/VivaArizona.org will also work
with artists to coordinate rallies, speaking engagements, and benefit
performances.

 
 
Free Voter Registration Concert and
Rally Details:

When: August 27, 2010 at 7:30pm (6:30
doors open)

Where: Marquee Theatre, 730 North
Mill Avenue, Tempe, Arizona

Who: Calexico, Miniature Tigers,
Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta, Big Son featuring Sam Means of The Format and Jeff
and Chris of Reubens Accomplice, Sand Rubies, Salvador Duran, Kinch, and
more…

What: Free concert and rally, open to
all ages, music, voter registration, voter pledge drive, immigration
information tables

 
For more information, please send an email to info@vivaarizona.org or charlie@statesidepresents.com

 

 

Kathryn Williams w/Song for Gulf Relief

 

Black Oil” turns out to be eerily appropriate in the wake of the BP oil
spill disaster.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

In the midst of the ongoing
disaster of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico,
local TV and radio stations along the Gulf coastline have been airing
“Black Oil,” a song from The
Quickening
the latest album from Liverpool-born songwriter Kathryn
Williams. (You can read the BLURT review of the album here.) In response, Ms.
Williams, along with her record label, One Little Indian, her distributor,
MRI/Sony, and her publishers, Cooking Vinyl Music and Downtown Music are all
donating 100% of their proceeds from the sale of “Black Oil” to the
Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) – you can find it on iTunes here.

 

Her lyrics make their point:

 

Thought it was a trick of the light,

how the fields shone yellow,

When it was so close to night.

There must be some fire in those flowers,

because they get crushed up and turned into black oil. 

Black oil. 

 

“Thought it was the night

but the birds were head to toe in black oil.

 

 

“Black Oil” was written
and recorded before the explosion of British Petroleum’s Transocean Deepwater
Horizon rig back in early April, drawing on Kathryn’s childhood memories and
her husband’s experiences with the effects of previous environmental
catastrophes caused by the oil industry.

 

Observes the songwriter, “I
had memories as a child of birds covered in black oil; of remembering that it
took a whole day to clean a bird; that there were not enough days or volunteers.
I remember hearing and seeing it on Blue Peter and Newsround (children
television shows in the U.K.)
and crying and crying.

 

“I talked to my husband about
it and he told me about the Amoco Cadiz disaster where the boat had broken in
two. That had happened off the coast of Brittany
and covered the coast and beaches of Jersey (the small island between France and England where he’d grown up). He
remembers as a child seeing sea birds head to toe in oil, and how it seemed that
the beach and nature itself had been broken by the disaster.”

 

The initial inspiration for
“Black Oil” stemmed from an entirely different experience. Williams
was driving through rapeseed fields, explained to her son that oil was
extracted from the seeds and later made notes about their conversation. When
she began to write about this experience it reminded her about the impact of
past oil spills.

 

BP’s deep sea well spewed millions
of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico per
day.  While the cap is now on the tank,
the problems from the spill will live on for years. Williams hopes that  “Black Oil” helps keep the American people
aware that the situation will not be remedied quickly, and the long-term lethal
impact on the people, fish, birds and other wildlife throughout the region
deserve continued attention. 

 

Kathryn Williams, MRI/Sony, One
Little Indian, Downtown Music and Cooking Vinyl are not directly affiliated with
the Natural Resources Defense Council or any of its programs, projects or websites.
For more information about specific environmental protection issues: www.nrdc.org.

 

 

 

Peaches Christ Superstar for U.S. Debut

 

 

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice never saw this one coming… show bows
in December in NYC.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

Peaches has confirmed the
anticipated American debut of her critically acclaimed production of Peaches
Christ Superstar
for December 11th at The Concert Hall at The
New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan. 
Peaches’ performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sir Tim Rice’s musical, Jesus
Christ Superstar
made its worldwide debut in March in Berlin
and Hamburg. 
Peaches will sing all roles including Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the
disciples.  As a continuation of her original sold out runs, she will be accompanied
musically by piano virtuoso and rap entertainer, Chilly Gonzales.  ARTFORUM stated in their review, “Not
only did Peaches set it off, she managed to surprise us all by showing off an
expansive vocal range, a musician’s natural sensitivity to the dynamics of
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, and an emotive prowess that is rarely if ever
displayed in her own, less holy, music.”

 

The European debut of Peaches
Christ Superstar
was not without controversy.  A month before the
scheduled premiere, the German rights holders denied permission to Peaches due
to her “unconventional production.” Peaches posted a message, via Twitter,
apologizing to her fans about the cancellation, concluding with “Peaches Christ
Superstar Crucified Before Opening Night.”  The cancellation was widely
covered by major media, resulting in permission ultimately being granted. 
The performances were an overwhelming success. Sir Tim Rice traveled to Berlin to attend the
production and visited Peaches backstage offering his praise and approval.

 

Peaches stated “To perform Jesus
Christ Superstar
as a one-woman-song is a crazy enterprise.  It is
very demanding and very difficult.  When I was sixteen I often sang the
whole musical to myself all alone in my room.  It tells an entire story without
spoken text, only with vocals, in the style of a rock opera.  I’m a
performer, my concerts are extravagant and play with exaggerations.  This
project allows me to do without all this.  I wanted to confront this task
totally exposed, because it is a possibility.  It’s a question of
stamina.”  Peaches added, “Performing Peaches Christ Superstar is
the most intense and powerful stage experience I have ever had.” 

 

Tickets for Peaches
Christ Superstar
are available
via Ticketmaster.

 

 

 

 

First Look: Street Sweeper Social Club EP

 

They’re more than a
band, they’re a mutha fuckin’ social club: brand new
The Ghetto Blaster EP drops August 10 on SSSC/ILG.

 

By Jose Martinez

 

The militant brainchild of Rage Against The
Machine’s Tom Morello and The Coup’s Boots Riley, Street Sweeper Social Club
isn’t as incendiary as Rage but it’s definitely a proud middle-finger in the
air amongst the current rock pack. Aptly mixing rock and hip-hop, this isn’t
the frat boy, date rape fare we’ve come to associate with the rock ‘n’ rap
moniker. Aiming for a Clash meets Ohio Players vibe, the seven-song EP includes
raw covers of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” and LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You
Out.” While the EP’s title track continues in the same vein as the band’s
relentless debut, “The New Fuck You” finds them in rough and ready mode
creating music that would be proudly blaring at a Panthers party back in the
day. In the ‘70s they said the revolution will be televised; well, it
definitely now has a soundtrack. And as Boots declares on the LL Cool J cover,
We’re more than a band, we’re a mutha
fuckin’ social club
.”

 

John Lennon Time Capsule Project Launch

 

Fans can make their
contributions to the late Beatle’s official time capsule starting today at the
project’s website.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

What would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday takes place
on Saturday October 9 and there are plenty of celebrations in store. To that
end, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and BoxofVision LLC are putting together three
authorized time capsules of Lennon’s post-Beatles recordings and fan
contributions. Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono has given the project her full
blessings.

 

The time capsules will ultimately be preserved and stored
until they are opened in a ceremonial presentation on October 9, 2040. They
will be stored at the Rock Hall in Ohio,
and at two additional worldwide locations that have significance to John
Lennon’s legacy.

 

Ono said, in a statement, “I am delighted to support
this effort to help share John’s music and messages of peace and love with the
children of today and tomorrow, I know that John’s work, life and dreams will
help inspire them to bring a better world for everyone. Children Power!”

 

Fans can share thoughts, birthday wishes, commentary,
musical performances and more beginning today up until September 15 at
www.BoxOfVision.com/TimeCapsule.
Those who visit the site can also make recommendations about what the time
capsules should include to best preserve the Lennon legacy over the next 30
years.

 

Along with fan contributions the capsules will include John
Lennon’s post-Beatles recordings, newly restored art prints of his LP artwork,
a newly commissioned essay on his career and other related items.

 

The John Lennon Time Capsule project is being overseen by
Jonathan Polk, of BoxofVision LLC, who last year created The Beatles’ Box of Vision (it’s reviewed here at
BLURT). “John Lennon’s body of work IS our time capsule,” said Polk. “It
embodies the ideals that once fuelled our absolute belief we could change the
world…then led to cynical backlash… but now represent how we wish to be remembered.”