Vinyl Highlights #4 – The Uncanny Valley

To close out this miniseries, we come to my most favored record: The Uncanny Valley. It’s not video game related at all (unless you consider the artist’s cameo in Hotline Miami) but I think it’s great nonetheless. It’s probably my favorite atmospheric album, if not my favorite album of all time. But after all, who would I be if I didn’t at least collect records that aren’t video game related? Maybe a more niche collector, but that’s not the point. The point is that this one’s my favorite. It’s also the only deluxe edition I own. How I obtained it is irrelevant.

Released on May 6, 2017, The Uncanny Valley marked a career high for synthwave artist Perturtbator. It stands at #14 on Rate Your Music’s chart of best electronic albums of 2016, and brought a spotlight to an otherwise unknown genre of music. With the rise of cyberpunk in pretty much everything, it paints a very distinct portrait of a central city: Neo-Tokyo. And so do many other pieces: Ghost in the Shell and Akira invent the setting. Shadowrun has a plethora of lore pertaining to Neo-Tokyo and it influences the stage they set their RPG in. Blade Runner shows that Neo-Tokyo is an influence across the globe. That’s just to name a few. The difference here is that Akira is a movie, it has images. Shadowrun has a deep, thick book of lore. The Uncanny Valley, despite the fact that its deluxe edition includes a graphic novel, does a fantastic job of illustrating the sounds and evils of cyberpunk.

An Album That Plays Like a Comic Book

There are very specific story beats that The Uncanny Valley tackles. It builds upon the story that was left behind in Dangerous Days: Satan, a computer, taking over the world by corrupting humans and androids. A hero comes in and saves the day, and the plot lays dormant until a cult tries to awaken Satan (the computer) three years later. The hero returns, and liberates Neo-Tokyo with the help of an android assassin. And there’s something in there about the android becoming human? It’s cheesy, but it works.

It’s incredibly over the top, it falls into tropes, and yet? For an album? Pretty enticing. For a comic book? Yes, it’s a trope because superheroes deal with the “saving evil then it comes back because of fanatics after they’ve retired” thing constantly. The Incredibles did it. And everyone is anticipating that sequel. So, why an album? Why’s it novel here?

It isn’t. I just appreciate good worldbuilding.

And I do appreciate the fact that, even if it’s a reach, there’s at least some legitimacy to the plot.

The 3 vinyl records in the deluxe edition. (via @post_engineering on Instagram)

Design, Art, and The Vinyl

This is where it starts to get cool. Aside from the accidental marbling in the Furi vinyl, this is the only one that I have that has a deliberate design choice involved by splattering pink and purple into a clear disc. It’s unique, different from disc to disc even in its own package. It did also come in a glow-in-the-dark red, which I may go out of my way to purchase at some point.

In other aspects of the design, it’s a lot more dark, invoking the satanic imagery that is synonymous to metal for almost all suburban moms. The art on the actual album cover, inside jackets, and graphic novel is all sketchy and unfinished, evoking uneasy feelings like the album’s titular effect. They’re all drawn by Ariel ZB, a New York City based artist. (Be warned, much of his work is NSFW, The Uncanny Valley included.)

The graphic novel helps to fill in some of the gaps left in the album’s inner jacket and connect loose events in the plot. And to further get down into the world, Perturbator released an expansion album also included in the deluxe edition. It contains more atmospheric tracks and one was featured as the theme for MTV’s 2016 European Music Awards.

Final Thoughts

Somehow I managed to say “yeah this albums is great, listen to it at least once” in more paragraphs than one. If you’re looking for music that will set the stage for a perfect, empty-highway night drive, listen to this album. If you need some background music for Shadowrun, use this album.

Now you may be thinking: was this whole series just a ruse to get to this one? Well, no, but I did think of it shortly after I started writing the post on Hotline Miami. Much like the numerous other electronic artists that have been featured in video games (Disasterpeace being another, in Hyper Light Drifter), Perturbator just does a good job at setting a stage that’s easy to visualize. The Uncanny Valley isn’t any different. Though new releases have more of a distinct, less synthwave sound, this one is still good. That and I’ll probably hail its last track as the best song to drive to at night. Full stop.

 

Cover image via @post_engineering on Instagram.

Read More

PAX East Highlights – Dipped in Neon and Bleeding Synth

There was a trend in the things displayed at PAX East this year, and it’s one I’m happy is making its way into the mainstream. That’s right, folks, we’re getting cyberpunk, and it’s not stopping anytime soon. Welcome to the world of neon lighting, driving synth-based music, and themes of grappling with the big bads in charge of corporations. Buckle up.

Read More

Furi – Intense Combat, A+ Soundtrack (Early Impressions)

OH MAN. Here we go, guys. Furi is a game where many of my favorite things intersect. First, you have a neon-dipped, fast-paced game based around satisfying controls and combat. Next up, a somewhat vague story driven by characters who sincerely kick ass, in more ways than one. And finally, to round out this list of things, a shorter list: a killer synth-based soundtrack with collector’s edition vinyl, and immensely difficult gameplay.

I should preface the rest of this review by saying that I’m not used to difficult games by any margin. I’m pretty sure Bloodborne and Hotline Miami rank among the hardest games I’ve played. I don’t know if that says anything about me as a person, but I like to take it easy in my games. You know, go along for the ride.

Furi is having none of that. Even during its tutorial level, Furi pushes gameplay that’s challenging to most people. The fights are long and frustrating at times, and my only qualm here is that a checkpoint after a boss has lost a certain amount of health, maybe two-thirds, would be nice. Furi offers an easier difficulty for those who don’t want to put up with the normal one, but you sacrifice the ability to earn achievements and unlock harder difficulties. You also lose the ability to unlock their speed run mode.

There’s something that keeps me coming back to Furi even as the difficulty ramps up. There’s no feeling quite like decimating a boss in their final stage without getting hit, and it’s something that comes with practice. Even in my limited play time so far, I can see myself improving. And we’ll get to that in a bit.

To set the scene, where I’m at, anyway, you’re an unnamed silent protagonist breaking out of prison with the help of some other unnamed dude wearing a purple bunny hood. To gain your freedom, “The jailer is the key. Kill him, and you’ll be free.” After every battle, you learn more about your guide, and about why you were locked up in the first place.

This boss features Carpenter Brut’s “You’re Mine”, composed for the game. (via PlayStation Blog)

Gameplay and Handling

If you’re going to make a boss-rush bullet hell game, you need to nail the responsiveness of your controls. And congratulations, The Game Bakers, you’ve done it. Moving around is satisfying, as it should be with twin-stick games. You have a parry which will heal you when successful, a slash attack, and a dash at your disposal to get yourself out of tight situations and inflict damage. Parrying an attack at the last second activates a “perfect parry”, which knocks the boss down.

There’s some advanced tech in the movements as well, where you can charge a slash while dashing to avoid enemy attacks.While I find a lot of these are situational, it’s pretty nice to know. Along with healing after a successful parry, there are green projectiles that turn into health orbs when shot. They’re few and far-between, and it can sometimes be riskier getting to them than staying put.

There are a couple mechanics which make the long fights more manageable. One which I find breaks up the monotony of endless dodging is that after knocking out a boss’s shields, combat shifts to a close-quarters fight. Additionally, when you take a full bar of life off a boss, your current one is entirely healed. Conversely, the boss gets this advantage as well, and if you fail in close-quarters, the boss heals up their shields, too. This is another area where I’m critical of the choice. It seems unfair sometimes, as parrying while in close-quarters or during the shield phase doesn’t heal all too much, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Between the bosses, there’s a fair amount of exposition. These are like walking simulators with some story and background. I’m not a huge fan of walking through them so slowly. The great thing here is that there’s an auto-walk option, so you can sit back and enjoy the cutscene leading up to the next boss.

There isn’t much but talking and walking. (via The Game Bakers)

Difficulty and Frustration Factor

While I’ve already covered how difficult the game is, I haven’t quite covered how infuriating some battles are. There’s a lot to watch out for, and a lot to focus on. Sometimes due to the colorful nature of the game, projectiles and ground attacks blur together. And while it makes for interesting visuals and some pretty hard stuff to dodge, unfortunately it makes it so I can’t sit for hours and work my way through. I can do 45 minutes at most without getting sloppy– dodging directly into damage, parrying poorly, and giving up too much of my precious life bar. And unfortunately there’s nothing I can do to combat this but get better at rushing the boss and taking breaks.

I don’t want to, though. I want to be able to sink hours into the game without tearing my hair out, and to prove to myself that not only can I get good, but I can actually withstand the difficulty a game puts in front of me without falling off in how effective I am at fighting. I feel like the real fight here is to not set the difficulty to an easier one. And trust me, that temptation is alive and kicking even as I write this.

Up close and personal with the first jailer. (via The Game Bakers)

Soundtrack

Despite all the shortcomings I have with difficult games, the one thing that keeps me going is the soundtrack. Initially I heard about the game browsing on YouTube. I can’t remember what led me there, but I saw a new track with Carpenter Brut’s name on it. I wasn’t a hard sell, Carpenter Brut is among one of my favorite synthwave artists. He sits among several others that are well-known for their music: Danger, Lorn, Scattle, and Kn1ght, to name a few. It’s available for purchase on Bandcamp (here!) as either a digital album or a collector’s edition vinyl, which is limited to a run of 800. Excuse me while I stare out my window and wait for it to arrive, please.

It’s worth the exorbitant shipping price, you gotta believe me. (Image via Bandcamp)

In Conclusion

If you enjoy difficult games, or even just a challenge, do yourself a favor and add this one to your collection. I can’t urge you enough, without being entirely repetitive, about how much you should play this game. Even if you have to do it on easy mode, do it. There’s no game I’d recommend more from this year so far.