Aporia

Gunma Prefecture, Japan.

Aporia – lacking passage.

Perhaps one the most complex realisations I’ve had in a while, I’ve come to realise why there are so many lost souls out there today, who cling to shallow ideas, instead of deeper ideologies.

In a world where the internet more or less is detrimental rather than beneficial (I would be writing this on paper if my handwriting could keep up with my mind), where people are bombarded with more information than they’ve ever have before and are living in perpetual denial and conflict with themselves, I’ve noted a singular issue, that has not really been raised when discussing identity.

Spirituality and philosophy or the lack thereof.

I can only speak from my own lens, but growing up, I remember reading this particularly bloody and violent book called The Ninja by Eric van Lustbader, in which he explores both Western and Eastern philosophies through the lens of martial arts and a unique character who was raised in Japan, but is of European descent.

Beyond the sex, violence and exotic descriptions of Far East locales, I was struck by the exploration of zen philosophies and the concept of wa (harmony) in the book, something that I’ve actually forgotten about until recently diving back into The Last Samurai soundtrack, which I listened to a lot whilst reading the book.

This spark suddenly shone a light of context on a discussion I’ve been having within myself about the current plight of young people and in particular their strange obsession with basing their whole personality around lots of arbitrary terms. Gender, sexuality, ethnicity, jobs … singular parts of a whole, yet for a lot of people, it is the base for their whole being.

Spirituality and philosophy are both dying slowly in the modern world. Both require you to slow down and ponder, something that many people struggle with in an age where technology is so rapid.

Some would even consider them a waste of time.

What is the purpose of slowing down when you are stressed about 1000 other things? You don’t have time to reflect. And when you do, all you can think about are your failures and the mountain of work ahead of you.

This attitude is exactly why spirituality and philosophy exist. These concepts help you create a mental bulwark against life, and allow you to explore parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed before. It allows you to block out the physical stresses that your body inflicts on your mind and really helps you broaden your mind to your senses and capacities.

Spirituality and philosophy allows you to avoid aporia.

Perhaps one of the strangest lessons I’ve taken out of reading those Ninja books, was the idea about embracing and relaxing around pain. I don’t brace myself or clench before a painful hit or wound. Instead I relax and allow it to do its course. The pain is less intense this way and helps you recover your wits quicker.

The same philosophy applies to spicy food. I believe that it is better to let the heat run its course, than try to find shallow relief in milk or water because the pain only comes back more acutely.

Philosophy and spirituality are very crucial components to creating good mental health and abilities. I find myself clinging to strange beliefs about equilibrium when confronted with something bad, or trying to achieve a zero state, something that I learned again through the book and my study into the concept of zen.

Other examples of my strange beliefs are: I believe that my home town, Melbourne, is actually a beautiful woman in my mind, that I talk to when I don’t want rain to hit me when I’m out.

Lady Luck is a genuine deity that needs constant ministrations and seducing to be on my side.

I can lower pain with the power of my mind, by sinking deeper into a strange level of consciousness where the sensation of pain is more tolerable. I use this at the dentist all the time.

The point is … whilst I am not a believer in God, or any real religion, I still practice some form of spirituality and apply my philosophical ideas in practice.

This brings me back to zen and the concept of zero. As strange as it sounds, I genuinely do not have a lot of thoughts in my mind. My mind is not in constant flux, stressed about something or the other. It is largely empty and quiet, activated only when I need it.

If I take this essay for example, I am not writing it out in my head, then typing it. Words appear on screen, the same time as I think them. The same happens in conversations, and random monologues that we all experience at some point in our lives.

Beyond that, my mind is not always thinking. It is still and quiet, zero.

Zero as a philosophy is a very intriguing concept. It is seen as a place of infinite possibility, an inverse of the idea that by having zero, you have nothing. Avoid the more Western idea that zero equates to nothing. In Eastern philosophy, the concept of zero actually frees you to the world. It is boundless and never ending, an endless source of inspiration and creativity.

In zero, nothing and everything can exist. Past, present, future, whole or parts … they all exist and don’t exist. There is no distinction between them all.

I practice this concept all the time, with the emptiness of my mind. Ideas come to me, like fish does to a patient fisherman. I need only to put my hand out and tickle the belly and the idea will jump out of the river and into my lap.

In a strange way, I suppose I’ve always been attuned to the zen approach to life. My belief in equality, bad or good, the ability to be attuned to my emotions but never be ruled by them … my constant self-reflection in what I can do better and what I should let go of …

I’ve always paraded myself as a man of ruthless logic and reason, but somehow that never quite described how complex I really am. I am philosophical in a lot of ways too, just not in the same vein of the famous Greek definition of the word.

Am I saying that you should practice zero? Of course not. Have you been following my greater point?

I am saying that you should explore different philosophies and see how they can help you, change mindsets or even lifestyles.

Mine is quite Asiatic inspired, the constant desire to improve oneself, and seek discipline in all aspect of life. There aren’t questions about life, about death or trying to make sense of it all, I just accept that I am here and will work to improve myself.

I don’t give in to nihilism because that is ultimately self-defeating … I just focus solely on what I can achieve in this short time I have on Earth.

So why do I use the word aporia to describe certain people living in the year 2022?

I believe that one of the key fundamental issues that people have in a increasingly non-religious world, is that people lack that inner spirituality, the inner harmony that will help them excel in life, no matter what happens to them.

Living in a Western society, it is far too easy to not discover deeper Eastern philosophies. We aren’t taught them, and increasingly, especially in Asia, we don’t get to experience them either. Famous school of thoughts in China, Japan and other parts of Asia, have now been made irrelevant in a world more globalised and arguably Westernised than ever before.

The world has moved on from deeper spiritual connections in search of something else, that will never quite satisfy the soul but will help you survive the complex maze that is the 21st Century: money.

In this contemporary world, money is more or less the new philosophy that drives people’s existence. It is not enough to be alive, but now you must own essential items that will help make you a functioning member of society.

The trust from people that you will contribute to the fabric of your community by improving yourself, isn’t there. The irony of it all though, is that you can own a car, work 76 hours a fortnight, be married with 2 kids and a homeowner and still be absolutely miserable and on suicide watch.

To truly address the hole, the void that exists in all of us, I believe that we all need to live in the present and fill it up with sensations, ideas and fulfilling moments.

That comes from a spiritual belief in something. Something deeper than selecting a part of ourselves that we define ourselves by. Something greater than our normal daily existence. It’s about exploring how we fit in the world, not how the world fits us.

For me, despite not being a very “outdoor” person (I prefer urban environments to forests), I still retain a strong belief in indigenous ideals about “Mother Earth” and doing one’s part to look after the environment you are in. I routinely pick up rubbish … whenever I see it. I address and see Melbourne as a living goddess that needs help, and have imaginary conversations with her and how we can help each other.

I still need that connection to the land, when I am out and about. What I take from the land, one day, I must return.

Equilibrium.

It’s not enough to acknowledge some traditional owner, or pass your respect to some dead ancestor of yesteryear … what are you doing now to actually pay homage to them? Are you sorting out your recycling? Avoiding going to events that create a lot of rubbish? Are you even aware of their fundamental beliefs?

Spirituality encourages a lifestyle shift in something greater than empty buzzwords. It’s so easy to say stuff and then do the complete opposite. People engage in shibboleth every single day … but how many of us actually try to take a spiritual approach to things?

How many of us actually do a service simply because you want to and don’t see any rewards?

I have a love/hate relationship with my conscience. When I see something is wrong, from rubbish at a park, to lost dogs, I can’t help but create a huge emotional conflict within myself. A part of me want to ignore it and don’t go out of my way to help, but my heart tells me otherwise and warns me I’ll regret it later. I can always find time to help someone, or do something. A couple more steps to the bin isn’t going to hurt my legs, nor is an hour spent with random dogs that escaped their owner’s home.

I just feel compelled to do something … blame my spirituality, my conscience or my personal philosophy … at the end of the day, I have to do it, regardless of how wasteful it might be or whether I get a reward or not.

I have to do it, to maintain wa.

Because at the end of the day, I have to be responsible for myself, my actions and my memories. I can look back on my memories with regret or pride. Either way, I got to make a choice, and I need to make sure that choice will create internal harmony.

If you ever find yourself struggling to identify something wrong with your life, at this current time, perhaps it is time for you to look up a philosophical affirmation or a spiritual guide.

Then act upon it. Apply it to every aspect of your life. Understand that everything you do, contribute to the whole of your life, every little thing, from skipping a meal to helping a friend. You will always be a greater sum, than just your hobbies, your friends, your possessions and your family.

You are you. Everything you are, and nothing you aren’t.

Isn’t that a strangely enlightening and spiritual realisation?

~ Damocles.

Espionage Novel Retrospective

Tidal River, Wilson Promontory, Victoria, Australia. The home of Gabriel Woods in the novel.

First of all, I have to thank you. Yes, you!

For bearing with my horrible upload schedule. I was recently looking back at the very first Espionage chapter and I was horrified to see that I uploaded that, way back on October 10, 2020!

I cannot believe that it took me longer than a year to finish this novel, especially when I compare how quickly I finished the Noir story way back in 2020; only 8 days!

So thanks for your patience and a big appreciative shout out for those who were invested in this story since October 2020 and I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride!

Now to discuss some of the heavy influences in this story.

The Big Four are, in no particular order:

  1. The Jason Bourne movies
  2. Matthew Reilly, the author.
  3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
  4. The Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva

For those who are fans of the Bourne series, you can see how much I based the final location of the story on the training facility in Bourne Ultimatum (2007). From the style of the rooms to the execution sequence, I derived a lot of the Sphinx’s backstory and ultimate relationship with the Wolf on that climatic scene in the Bourne Ultimatum.

You will also notice how I used the Waterloo sequence in that movie to base my Alexanderplatz action sequence. However, the way how the takedown goes is directly inspired by the Gabriel Allon series, where he is also confronted with multiple suicide bombers at a station.

I will also credit John Powell’s work on the score of the series for being the main soundtrack of the entire story, as I was using a lot of his work to write with. So thanks Mr. Powell for such a fun score!

The 2019 remake of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s influence can be heavily seen in the Counter Revolutionary Warfare chapter. I based most of that, off the infamous Piccadilly Circus mission and the panic I felt for the first time, as I was confronted with s-bombers and gunmen everywhere, at the heart of London.

But to balance the hardcore action of that series and bring in a human touch, I had Gabriel escort Liz, a waitress, to the hospital. Doing so, I thought, allowed you guys to take a breather before the big dump of action all the way to the end. It also allowed me to seamlessly give Gabriel a way to find the Sphinx and Sofia in one of the biggest cities in the world.

I want to thank my rediscovery of Matthew Reilly’s books to actually finish this series with such a big bang. You can see, very clearly, when I started to take up his books again, because the starting action sequences in Woods and Alexanderplatz are a little less bombastic than the sequences in the latter half of the book.

But I had a lot more fun writing these over-the-top action sequences and really crafting the Wolf to be the big bad behind the Sphinx’s terrible actions. I was inspired by the recent Reilly books to give the Wolf a wall of trophies, but since I didn’t want to do the carbonite option, I decided to go with the index finger, arguably one of our most valuable fingers, collection.

I really let my imagination run wild, creating his lair. I wanted it to be epic in scale, a place where the Wolf would sleep, work and live in perpetual limbo. After all he is dead and so he should rarely venture outside. Yet he has to do so at some point, thus the facial recognition program pinpoints him to this location.

The Institute was a lot of fun to design. I squeezed the most out of it, with flashbacks to the Sphinx’s tragic past in the interrogation wing and then the quick action sequence in the kill-house. It was so much fun to really play with these areas and help flesh out the Sphinx’s motivations.

I actually struggled to give the Sphinx a proper motivation to kill, until I thought about William Aitken and how he was supposed to be dead. I literally congratulated myself when I came across the idea of turning him into this vicious, father figure that the Sphinx could pin all his attacks on.

It made the Sphinx much more relatable and human, something that I think, all villains need. Near the end, it became much more about the Sphinx than it did the Prince, and I’m OK with that, as the Prince should always have a level of detachment and coldness to his targets.

After all, that sort of emotional distance is necessary for an assassin and helps showcase how Woods and the Prince are almost two different characters.

Speaking of the Sphinx, how about his other half?

Sofia Sumarwata was actually a really fun character to invent. I wanted her to be the foil in which these two men interact with each other through her. Her story had to be intense, tragic and romantic. After all, this is Valentine’s Day.

I really loved her ending in the chapter: In the Woods, because it seemed so haunting that someone so beautiful and dressed so attractively, knocking on the heart of British Parliament could have such ill-intent.

In actuality, I was going to have this big emotional traumatic moment where the Prince is just about to kill the Sphinx, but Sofia steps in front of the bullet. But I felt like that was cheap and overdone, so I instead made her an S-bomber, which I thought was more in line with the Sphinx’s cruel and cold nature, and gave her the biggest send-off.

I’m still surprised myself, that I was able to create that strong image of red against all the bleak London architecture. Blame Spielberg!

So where did the Round Table come from?

The Round Table, a shadowy organisation I nicked from Matthew Reilly, was just a fun idea that I wanted to insert. I was originally going to make the British government be the big bad, but honestly, I had grown attached to the character of James Ashford and didn’t want to complicate things too much by having Ashford also be the big bad.

So I decided to create another organisation, with a cool English name and Latin motto. Honestly, I quite like the idea of doing a sequel where the Prince goes up against them but even if I don’t, I think I’ve left enough to imagine how the Prince would tackle them.

I did like how the Round Table would assign iconic Knight names to their leaders, and I must say it was fun revisiting Arthurian legend and interpreting it for the modern day.

Where did the inspiration for the brutal house overlooking a cliff, at the bottom of the world come from?

The first mission in Io Interactive’s Hitman 2 (2018).

I absolutely loved the aesthetic of that house situated so close to the beach, amidst all a full blown Pacific storm. I knew that I wanted to replicate that for my main character, since it is something I would 100% realise in reality for myself, if I had incredible financial resources.

One thing that I have always loved about that game, is the sheer detail and modern approach to architecture and I must commend the developers for their attention to detail, lines and overall level design.

Normally in my writing, I like to emphasise sound. Normally it’s the name of song that I would like you to listen to whilst reading, but I honestly could not insert any iconic songs in this story. It’s why you’ll see a lot more liberal use of crack! blam! and other such words to really convey how loud or explosive something is in the story.

Sound is a such a crucial medium, something that isn’t lost on me, considering how much I devour music, and as such I wanted to really convey noises well in my action sequences.

Speaking of which, I hope you guys didn’t mind all the destruction I wreaked across London. I honestly, had a lot of sadistic plans and most of them come from my unfounded fear of being caught in one of these terrorists acts one day.

I chose London, because it is a well-known hotbed of Islamophobia and honestly, has a lot of character to her buildings and is easily recognised by a lot of people. I was actually surprised how much I was able to squeeze out of the location and hoped that I did it justice!

If I got anything wrong about the location, that’s between me and Google Earth, as I have never been to London prior to writing this. So I pulled a lot of creative liberties and licences outta nowhere to get the story to flow. Like you can definitely tell, I’ve never seen the inside of 10 Downing Street but I did my best to approximate it!

Coincidentally, I was actually really happy to see such a boring building at St James’ Square because my original intention for the Sphinx was to find the house of the Wolf at that location.

Sometimes, I need a bit of luck to make something as cool as the Institute appear!

Just a quick aside, for those who have come here from my completed novel, you will note that the chapter version of the story has a tiny bit less content. The novel version has a much more complete ending, an extra part with the Sphinx rescuing Sofia and quite a few corrections with wording and grammar.

So for those who have only read my “chapter” version, feel free to check out the novel which is the definite way to read this story!

Finally, we come to Gabriel Woods himself. Where the inspiration for his nickname come from?

Prince Andrews.

I was inspired by the recent turmoil surrounding Andrews in the press recently and thought about how interesting it would be if he mysteriously disappeared due to his actions and the direct embarrassment he dealt to the Royal Family.

I was also inspired by the Gabriel Allon books, of which you’ll note, I sometimes use very flowery prose, a habit I’ve picked up from the author of the books. I wanted my violence to be brutal and horrific, but I also wanted it to have a touch of class.

By naming my main character the Prince, it strangely lends an elegant touch to his violent actions and thus make everything seems more like battle-ballet than it does a war scene. I thought it was cool to have his nicknamed derived from his most famous kill, which sadly I did not go into detail for.

But then that only adds to his mystique and I think I would rather leave some things up to your imagination!

I am really happy that I finished this novel, which makes it the third one I’ve ever fully written. It may not have mass appeal, but I’m glad you guys seem to enjoy it and that’s enough for me.

Thank you again for being such a captive audience!

Until the next one!

~ Damocles.

The Dystopia of Luxury

As I sit here, at 0400HRS, listening to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, with only the light of my PC screen to display what I am writing, I realise that a dystopia has arrived.

It wasn’t in some far away future of 2049, distant on some screen directed by a film-maker … it was present and I, unwittingly and subconsciously, willed it into existence.

WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

Let us wage war against the pandemic. Let us confine ourselves to be free. Let us believe what we are told.

How did this happen? Why did I allow it happen?

What happened to my anarchist spirit?

Why did I not pick this up sooner?

But that is the thing about dystopias … they have a way of not being real. They can’t happen in reality … humanity has too much goodness in it. Someone would stop it … a hero like William Shatner’s James T. Kirk would make a impassioned speech about how wrong the way of the world was going.

That speech would inspire others.

Change would occur for the better.

The world could continue on its axis, spinning in its’ way into a brighter future.

But what if that hero was twisted with fear. Scared for his life. Afraid of the air itself … Everything he touched and saw was now infected.

Where will this speech come from now? The Hero is choking, coughing and muzzling himself with the crook of his arm. He can no longer serve the people any more. He’s a sickness, a virus, a disease … a plague.

Who will inspire us to be better? To be more free than we were before?

This is the 6th Lockdown that my beautiful home-town of Melbourne is undergoing.

There are empty promises of it ending soon.

Reassurances that the government has our best interest at heart.

People encourage each other to obey, be strong, and suffer together.

Staying Apart Keeps Us Together.

Catchy isn’t it?

But so is Strength Through Unity, Unity Through Faith.

I need not recount the plot of V for Vendetta (2005) for you all to understand the allegory I am making between film and reality. Naturally it is all eerily similar, but then so is the plot for a lot of stories. Nothing is original these days …

What is fascinating to me though, is the sudden realisation I had about the dystopian world I am currently living in and the immediate comparison I’ve made to this film, with the St. Mary’s Virus paving the way for the dystopian society created in Britain.

From curfews, to harsh edicts and penalties, the dystopian elements of my own reality consumed me so much, that I am here now, writing it all out, despite the lateness of the hour.

The idea of a “COVID-Normal” is such a bizarre concept to me. Further lockdowns can be triggered at a moment’s notice … further tracking and surveillance of your movements is now actively encouraged and mandatory. Only being able to leave your house for 5 approved reasons. You are now confined to a 5km/h radius of your home.

What part of that, does not sound like a dystopia?

When did we, the iconic stubborn, free-loving people of Australia, suddenly agree to submit to whatever the government says?

Fear of one another turned all of us into meek sheep or perhaps our infamously laid-back attitude offered an opportunity ripe for zealous policing.

You could no longer trust the people that brushed past you at a crowded party. Ordinary surfaces like the PB/5 tactile button for crosswalks were now tainted with something. Alcohol was now consumed in larger quantities than ever before, to clean hands, tables, hand-rails … anything that transmitted the disease was now scrubbed vigorously.

You can’t even breathe within 1.5m of another person, without a mask on your face.

The media did what it did best in today’s society …. stoke terror further in everyone’s heart.

Numbers are suddenly determination for your mood for the day. You read about how bad other countries or states have it and silently thank everyone else in your home for cooperating. Then minutes later, your heart sinks as you look on enviously at other countries that have opened up again, their carefree attitudes mocking your own stressed state.

Much like Trump’s presidency, the media is fixated on this crisis, unwilling to report on anything else, holding a perpetual gun to everyone’s head to hear their despairing news, because they need to make revenue through fear.

Isn’t it amazing how where once we only used to hear from our illustrious leaders when it was important, we now have daily “reassurances” from politicians who claim to have our best interest at heart.

We all want to tune in to the state news and hear what is their plan, what is their road-map to keeping us safe from each other.

Staying Apart Keeps Us Together.

Repeat that, until you believe in its’ strange juxtaposition.

Repeat that, until you accept the new “normal”, where we are all now monitored.

Repeat that, until you hear the cries of protests, as unlawful and unpatriotic.

Repeat that, until you forget what freedoms you had, because you’ve known no other reality for 2 years.

Repeat that, until you know that the jail you’ve populated with junk is now your home and you are confined to it.

Repeat that, until you walk outside, and are seemingly grateful for the 2 hours of exercise you’ve been granted.

Staying Apart Keeps Us Together.

There is no denying in history that police states have arisen thanks to terrifying crises. To name a few ….

Russia (1921) – Famine // United Kingdom (1939) – WWII Blackout // Germany (1930) – Nazi Party // South Africa (1948) – Apartheid // Egypt (2013) – Economic Crisis // Australia (1964) – Vietnam National Service Scheme

Yet despite these warning signs in history, we are all too easily swayed into accepting draconian measures for our safety. Often it is too late when we realise something is wrong, because naturally our fear has been stoked to such a degree that it takes a while to calm ourselves down.

Yet, here I am, sleepless, restless, anxious and paranoid. It isn’t the pandemic that I fear any more, it’s the dystopian world that I have seemingly allowed to manifest itself from film into reality.

The numbers have lost all meaning to me. The cases will always be around, regardless of vaccination. That is just the nature of the virus, just like how you can be vaccinated against the flu and still get the flu.

The endless debates on the pandemic is not of any particular concern to me. Humanity as a whole is far too resilient to be taken down by this one.

The real horror lies in how humanity has turned against itself.

Corporations turning the pandemic to their advantage and making huge profits at the cost of people’s health.

Work at home says the company man, to the initial joy of the drones. The drones content with the idea of operating at home at later hours and in the comfort of their home, suddenly find themselves unable to switch off, because now the work is home.

Their work-life balance is horrible, their health slowly decay at home and what was once a sanctuary is now another soulless room with 4 walls. All identity has sucked away by endless zoom calls and procrastination.

You’ll be subsidised by the government says the manager to the retail staff. The retail worker heads home, happy to take a break. Serving customers all day is a pain in the arse and they can take a holiday of sorts. But when they apply for pandemic aid, they realise that they’re missing 500 dollars that they normally need to make ends meet.

Suddenly they crave going back to work. Home isn’t as exciting. The food is blander than their normal lunches, the lack of social interaction is driving them mad. The 8 hours in a shift, bored at work, is now even more boring at home. Self-destruction awaits.

I’ll take you, but I have to let the rest of you go.says the chef to his casual staff. The once tight-knit group of workers, bonding over the universal suffering of hospitality are now split asunder by the favouritism. Why does that girl get the shift? asks a disgruntled waiter as he heads home, where he throws his towel in the wash.

How the hell am I going to pay rent? wonders a sous-chef as the restaurant that he bled, toiled and slaved away in for years shut down, due to a lack of customers. I can’t enjoy a drink there anymore? queries a long time patron as she stares inside the desolate window of her favourite wine bar, the LEASE sign mocking her nostalgic sadness.

Everywhere, the pandemic and by extension, the government has slowly laid waste to the creative and fun industries.

You can no longer attend events, eat at a fancy restaurant, appreciate the coffee of your favourite barista, pop in to see a movie or even engage in a fun activity with your friends.

We’ve turned against each other now … all the things that used to bind us together, maintain relationships and foster trust in a community has been stripped away from us.

Hugs …. Handshakes … Fist Bumps … Kisses ….

Illegal. Disapproved. Illicit. Disgusting even.

Welcome to the dystopia of 2021, where humanity has sacrificed emotional bonds for complete subjugation.

Enjoy your new prison, continue to make the economy strong with useless purchases that will never satiate you.

Enjoy your new restrictions, continue to exercise with caution and fear, please maintain a safe distance between you and everyone else.

Enjoy your new normal, please check in everywhere so we can track your movements. Failure to do so will result in heavy fines.

Enjoy your new interactions, if you miss your friends, do not visit them in person, just call them via a screen.

Enjoy your new reality. We are a dystopia masquerading as a utopia.

This is London ≠ This is Melbourne.

Good evening, London Melbourne..

Allow me first to apologize for this interruption.

I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine- the security of the familiar, the tranquillity of repetition.

I enjoy them as much as any bloke.

But in the spirit of commemoration, whereby those important events of the past, usually associated with someone’s death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, a celebration of a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat.

There are of course those who do not want us to speak.

I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way.

Why?

Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power.

Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.

And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?

Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression.

And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission.

How did this happen?

Who’s to blame?

Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable.

But again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.

I know why you did it.

I know you were afraid.

Who wouldn’t be?

War, terror, disease.

There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.

Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler premier.

He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.

(Alan Moore – V for Vendetta (1982) )

Staying Apart Keeps Us Together.

Staying Apart is the Best Way to Stay United.

Stay Home, Save Lives.

Obey the Rules and Stay Home.

OUR UTOPIA IS ONLY THREATENED BY YOU.

V for Vendetta (2005). Strength Through Unity, Unity Through FaithStaying Apart Keeps Us Together.

Max Payne 3: Retrospective

maxpayne3_maxartwork5_2560x1600

I was a dumb American, in a place where dumb Americans were less popular than the clap. 

Released: 2012

Publisher: Rockstar

Y/N? Yes.

Synopsis: 

8 years on, Max Payne 3 still provides heavy hitting and visceral entertainment. Its’ gun-play is smooth and snappy, the narrative gripping and dark, and James McCaffrey’s voice is as grizzled, tough and memorable as ever.

If you are after the short and sharp review, then yes, I would recommend this game. It still looks great, it plays great, the music is unique, the plot is gripping and the overall experience is stellar, as to be expected from a Rockstar release.

An even shorter version is this:

Gameplay: Y

Narrative: Y

Graphics: Y

Soundscape: Y

Experience: Y

But Retrospectives are all about diving deeper into games and seeing what makes them tick.

So here we go …

Game-play

Max Payne is known for its’ innovative use of bullet time and John Woo like experience. In this third iteration, it is expanded upon and made cinematic. The screen pulses whenever you activate bullet time, and the gore is ramped up to allow you to feel every impact that each round creates as it enters your foe.

Max is also slower, more realistic in how he perform these death-defying stunts in comparison to Max Payne 2. He runs slower, a subtle sign of his age, and you can hear explosive grunts as he desperately tries to contort his body in impossible pirouettes and dives to make the shots you want him to make.

Of particular note, is the final death cam that activates whenever you kill the final enemy in a particular section. Gory, bombastic and visceral, it allows you to pump round after round into the enemy, watching their body slump, and rag in glorious slow-motion. There is a cathartic relief in doing so, a gleeful moment to expel frustration, to counter the sensation of being pinned down by so many enemy NPCs earlier.

Subtle details like Max holding a primary weapon, instead of it disappearing into thin air, or the wisecracks Max provides whenever taking another of his iconic painkillers, are all welcome additions to the game. It generates immersion on a level rarely seen in other games, especially since Rockstar made exhaustive efforts to map out and create a realistic, lived-in Sao Paulo.

The gun-play itself, is unique. Having made significant strides in Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar attempted to really hone their formula, crafting a strange slow is smooth, smooth is fast mechanic to the gun-play.

Shots are easy to land, but Max’s movements are not typically quick or very snappy as seen in other third person shooters such as Uncharted. But it is not inexorably slow like Resident Evil.

Instead, Max Payne exists in between the two. Recoil is noted, the bark of each gun a violent kick, making follow up shots somewhat unwieldy and imprecise. Automatic long guns like the AK-47 or the G36V feel violent and strangely controllable in a unsteady way.

Where gun-play shines the most is when Max is armed with a pistol. Pistols have always traditionally been Max’s primary armament, especially the famous Beretta. They are precise, and fun, quick and rapid, allowing you to transition from target to target with ease.

Ammunition is oddly scarce at times, forcing you to scrounge for enemy guns to use. This allows for better exploration of the guns on offer, and of course encourage you to find the golden parts to get a better version.

However the biggest detriment to Max Payne’s overall game-play is its’ level design. Linear in the extreme, it is essentially a corridor shooter, with extremely little wiggle room to explore or see. Gorgeous backdrops act like matte paintings, there but never really in frame.

Max Payne offers a unique take on the third person shooter genre, forcing you to be precise with your shots, but fast on the transitions, to really excel at the gun-play. The bullet-time is always a blast, especially with its cinematic death-cam.

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Akimbo Uzis will never go out of style.

Narrative. 

Of the three games, Max Payne 3 takes obvious risks by taking the New Yorker out of his natural habitat and throwing him into the humidity of a Brazilian favela. While some derided the decision at the time of release, opinion has gradually grown to be in favour of such a decision.

As an avid film noir cinephile, I loved the presentation of the first two games, and their obvious tribute to classic films. However, I also adore neo-noir and this game represents that perfectly.

Max’s lines have never been better, with dozens of memorable quotes scattered throughout the entire story (even the bloody menu), and a great character arc in mind for our titular protagonist.

Also of importance is the brilliant use of language in story telling on display. The story allows for clues to be understood if you pay attention, but divert you elsewhere when you are as confused as Max is, whenever Portuguese is thrown at you. This allow you to piece together the truth alongside Max and draw you in further.

Guiding us along this blood-soaked, painkiller-filled journey is James McCaffrey’s brilliant acting. He gives it his all in this performance, expressing pain, rage and depression with ease and aplomb, his voice the perfect guide to Max’s angst, discovery and dry sardonic humour.

The plot itself is a constant delight, truly allowing us to explore all parts of Sao Paulo and even some limited scenes in New York. There is a deftness to the pace and plot of the story, that allows moments to breathe, to explore Max’s psyche and to really admire the work Rockstar put in to create such an immersive and realistic world.

This of course is punctuated by excellent level designs that allow you to keep moving, fluidly and quickly through scores of enemies and innovative use of quick time events, which actually work in a narrative sense, because bullet-time exists.

Then, there are the cutscenes. An incredible blend of neon, stylised short movies, sliced up to pay homage to the series’ comic-book strip format. In particular the way how certain phrases are highlighted the same way a speech bubble would.

Overall, the plot of Max Payne 3 is a worthy testament to classic neo-noir story-telling with brilliant use of language, a deeper exploration of Max and a conspiracy that unravels with precision.

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There might not be any doves flying around, but this is still a John Woo moment.

Graphics

If you take a look at the future of Rockstar, post Max Payne 3 release, you would know there are some seriously gorgeous projects they’ve created. Grand Theft Auto V is shockingly good looking for a game released a year after. Red Dead Redemption 2 is essentially Rockstar proving it could make a Netflix series if it tried, from its’ cinematography, its’ story, its’ acting and its’ tackling of mature themes.

But what paved the way for RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine) true potential was Max Payne 3. Previously Red Dead Redemption was a step-up from Grand Theft Auto IV.

However Max Payne 3 truly allowed for a huge graphical increase. The textures, lighting and details in the story are almost so good, that you forget how good they are. No matter what it is, realistic bullet penetration or the tiny hairs on Max’s scalp, there is evident love to get things as authentic as possible.

No matter where you look, there is a photo-realism to the scale, behaviour and depiction of humans and the environments. Every level is insanely detailed, to the point you can’t help but wonder if Rockstar just grabbed a photo of a favela and turned it into a game level.

Of particular note is the lighting in the game. Sunset, darkness, morning, or afternoon, there is a particular way how RAGE’s dynamic weather conditions interact beautifully with the environments in Max Payne.

However some of the weapon models do lack certain details (rear sights and feeding mechanisms), and there are definite awkward movements in regard to Max himself, with clipping being somewhat of an issue.

Overall, the graphic fidelity of the game is astounding, still holding up well to today’s standards. A testament to RAGE’s power and the work Rockstar put in to create an authentic immersive experience.

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16x the detail ….

Soundscape

A review or look back at Max Payne 3 would not be complete without a ode to HEALTH.

Easily one of the best and most innovative use of music in-game, HEALTH delivered an eerie and tragic atmosphere to the game. Less soundtrack and more soundscape, Max Payne 3’s score is ambience similar to Trent Reznor’s work in David Fincher movies.

It’s strange, unnerving and uncompromisingly experimental.

It’s not music, but something more primeval and rhythmic, a truly narrative driven sound that only a noise rock band like HEALTH could conjure through twisted machinations with different sounds. It is thought provoking, hard hitting and utterly in sync with Max’s story.

It hits the high, it slams the lows and pays very subtle tributes to Max’s theme throughout the gameplay.

Of course, the highlight of the game is the iconic Airport sequence, in which HEALTH’s Tears hits you with all the force of a perfectly timed music video. Everything is synced, from the visuals, the gunfire, the gameplay, the triumphant way Max is overcoming himself, the music itself and finally you, yourself, knowing that you’ve nearly beaten the game.

It’s an iconic gaming moment.

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Imagine a club with HEALTH’s music.

Experience

Overall, playing Max Payne 3 is still a solid, fun experience.

The visceral, hard-hitting story coupled with the buttery smooth gun-play offers one of Rockstar’s best adaptation of third person shooting, that is arguably more nuanced and in-depth than its’ later releases.

The graphics still hold up, and continue to serve as a testament to RAGE’s ability to make anything seem photorealistic. And it will never be a bad thing, to re-explore HEALTH’s iconic soundtrack and listen to Max’s theme.

While I won’t cover the multiplayer, as it is currently has an empty population, the single player is definitely something I will recommend you pick up and enjoy.

Should you get it?

Yes.

~ Damocles.

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How do you even quit a game when you read something like that?