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

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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?