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Good While It Lasted

In the space of less than a month I’ve gone from having a job I really enjoyed that paid amazingly, putting me on a sure path to slowly but surely climbing out of my debt hole, to working part-time for minimum wage at a fast-food outlet that sells baked potatoes. I feel fucking atrocious. For just a really, REALLY brief period I got this feeling that there was a bit more to life than compromise, suffering and obligation. Now I’m back to minimum wage.

I’m almost 30.

This phrase has been going through my head a lot lately. It haunts me. Every time I have to nervously check my balance before I pay rent (“You’re almost 30”). Every time I look through job listings and see “experience required” for anything besides washing dishes or telesales (“You’re almost 30”).

I have friends who have worked for Disney. I have friends who are making it as creatives. I have friends who have solid career plans, ambitions and savings. I have friends who own homes.

They deserve these things. They worked really hard for them. It feels like I’ve worked hard too, but that I didn’t work with any goal in mind so I’ve ended up with nothing.

I’m just circling the pan now. I’ll do some more job hunting, send out applications to jobs I don’t really want but hey that’s what I can get, and then tomorrow I’ll go back to work selling fussy-assed old bitches potatoes, simmering resentment of myself and my current situation in life hidden behind a wall of bright-eyed pleasantries. There are two physical spots in this job where you can walk out into the view of the customer, and next to both of them, where the customers can’t see, is an print out declaring:

SMILE. HELP THE CUSTOMER. LOVE THE CUSTOMER.

There is a stock image of a smiley-face above this horrific sentiment. I’d like to note that no satisfying or well paying job I’ve ever held actually demanded I suck the customer off.

I think if I haven’t achieved anything significant by 30 I’ll say “fuck it,” burn everything I own and go live on a fucking commune somewhere. We’ll shoot trespassers, cook meth and eventually die good, noble deaths under a hail of honourable gunfire loosed upon us by a score of US Marshals.

I just… I guess I really want one of those ‘good phases’ to start again soon, and I want it to actually last a while this time. That great job was like a really cruel taste of a much more enjoyable way of life. But hey-ho, back to scrabbling madly away from the cold, unflinching glare of strife and brutality.

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Culture

As Terence McKenna said in this interview, “Culture is not your friend.”

I know, I know. How can I have a go at culture? What’s culture ever done to hurt me? Why aren’t I thankful to culture for providing me with such a rich and varied, erm, culture?

It’s easy to paint culture as some kind of essential framework, without which all the rich bounty of Western civilisation would turn to ash and be taken by the winds. But that’s the thing: our culture has a vested interest in ensuring that your conception of ‘culture’ is a positive one. It would be considered quite the faux pas to instead characterise culture as a form of bondage to which you never consented, which serves only to exclude and to characterise the foreign as ‘Other.’

The very word itself, “culture,” finds its etymological root in the Latin ‘colere’, a term for cultivating crops. While not without a sense of romance, this origin damns culture at its very roots as being a force which staves off true creativity. The reasoning behind this, if we’re going to continue to entertain the rather tortured metaphor I’m setting up here, is that the artefacts produced by a culture will always be template and predictable, as certain fields yield certain crops, and barring some truly seismic shift in the culture’s paradigm we can foresee future artistic endeavours and trends, even if only in the abstract. Even subversion is subservient to culture: works become defined by disparity and dialectic difference. I am a work of B, because I oppose A.

What was Ginsberg’s Moloch if not an unflinching characterisation of his own culture, one which he perceived as brutal, unfeeling, mechanical and fuelled by the lives of children, symbolic of his countrymen and their futures? Given, Ginsberg was a particular person at a particular time in a particular place when he wrote Howl, but the snapshot he took of his culture and it’s inhumanity and viciousness can only stand as a damning, rather than celebratory, characterisation.

Culture means borders. Culture means language barriers. Culture means economic disparity. Culture is always defended by the aged agents of tradition, the traditional enemies of progression.

In The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception (1944), Adorno & Horkheimer accurately predict the path of Western culture. They foresaw that it would become an assembly-line of sensory spectacle, repeated ad nauseam for the sake of profit, bereft of deeper meaning and only ever questioning or critiquing the culture in as much as it can viably profit within the pre-existing space of definitions, hierarchies and power structures.

Of course, all this is to be taken with a shaker of salt. Without my culture, I would have no way to disseminate these ramblings, no language or communicative forms with which to convey them. But that which is inflexible is doomed to shatter, and the defenders of culture and its homogeneity cling to a sinking ship’s mast, a crumbling tower’s parapets, shunning a greater patchwork of identity and community for the sake of preserving the relics of an ahistorical Golden Age.

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‘e-cigs’ – 2014, my day off

I don’t espouse this view often as in my cynicism I’m wary of announcing my enthusiasm for, well, anything really. Penicillin? Pfft, fad. But it really feels like people were dumb not to predict electronic cigarettes. I mean, vaping weed has been around since the first cavemen knocked the filament out of a lightbulb and cooked their bud in it, chortling away to Simpsons re-runs on their TVs that were made of rocks or wherever this tortured aphorism is going. So when I watch sci-fi now and I see people lighting up cigarettes it just feels antiquated. Blade Runner’s allowed, it’s the exception; you can’t have noir without cigs. But remember the chat they have about this in Thank You For Smoking? It’s like they aaaaalmost got there but stopped just before the tape.

I’m a big fan of them. I kind of have to be because selling them is part of my job, but yeah, it pretty much replaced smoking tobacco for me entirely. Sure, it’s newly emerging tech and most of it seems to be coming out of China, so we just don’t know what they’re doing to us yet, but I figure it can’t be worse than lung cancer? I’ll post my humble retraction the day I contract the ebola virus from mine.

But people are weird about it, non-smokers especially. The way people talk to me when they say “Oh well you haven’t REALLY quit, have you? You’re just addicted to that now!” just drips of smug superiority. I mean, I had and still have no intention of giving up my nicotine addiction, good CHRIST do I love me some nicotine, but I have managed to remove pretty much everything harmful from the practice of feeding my hunger for baccy-based treats, so why the hate? Maybe they just don’t like that I’m making the room smell of strawberries, to which I reply: go fuck yourself, you KNOW banning smokes in pubs was a mistake, now everything smells of stale beer and toilets. If I can make a small difference with my vanilla/cherry oil mix then by god I will.

I’d ride my own dick a bit about my ability to sell them, but to be perfectly honest they sort of sell themselves. I just explain the supposed health benefits, point out the variety of flavours and customisation options and then drop the bombshell about the ultimate price: I spend maybe £6.99 every couple weeks buying a new bottle of tobacco oil. Compare that to the £4.50 or so I used to spend every two DAYS when I was smoking roll-ups and it pays for itself pretty soon. That’s usually the clincher, you see this light go on behind their eyes, ears twitch, etc. For some reason they don’t switch on like that when you talk about trivial shit like not getting cancer.

While we’re on the subject of vaporisation: if you smoke weed you should REALLY think about investing in a vape. I know the prices seem a little daunting right now, it’s an industry which is still pretty young, but you can get a really nice piece like the Magic Flight Launch Box without having to break triple-figures. Vaping is a very different experience to smoking your bed. Best way to put it is like this: when I smoke a joint, I’m stoned. When I use my vape, I’m high. Vaping leaves you giggly, curious, full of energy and up for adventure. Add to that the health benefits of not inhaling combusted plant matter and the fact that the dry, brown vaped remnants can be EATEN (yes) for decent effect, and it’s a bit of a no brainer.

Seriously, if you’re curious, google the lightbulb-vape-method and give it a whirl. Just don’t touch the glass while or after you’re heating it, that welt took a while to go down.

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Mental Diarrhea #00002 – Hitman, Mirror’s Edge, death of culture etc etc

So Hitman: Absolution was a wet pile of shit. It abandoned a model the series had followed for years, threw a bunch of established lore, characterisation and features out the window marked ‘Retcon’ and caused a lot of lost faith in IO, who seemed hell-bent on turning their most prized IP into Kane and fucking Lynch. I’m not saying Kane and Lynch isn’t fun if you’ve got a friend and a bottle of vodka, but so are bad movies, poetry slams and awkward sexual experimentation, all of which are less likely than K&L to give you an STI. When I heard Jesper Kyd wouldn’t be returning to compose for Absolution I knew it was going to disappoint, but as a card-carrying fanboy of the series I sighed, hitched up my girdle and plonked down the £40 I needed to be proven right.

It was a horrible mess of a game and I traded it in a few days later for Far Cry 3 with no regrets. I picked it up again when it went on sale out of some kind of misguided loyalty to the series; I figured I might as well finish the damn thing. Shockingly enough it didn’t improve.

Sounds odd, but the main draw of Hitman, at least for me and some people I spoke with, was similar to that of Mirror’s Edge: the fluidity of precise movements and actions within a well-memorised landscape/scenario. Mirror’s Edge was interesting in that it actually improved with repeated plays, the first few forays into red-and-white-palette parkour mostly consisting of stabbing Templars with your wristbl- wait, no, that’s the OTHER game where a secret society seeks to disrupt authoritarian control by way of running on rooftops to a red and white colour scheme. SORRY EVERYBODY. But yeah, first few ‘runs’ in Mirror’s Edge are mostly about awkwardly bumping up against walls and falling to your death on the streets below. Later, once you’ve got a feel for what you’re doing/where you’re going, the game really comes to life. It’s surprising how many clever shortcuts you can find, and the combat is actually pretty enjoyable (no, seriously) if you just never use guns and experiment with the hand-to-hand stuff.

Hitman was similar in that the first few times you took on an assignment in Blood Money, Contracts or any of the others it was mostly a blind grasp at the walls. You’d explore the area, stealing disguises to hide in plain sight, figure out where your target was, what their routes and routines were, and plan accordingly. The next time doing the same mission you might try a little something you’d considered before, or check another room you’d missed, or just figure out something brilliant. The more you experimented, the slicker and more streamlined your hit became, and soon it wasn’t long before you got that Silent Assassin rank you’d been hankering for. If you wanted to you could just grab an assault rifle and cowboy the joint I suppose, but it’s playing like that which lead to Absolution being made, so I hope you’re fucking pleased with yourself.

Absolution offers little of this. I know it’s a well trodden point but most mission don’t even seem to involve assassinating anyone, which felt like the equivalent of a Dynasty Warriors game featuring Guan Yu doing his taxes or baking some bread. It’s just not right. The thing is… Absolution isn’t even necessarily a bad game, really. It’s just a terrible HITMAN game. Whack some hair and a different outfit on 47, remove any mention of “The Agency” from the script and BAM, new IP from IO and a halfway solid one at that! But we’re living in a ball-less era for the industry, for all creative industries I suppose. Curse of the postmodern. Adorno and Horkheimer wrote about this beautifully in their 1944 text The Culture Industry, wherein they identify in the young Hollywood industries a horrifying future: one in which media is made primarily to be sold, rather than to educate or even entertain on any level deeper than that needed to ensure future sales. Why would a developer take the risk of starting a new intellectual property with some genuinely unique features when we’ve got all these fucking spreadsheets telling us that players like all this ubiquitous shit, have a distaste for escort missions and supposedly fucking LOVE the sewers.

It’s the era of the reboot, the long-since relevant sequel, the game which immediately sends me flaccid by self-consciously trying to latch on to past glories. Hitman is dead; Long live Hitman.

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‘gnostic terror aeon’ – a piece of goddamn fanfiction

I think he’s gone, at least I hope so. Haven’t heard anything for a few minutes, and god knows his attention span isn’t long enough to justify a prolonged search. I was a fool to come here; didn’t do my research. Well Christ, how could I? Not like I can ask anyone about it. Maybe I should start from the beginning. I can only hope somewhere, sometime, someone is reading this. Listening. I don’t know.

I didn’t always live here, used to be I resided in the big city. You know the one; east coast, glassy-steel skyline, the nation’s cultural capital. It was horrible. Trash littered the sidewalk, hobos shambled to and fro, bodies would lie in the street for hours if you didn’t go around the block, at which point they just got dealt with somehow. I don’t know how long I lived there, I don’t remember growing up anywhere. At some point I just… was. The city was like a snapshot, never quite changing, never growing old, never crumbling. Initially I thought I must be insane; I mean, why else would I have felt so different to everyone? I would try and speak to people, and they’d just stand there for a moment and then blurt out one of a handful of repeated phrases, most of which sounded like they were trying to be funny or something. I didn’t have a home, but as far as I could tell no one did. Everyone just wandered about eternally, doors never opened, people never emerged from buildings. It really was a city that never slept. Well, except him.

I remember the first time I saw him kill someone. I was buying a hotdog, though I didn’t feel hungry. The money in my pocket never seemed to diminish, no matter how many sodas I bought. I had just taken my first bite when arterial spray from someone’s recently perforated neck spattered onto me, and I watched them slump to the ground. Everyone around me ran and screamed, and looking up I could see a man in a tracksuit and leather jacket lower a rifle from his shoulder. He seemed to regard me for a split-second before the sirens wailed, at which point he pulled a lady from a nearby SUV and floored it, tossing something out the window as he drove away. It made an odd metallic thump as it hit the ground, and I think I realised it was a grenade just before the cop car drove over it in pursuit. The flaming wreckage missed me by a few feet, and I think the spell broke there, allowing me to run for my life.

Over the next few days I would sometimes hear gunshot in the distance, or more worryingly down the street. I would see a car drive madly across an intersection, and without looking I knew it was him. I don’t know who he was, but he was very different from everyone else. Other people seemed to go about their routines mindlessly. Him… you could see him thinking. He’d watch something for a while, take a few steps this way and that, maybe dink around on his phone for a bit and then suddenly high-tail it in some direction, or more often pull a gun out of nowhere and start shooting. I saw him die one time and felt such relief, but then just a few hours later there he was, stood outside the subway station, emptying round after round of AK bullets into a fleeing mob. Somehow I instinctively knew I wouldn’t be back quite so quick if he shot me, so I always ran or hid when I saw him.

I saw in other guises. Sometimes he was a biker in a leather cut, other times some kind of Puerto Rican or Dominican or something, but just based on the way these three moved I could tell they were all one person. Was it some kind of demon? Some form of possession? I had and have no idea.

I moved a few years later, but I don’t remember doing so. All of a sudden I lived on the west coast, where the sun beat down on city and sand alike, but it was all pretty familiar. People didn’t seem conscious of their actions or routes, they just walked. The radio stations repeated the same handful of songs eternally and no one seemed to notice. I was on the beach one day, near the pier, when I saw him again. My heart froze. There, only a few feet away, a young black guy was looking a group of people. Something about his stance, his fidgeting, I had seen it before, and I had to stop myself from screaming a warning, knowing it would just turn his attention my way. As I knew would happen, he butchered them; he pulled a grenade launch from nowhere and fired it once. They flew back, lifeless and bloody, and he jogged to a bicycle nearby and peddled away from the sirens.

I knew he had come with me to this city. Or maybe I came with him? Maybe we ALL came, but only me and him can remember. I wish I couldn’t. I envy them so much, the others, oblivious to the terror we live under. I thought maybe I could hide in the desert, where there’s nothing to do, nothing to catch his attention. But then there he was again: now a balding, dirty Canadian with a quad-bike and an automatic shotgun. He saw me, saw me down here in this quarry where I thought I could hide and now he’s hunting me. I’m crouched behind a trailer and now I can hear he’s come back, his feet scuff the dirt and every now and then I hear the deafening blasts of that awful gun he’s painted orange. I don’t want to die, but dear god why would anyone want to LIVE in a world like this? It feels like all this was made as… as some kind of twisted PLAYGROUND for that monster, all of us just bullet receptacles or obstacles for his car to plough through and destroy. He’s learned how to fly planes now. Who would anyone make a world like this, and why would they put us here?

 

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‘canvas’ – some kind of metaphor

There’s a canvas. White, pristine and unmarked; a blankness that seems to stretch on forever. Almost seems a shame to leave a mark, but that’s what it’s there for. A few splotches of colour settle onto it, breaking the spell. These strokes are foundational, basic, the first impressions of a young mind whose sense of wonder and discovery have yet to be broken against the cruel shores of reality. As time goes on, more is added to the canvas. Likes and dislikes decide the tone of the following layers. Routine, familiar faces, your slowly expanding perception of this world. Along the way powerful moments that influence you deeply, whether you know it or not, leave their traces, guiding much of what will be added. The years pass and now more intricate lines appear as you begin to draw your own conclusions about the world. They may be influenced by lines drawn by those who raised you, or they may drive off wildly in the other direction. Soon, the original blankness is covered by a mess of colour that continues to grow in vibrancy, unique to you. Along the path you may reconsider some of the earlier work and make efforts to correct that which you now consider unwise, naïve, or simply unwanted. Sometimes this is easy enough, but some stains dry deep into the fabric and are hard to work around. You may spend the rest of your time trying to ignore these colours, or you may simply work to incorporate them into your new, fresher strokes. After a time, those original marks are completely covered over, but many of them bleed through to the surface, often explaining that which was laid down later.

But sooner than you think, it all begins to dry. The hot sun bakes away at the once fresh, wet paint and it begins to crack, flake and fade. The later additions often slip off first, the foundational colours peeping through, tones you’d almost forgotten about by this point, now coming back to you at unexpected moments. And eventually, time does its job; the brilliant, vibrant whirl of hue, tone, colour and definition crumbles, dust to be picked up by the wind and carried off into the ether. But the canvas remains, a white void that you now, despite having lost everything, realise has always been beneath all that you thought actually mattered. It stretches on, seemingly endless, leaving no hint as to how many works of grandeur and complexity have stained its now once-again pure, burning potential. A few new foundational splotches land upon it, and another magnum opus commences.

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Mental Diarrhea #00001

Rent gets in the way. I’ve wanted to write lately, but whenever I plonked down in front of my allocated terminal I’ve been too zonked from work/moving/life to actually do anything. Old story, told a million times in all possible ways. Eliot’s Tradition and the Individual Talent declares all stories told; that now, rather than try in vain to conceive of new archetypal or revolutionary narratives, it is only possible to attempt new combinations of old material. Uses an obtuse metaphor involving gases and elements. Just noticed that after referencing a text I remember from uni I didn’t allow myself to write “it’s”. Pavlovian.

This is a round-about way of reminding myself that it’s fairly masturbatory to write about having writer’s block. But sometimes I go a while without coming up with a sort of neat idea for an opening chapter to something sorta sci-fi or an absurd comedy. That’s all I seem to come up with, and it’s a bit frustrating. I can come up with concepts, maybe even lay down some basic foundation, but I just don’t have the discipline to flesh any of them out. I lose faith in them, grow bored, etc. Never had the greatest attention span, think I only managed to finish Ulysses out of stubbornness and the promise of getting to feel really fucking smug about it. Also, I read it around the same time I was getting into LSD, and the psychedelic quality of the text resonated well with my thought-process at the time. I remember listening to a bunch of interviews with Terrence McKenna about Joyce, and about approaching Joyce as a psychedelic/hallucinogenic artist. Ulysses certainly went well with acid. The fractured timeframe of the narrative, the constant leaping from one narrational perspective to another, the deconstruction or detailed analysis of the seemingly mundane; you’ll experience all of these when tripping balls. Sounds cliché I suppose, but the first time I dropped a tab I came up reading the ‘Circe’ chapter and I remember crying with laughter, tears streaming down my face because I *got* it. I’d been enjoying the book up to that point, but it was then, while slipping through that weird hallucinogenic stageplay of a chapter while Hoffman’s wrecking-ball was taking apart a lot of my psyche’s load bearing beams, that I felt I understood something up until then out of my reach within the text. Then again, there’s a real cliché: getting high and thinking you see the hidden messages and “True meaning” in something. Drop enough blotters and you’ll probably see subtle references to Christian Gnosticism and the Epic of Gilgamesh hidden between the lines of a Primark receipt.

Robert Anton Wilson was an author who meant an awful lot to me. I was reading him about the time I was having my magickal awakening, and I think he in no small part prepared me for Joyce. Illuminatus! was basically Ulysses with a 70’s counter-culture topping, so when I got to Joyce’s rambling, confusing and seemingly aimless magnum opus I mostly just felt familiarity to the form. Sure, a cuckolded Irish Jew wandering around Dublin for the day is a bit of a departure from a bunch of communists, libertarians, anarchists, Satanists, Discordians and others battling it out with the Illuminati (who may be communists, libertarians, anarchists, Satanists, Discordians or others (smacks of Chesterton’s Thursday)) across millennia, but the books flowed evenly enough.

Wilson warns the reader, through not up-front, that Illuminatus! is likely to lead the reader into Chapel Perilous; a state of mind where the individual may start to suspect they are being influenced by some ‘outside force’, and where one is unsure as to whether they have witnessed something outside their usual sphere of reference or have imagined/hallucinated it. Wilson, who wrote and spoke further on the subject elsewhere, suggested that there are only two exits from Chapel Perilous: the individual becomes extremely paranoid, imagining there to be hidden forces behind everything, eyes always watching, ears listening, secret plots, cabals and powers slipping their tendrils into all facets of human existence behind the scenes. The other exit is agnosticism, the decision that there is no way to totally confirm, deny or observe the ‘objective’ state of anything, and to simply try and incorporate this uncertainty into one’s worldview. I read the book twice, and left by both respective exits. For a time, yeah, I bought into a helluva lot of conspiracies. They go well with a magickal mindset, and to be quite honest it’s actually pretty comforting to think that there is some kind of Force powerful, wise and influential enough to control human affairs without operating out in the open. But on my next read I started to get the feeling I was being made fun of, that Wilson was in some respect mocking the paranoid perception I’d first taken from the book. I realised that there was no reason to boil things down to binaries (world is free/world is controlled, magick is make-believe/magick is real, the author is honest/the author is dishonest), doing so felt reductive to the point of unintelligent and unimaginative. It kind of clicked, there. Wilson was a big admirer of Buckminster Fuller, who he often quoted as having observed that “Universe is non-simultaneously apprehended.” It’s a bunch of five-dollar words suggesting that ‘reality’, whatever you want to call it, can’t all be viewed at once; you can’t see all the angles, all the motives, all the catalysts, all the forces at play at any one given moment. Without this omniscience, how can you possibly hope to assemble any kind of optimally detailed map of probability? Boiled down: You can’t *know*. You can suspect, you can believe, you can use all available evidence to draw a conclusion that works in all currently available models, but you can’t *know*. I found this other exit to Chapel Perilous far more comfortable and exciting, and so was glad I’d made a second attempt.

Rambling. Rambling on about boox and such. I’ve read plenty of classics, lots of high-brow lit, but to this day my favourite book remains William Gibson’s Neuromancer. I’m not doing it a disservice by saying that it’s simply a fairly revolutionary piece of sci-fi. But it’s my favourite text just because no other book, film, game, comic, or any other form of media you care to mention has done quite as good a job of transporting me somewhere else. When I first read Neuromancer, Christ, I could *feel* the Sprawl. I could smell the damp, plastic-strewn markets of Chiba City, hear the whine of Ratz’ prosthetic arm. And I loved the abstract way Gibson described cyberspace. For years we’ve lived under threat of Hollywood attempting an adaptation, and we should thank the pantheon that no project has ever made it off the ground. Any effort to visually capture any of that universe would just be the most depressing thing I’d ever see.
Cyberpunk’s a great genre, only one you can’t really do anymore and appear sincere. There’s a reason why everything that followed the Sprawl books was considered ‘post-cyberpunk’; Gibson’s universe, viewed through a contemporary lens, almost feels like self-parody. The all-pervasive Noir tropes, the clichéd cynicism of the protagonist, the staples that today feel like old trodden ground like megacorporations, hacker cultures, commercial cybernetics, all of it. When you read Stephenson’s Snow Crash, there’s a reason the main character’s called ‘Hiro Protagonist’ who works as a pizza delivery guy for the mafia: it’s because anyone else who wrote a story like Neuromancer with a straight face would be ripped apart for plagiarism. Deus Ex did a great job with the genre, maybe utilising it in a video game format made it feel fresh again. But all the archetypes were there: supplanting organics with technology and the existential anxieties that might arise from such a practice, an increase in the surveillance-state coupled with deregulation of increasingly powerful corporate bodies, questions on the natures of ‘life’ and ‘sentience’ in the wake of artificial intelligences, etc. Oh, and it’s always night time, can’t forget that. It was a really great and experimental game which arose in what I guess was the Golden Age of PC gaming, probably to this day still one of the best marriages between the FPS and RPG genres. Sure, if you want to be a prick about it there’s little in there you wouldn’t find in a freshman western-philosophy essay, the gunplay was evidently not the main design focus and it was butt-ugly even for its time. But it was more than the sum of its parts, a real game-changer of its time, and it’s generally remembered as thus. The sequels were respectably abominable and admirable, Invisible War proving what happens when you sacrifice design scope for marketability, and Human Revolution delivering an earnest prequel that displays genuine respect for its progenitor while never quite having whatever it was that locked me into the first one.

 

bleh

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