Max Payne 3

Rockstar Games

I watched a film recently, which isn’t a thing I make a habit of. It was called Man on Fire and it was about a washed up drunk former soldier working as a bodyguard for a wealthy 11-year-old girl in Mexico, and completely fucking it up. It was a decent enough yarn, and minimally engaging on an emotional level. Apparently it was based on, or inspired by, or vaguely resembled a true story, which gave it an extra little kick. Nothing special, but it passed the time.

It made me wonder, though: If you’re going to rip off the premise of a film for a computer game, why not just rip off the plot as well?

Max Payne 3 represents the rebirth of a series which many computer gamers would consider ‘old skool’, but they’re idiots and children. It’s a third person shooting game about killing thousands of people in a balletic and nonchalant manner; and it’s responsible for the explosion of tired bullet-time mechanics in every computer game released since 2000.

For all its imitators, Max Payne’s recipe has never quite been replicated, so it’s with happiness I can report that Rockstar have managed to bring the series into the 2010s without losing its particular essence. Max is a bit older and balder and more grizzled and less well-written, but when you command him to fling himself headlong at a gun-wielding (dark-skinned and poor) maniac, he not only does so, but he flashes you his hairy, brown, puckered arsehole in slow-mo as he goes, saying ‘you like this don’t you? Pervert.’

Which is to say that the game feels Max Payne-y. It is also pornographically violent. What we’re offered is a combination of the acrobatic gunplay inimical to the series, and the sense of real weight and impact seemingly only found in the latest generation of Rockstar computer games for children. Bullets strike in furious explosions of gore, and the crazy old physics engine sends bodies spiralling to the mat. Slow motion is deployed to graphic effect, allowing you to ponder in detail the fountain of bloody chunks spunking out of your recently-vanquished foe’s now-hollow eyesocket.

You can even continue to pump rounds into an obviously already dead enemy and watch him twitch about in slow-mo agonised death throes; and thus begin a serious investigation into where your life has ended up, because you’re somehow unable to resist the lure of this extra bit of virtual bloodshed.

Unfortunately this weightiness can sometimes stumble into clunkiness, and Rockstar games’ typical problem of trying to wrangle a recalcitrant bloke into a bit of cover, or running around in confused circles trying to get through a tight gap while being plinked to utter bits, is fully present and correct. You’ll likely retry a few levels due to no fault of your own, but aside from loading times (covered by largely unskippable cutscenes which quickly become grating; frankly, i’d prefer a loading screen), it’s never really a chore. And when you do pull off a perfect chain of exploding skulls, frozen in time, there’s a sense of satisfaction to be had.

The levels mostly feel like realistic places that could potentially exist, and each sets up interesting circumstances for Max to engage his foes from. Be it narrow rickety quays that limit your ability to shootdodge, or arenas that force you to beat feet to avoid getting flanked or grenaded. And the levels get completely fucked up by the one-man war Max is waging, as windows shatter and cars explode. They’re all linear, and each contains one or more cool set-piece moments where Max flings himself heroically off a roof or through a window or something, giving you a fixed amount of slow-mo to waste every fucker you can see before you land. It’s a lot of fun.

Naturally, the plot is bollocks. It all makes a kind of sense, but it’s still bollocks. It seems to be a concession to topicality, taking kidnapping and organ harvesting for its plot drivers. But as noted above, it’s hard to understand why Rockstar didn’t steal more than just one idea from Man on Fire. Nobody would have blamed them.

Max Payne 3 is a game about a washed up drunk former cop working as a bodyguard for a wealthy family in Brazil, and completely fucking it up. Max, you see, is a haunted man, his life in ruins at the hands of demons he unknowingly unleashed upon himself. The only way Rockstar can think of to portray this is to show Max stumbling about his crummy apartment, doing nothing but washing down pills with belts of whiskey, to a soundtrack of TV static. As if anyone lives like that, then gets up to do lots of highly-efficient murder against dozens of superior foes the next day. It’s a lazy cliché at best, but I could have lived with it had they not missed the golden opportunity that was before them on a plate.

As the game stands, it’s populated with unsympathetic characters straight out of Grand Theft Auto, and it’s hard to see any personal reason for the bleak and cynical Max to give much of a shit about his charges, who he doesn’t even seem to like very much. We’re told he’s completely numbed by his addictions and his pain so it’s hard to grasp why he gets so heavily and murderously involved in the sick underworld of late-capitalist Brazil.

The reason Max is such a fuck up is due to the death of his wife and baby daughter at the hands of drug-crazed gangsters years prior; a pulpy and simplistic character motivation that perfectly meshes with the bodies-hit-da-flo action. Imagine, then, if instead of protecting trust-fund babies while they party and do cocaine, Max had been charged to guard the body of a young girl about the age his daughter would have been, had she lived. And then he fucked it up. That drug-addled asshole would probably forget who she was half the time anyway. It could lead to some cool ideas, and Max’s frustration as he struggles to put right what had gone wrong would be all the more engaging for it. We could have spent less time watching Max smoke tabs and puke into his sink and more time learning about who he is.

There’s always been an element of the psychological in Max Payne, firting with notions of paranoia and mental breakdown. What a way to probe the wounded psyche of a man who has nothing left to care about but the wreckage of his torched past. If they could have pulled off the ‘adorable little girl’ cliché, and made us care about this hypothetical kid even a fraction as much as Max would, we might have had something with a bit of an emotional punch, as well as good gameplay.

Sadly it was not to be, and plot is largely irrelevant to computer games in any case, but it would have made a big difference. It’s still worth playing, and hideous workplace abuses aside, Rockstar still make good computer games.

*flies backwards out of this review at 30 per cent speed, firing at you with bullets*

www.rockstargames.com/maxpayne3/

The Pokémon Letters: Chapter VII

Editor’s Note:

Attentive readers will note that this week’s update has been subject to a slight delay, for which we are most unapologetic. In between one of us emigrating to India and the other one emigrating to hospital, all things Pokémon have gone on the back burner. I’m relying completely upon the good graces of my co-author, Owen Grieve, here. I think he’ll let me get away with blaming my massive creative and motivational lapse on his blossoming career, rather than my own fucking rotten body.

Anyway, does everyone remember what this was about? Deep meditation, coupled with computer analysis of previous updates, indicates that there was some Pokémon Red/Blue being played, and that letters were subsequently being written about it. There was a lot of horseplay and joking around but in the end we solemnly agreed that Owen’s huge fondness for this series of children’s computer games was highly misplaced and instead we sat and watched Robocop in perfect silence, holding hands and bonding firmly over its subtle Christ allegory. 

I’ve a feeling I’ve remembered it wrong, and a folder full of meaningless screenshots taken last October appears to back me up. So join us now as we forensically reconstruct the shattered body of this series in the hope of reanimating it, all so we can kill it off for the final time.

This week: Cinnabar Island

Dear Owen,

All I could remember was that I’d parked ♂COBRA♂ outside the Cinnabar Gym, and quit the game in rage-filled disgust. I just couldn’t bring myself to take that final step off the cliff, but my memory refuses to tell me why. Just what had happened on the path to Cinnabar to excite quite so much abject ennui? Had my Snorlax overslept? Were my Pokéballs feeling tender?

Who fucking knows, eh? Also, who cares. They’re not paying for this shit, so all them non-bloghavers can just suck it up. This is what separates us from the ‘professional’ enthusiast press, Owen. Absolute autonomy, and zero production value or skill. This is a joke, I know I’m fucking brilliant.

Where was I?

That’s right, the Cinnabar Gym.

But before that…

Oh.

Oh yeah.

Yeah. This bit drove me bloody barmy. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, and nor do I care to. I seem to recall a lot of trekking about getting lost, a fair old bit of pushing rocks down holes to block a channel full of water, and endless random battles every single second of the fucking day. Of especial note: You turn into an otter when you go swimming, which is pretty slick for an old game like this.

Eventually we pop out somewhere or other and then we’re outside the gym. Okay.

We pick up some valuable intel about Blaine, our next mark. Just this one gym to do and the guilt of a feature left hanging can finally be assuaged. The tortured hours of sweat-drenched nightmares, the endless haranguing by YOU (in the form of a handful of polite and considerate tweets), all of this can be brought to an end. Elysium, beyond this one door.

For fuck’s s*ke.

A bit of a misnomer, this. Cinnabar shouldn’t even qualify as a village, let alone a town. It’s barely even a hamlet; nay, a parish. In fact, it’s more like a university campus for Pokémon geeks. I check the market for a souvenir, maybe a Poké-U scarf. Go Poké-U!

One of the houses shelters an enormous laboratory complex. At least, I’m able to infer that it’s a laboratory, on account of the numerous scientists just standing about wasting their tenure. Also these weird caches of lab notes that provide some sort of highly intriguing back matter which I will leave to you to explain Owen, since I ignored it, as usual. The place is crawling with wild vermin, indicating some sort of containment breach. We run away from most of the fights because I’m fucked if I’m doing these pencil-pushers’ work for them.

At length, we uncover a secret key, and I capture a My Little Pony figurine.

I instantly drown it in a bucket of piss, in case anyone thinks I’m one of those horrible, creepy Bronies.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! ^_^

Since Blaine is the big quiz guy, I decide we’re going to have a crack at some of his questions. But first:

Where is that little dickhead, anyway?

Hmmm.

Chuffing hell.

When we catch up with Blaine, he taunts us about his foxy fireteam of fetishised horses, then expresses his hope that we packed burn heals. We didn’t.

As my love for dogs and flames is well established, I am, for once, genuinely delighted by something in this game. As much as I love WINTERBORN, I would trade him away for one of these without a moment’s regret. I wouldn’t even say goodbye as I left.

NOELOXFORD kicks arse. Yes, he certainly does. I don’t have to tag a single other team member for any part of this fight.

There we go. See you next year.

Yours,

Noel

Click here for Owen’s reply! >>

The Pokémon Letters: Chapter VI

Editor’s Note:

Hi.

If you’re still reading after last week’s wedge of words, then you have my congratulations. Fortunately, you were not expecting the trend to continue. Since when has Demon Pigeon ever approached anything like consistency?

As everybody far and wide now knows – or would know if you fucks would throw us a frigging like or a retweet now and then – my good chum and Pokénerd extraordinaire Owen Grieve is accompanying me through a game of Pokémon Red/Blue. All along we have shared our thoughts and feelings via these wonderful collectible letters, which will soon be made available as a commemorative teatowel set.

Join us as we fight, feed and fuck our way to Pokémon glory.

This week: Fuchsia City

Dear Owen,

This week, NOELOXFORD headbutted a snake to death.

Yours,

Noel

Click here for Owen’s reply!>>

The Pokémon Letters: Chapter V

Editor’s Note:

If we’re late this week (and I suspect we will be) you can once again blame me, this time for vastly underestimating the time commitment involved in a game of Pokemon Red/Blue, and also for ignoring absolutely every piece of advice my comrade Owen Grieve tries to offer me. 

For the past few weeks, we have been trudging through this children’s computer game, hand-in-hand, our Game Boys tethered, and our penises docked. All along we have been discussing, right here in public, what I am disingenuously agreeing to call ‘the experience’.

It’s been a long, long road. So far, my in-game clock shows over 24 hours, which some of you will recognise as the same number of hours it takes to get through 24 Sainsburys oven-ready lasagnes in a row. Although time spent alt+tabbed into pornography, or distracted by that weird woman on Masterchef, is not accounted for in that total. So the truth may never be known.

Not that I resent throwing my dwindling supply of time away on this nonsense, mind you. I assume somebody out there is reading and enjoying all this. Somewhere. Also, this one is long. Too long.

This week: Saffron City!

Dear Owen,

Fucking hell. What a chore.

You graciously warned me via The Tweets that I’d need to get cracking early doors on this week’s episode. So, because I’m intelligent, I started this chapter on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Forward thinking, you see. Turns out it still wasn’t enough time.

There’s fucking tons to be getting on with, so let’s just plough in, and I’ll try and pick up your questions from last time as we go.

♂COBRA♂ quits the Celadon gym, leaving the shattered remnants of his heart on the floor. Off he goes, look, out for a melancholic stroll around town, set to REO Speedwagon. This Team Rocket jackass is instantaneously up in my grill. I remember these goons from Mt. Moon, but I don’t remember what they were doing.

Somewhere or other, we pick up the word that Rocket are running a gambling joint in town, so at least we know where to look for trouble.

This is that restaurant you mentioned, isn’t it? I can’t honestly remember how old I was when I first ordered a meal by myself, but I’m undecided how I would feel about the locations in this game if I was playing it as a child. Would it feel like a glimpse into an enticing grown-up future of hotels and casinos; or would it just feel boring to be kicking it around cafés and museums? I’m not sure.

I can kind of see the overall metaphor for personal growth and change (especially when you consider the backbone of the game is the idea of evolution), but the problem with that is summed up for me by the little hotel encounter you detailed last week. A kid looking at this game from the perspective of a kid is pretty well guaranteed to miss that point, consciously at least. And I wonder how many of this game’s older players honestly give a moment’s thought to things such as that over and above the thirst for violent conflict and sexual repression which drives sales of almost every wildly successful computer game series, this one especially. That’s not simply rhetorical bollocks, either, I’d genuinely like your insight.

I forget where this happened, but what we’re seeing here is Pokéworld’s equivalent of Wikileaks, cheerfully shredding Team Rocket OpSec.

On second thought, Owen, perhaps you are right about the theme. Like pretty much every ‘adult’ experience, the Rocket casino is initially enticing and mysterious…

…but upon closer inspection, it turns out to be just another soulless battery farm for idiot-cash. No child is dim enough to be impressed by this.

I’ll let you guess how quickly I got bored of this, and how close I got to winning even the shittiest of the ‘prizes’ on offer.

Thank god we picked up that clue from wherever it was, eh readers? This guy immediately pounces on us – naturally, he gets immolated, and then he runs away. Cool guard.

This marks the beginning of three particularly shitty sections of this game, to which I am cursing you for introducing me.

Tons of fights, tons of wandering around, a weird maze that reminded me of a sliding puzzle, and two more fights – and then, the big denouement…

…another fight!

Now I’ve netted the Silph Scope, that means I can go back to Lavender and tackle that tower and get whatever thing I’m supposed to get there.

Instead, I wander everywhere I can trying to find a way to get to the end of this episode without feeding an entire evening to it. Turns out it needed two evenings and a late night, but oh well. Eventually, I pitch up in Saffron – after resolving a weird crisis involving dry-mouthed border guards – spy the gym, and imagine my troubles are over.

How naive of me. I thought we just cleared out the entire Team Rocket headquarters. So what does that make you, a refugee? An asylum seeker? A drifter? I pay taxes, you know. I don’t have to stand here and listen to your garbage. Why don’t you get a real job, and then we’ll both be out of one another’s way?

Our appeal to this young man’s decency and self-respect falls on deaf ears, and we are forced to find another way to evict him.

Broken Britain, 2011.

Fucking hell fire, eh? Click here for page 2!>>

Deep Stealth in the Secret Boys’ Club

computer games are for children

Demon Pigeon readers, I come to you a frantic husk of a woman, having shortly returned from Eurogamer Expo 2011. Billed as ‘the UK’s biggest dedicated video games event’, I was not expecting to return from this experience in any way bettered as a person. However, I instead feel as if I have suffered a great blow. My therapist reports to me that writing may be a way for me to work through the emotional trauma of the event, so that I may move on.

The first warning sign should have been that Eurogamer approved our press pass in the first place. Indication is that if they take a website such as this to be a legitimate source of news then they might just be fucking crawling up the walls. Nevertheless I recruited spunky young Daniel to accompany me on our computer game odyssey to Earl’s Court to play some computer games in a feigned and pathetic attempt to feel as if we were part of a cancerous industry of cretins. Unfortunately, Daniel was lucky enough to have been issued a bum ticket, leaving me to go forward alone to the great unknown.

Wow
Nabbing my press band and walking out onto the Expo floor – narrowly dodging clumps of dickheads sitting on the floor trading Pokémon with their Nintendo DS’s – I queued for 30 minutes to play my first children’s computer game of the day: Mass Effect 3. The demo featured Commander Shepard fighting a heap of generic peeved Cerberus soldiers and mechanical devices. Running from cutscene to cutscene trying not to get blooded seemed the general technique. I guess I was underwhelmed, not only because I’d seen it all before, but because the game seemed fairly identical to the second, the only difference being that they’d taken out all opportunity to chill the fuck out.

I guess the demo was selected to showcase the fast-paced action and close quarters gameplay that so many seemed to believe was sorely needed in the series, but it removed all of the charm of the previous games, in that not once during the demo did you actually get the opportunity to admire set-pieces like the sprawling alien worlds – framed just over a waist high wall – on the horizon. The demo actually turned out to be exactly the same demo that had been released at E3 2011 and various other events this year, meaning that the exclusive information I expected turned out to have been a radically wild assumption on my part. This new understanding made not only the queue, but the entire day redundant.

"Nice hat!" -"Thanks! I bought a shirt, too!"
Perhaps I’d made a mistake in coming here.

I took a traipse over to the Nintendo 3DS booths. As you might remember from my ‘review’ (pahaaa) of E3 I haven’t really ever properly gotten down and dirty with Nintendo consoles quite like I have others, but since they were previewing my favourite game (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater) in glorious 3D I decided I’d have a look anyway. After fumbling around in the dim with the 3DS’s knobs and ridged edges I finally found what they called the ‘sweet spot’…and got not much more than some bits of computer game grass poking slightly out of the screen, and Naked Snake’s bum-bum wobbling up and down as he shuffled along the dirt.

Wow hey, the sophistication of the 3DS’s technology had been vastly overstated in order to generate hype for the product! Woah.

Have fun.

Not particularly wanting to stand in line for another thirty minutes in the sweltering fumes of unwashed teen, I explored the 18+ zone of Eurogamer Expo.
But walking around there, amongst the Battlefield 3, the Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, the Saints Row The Third, the generic spray and pray third person ‘muscle-man-in-a-big-mattress-costume’ shooters, I came to a shocking realisation, readers – I fucking hate computer games. I would have rather dived head first into a reservoir filled with brony shit than spent a moment longer at the Eurogamer Expo 2011: a place where people willingly, enthusiastically paid money and queued for prolonged periods of time in order to have advertising and marketing spaffed in their faces.

So I left.

Fuck you.

SHIT/10: Don’t fucking go. Ever. Stay at home and wipe your bits on someone. Have a cup of tea. Call up your mother. But don’t go here. NO. Don’t.

The Pokémon Letters: Chapter IV

Editor’s Note:

Because he wishes to replicate the sensation of trying to coax a recalcitrant toddler into an uncooperative cagoule, computer game writing-man Owen Grieve has set himself the challenge of trying to encourage me, a handsome and noted ludological sceptic, through Pokemon Red/Blue, a computer game aimed at 10-year-olds. He’s having more success than I’d have imagined, delays notwithstanding.

We’re a week late because of extenuating circumstances I feel disinclined to explain, which may include – but not be limited to – my neglect to save my game at the end of the last chapter,  and also I hate this fucking game. Nevertheless we will try to be on time from now on! Let’s see how long that promise stands up.

I bet I’m not even halfway through yet, am I?

This week: Celadon City!

Dear Owen,

I’ve labelled this week’s update Celadon City, but it seems like I spent more time faffing about in caves and other gloomy environs. I guess you’re right that I should take a little more notice of the friendly and innocent people around me, if only to get some inkling of where I should go next. But every conversation in this game is like standing on the wrong side of a locked door, trying to read an entire novel by peering through the letter slot, even though only one single sentence is relevant or interesting (and I use both of those words advisedly). So I just blindly stumbled about, fought a shitload of people, and then I got waylaid in… well, you’ll see.

Perhaps after last episode’s admission that I now understand the conceptual appeal of Pokémon, you anticipated a more engaged and interested partner in our quest. I regret to inform you this is not the case. But I hope you are pleased that I am at least grappling with the ‘RP’ aspect of the ‘JRPG’, in directing my character as if he were Clint Eastwood with a great deal on his mind. It makes the simple world and the easy battles much more palatable if one remains deliberately aloof. Keep things small and in perspective, you see.

I’ve run out of pithy and jocular opening remarks, so let’s crack this week’s pokétome and see what took me so long.

With Captain America down, I ensure that our victory is immortalised, chiselling ♂COBRA♂’s signature into a pillar with one of WINTERBORN’s discarded hatchling-fangs.

I can’t remember where or why this takes place, nor who that guy is, but I do recall something about a guy who’ll critique your Pokémon nicknames. He can try, is all I’ll say.

I think it’s on the east of Vermilion we run into a little problem. I don’t get why I can’t just set fire to it, and USELESSBOB’S cut is equally impotent. My screenshots folder indicates that we went all the way back to Pewter City which, in an uncharacteristic moment of attention-paying, I realise was where we began. This suggests a degree of freedom to explore, and I’m a bit unimpressed. I’d rather just be funnelled ever onward, to be honest. It’s not that I can’t orienteer my way around an imaginary island full of weird animals, it’s just that I can’t be arsed.

I guess we made our way here. I honestly can’t remember the details. The process of cutting a shrub down is significantly more convoluted than the above screenshot triptych would have you believe.

I think myself very clever, as we cut through another shrub and sneak past a young lady who looks as if she is spoiling for a fight. I don’t need the hassle. I didn’t ask for any of this you know.

Augurs badly for the overall progress of this update that I apparently forgot to screenshot the brilliant joke I thought up for this bit. To light our way through the darkened caverns of wherever, we must first capture an electronical Pokémon and then bestow the gift of flash upon him. So we get a Voltorb and nickname him SCOTTSTAPP, in memory of our beloved brown-cowhide betrousered saviour who will forever have his arms wide open. He flashes. Everyone goes blind.

I know enough.

There’s quite of lot of cavern to cover, but it’s really drab to look at, and nothing of any real interest happens, besides a ton of fights, a couple of faints and some sneaking.

Um.

Ah, I now recognise this as the place where this week’s episode got shunted into a siding while I concentrated on other things like… shut up. Due to hitting the end of the usual travel-city-gym progression, I figure we’re where we need to be, so we mindlessly plunge through this door, and find ourselves in a weird place indeed – a Pokémon mausoleum.

Maybe you should get a grip.

Jesus Christ. You people are sick.

We head upstairs or downstairs or somewhere, I dunno, and look who it is.

I actually recognised AVIRGIN before the game even told me who he was. See, Owen? I am interested.

If anything, the battle is even more trivial than last time.

Somewhere along the way he’s picked up this monstrosity. I’ve taken quite a few unused screenshots of Pokémon I thought looked funny or stupid or just really fucking shitty, and they’ll remain unused because none of them look as half-arsed as this thing. Half a dozen eggs in a cluster, and it’s called EXEGGCUTE. Wow, where do Nintendo get their crazy ideas?!

Anyway.

Hopefully by next week, you’ll accomplish the task of leaving me alone.

To cut a dull story short, I ended up wandering around lost in here for a fairly long time, not sure what I was doing or why. Every couple of steps I would suffer a spooky moment with a g-g-g-ghost – that I couldn’t do anything but run from – and a bunch of irritating battles with creepy nuns; all of which eventually triggered my gag reflex and left me no choice but to quit and refuse to play the game for a whole week and then be unpleasant and vague about it on Twitter.

Still, we got there eventually.

A mysterious benefactor possesses the mortal form of OWENGRIEVE and gives us a boon of knowledge.  We abruptly realise that we’re burning down the wrong tree by hanging around in Lavender. One simple, hasty detour, and the entire chapter slips beautifully into gear. Welcome to Celadon.

Almost immediately, I spot the gym. Knowing that success here will buy me a day or two of freedom from this game, I decide we might be in with a shot.

I respect your honest enthusiasm, four-eyes.

He wasn’t lying either, it totally is. Although these sound more like teenagers.

Oh boy.

♂COBRA♂’s got a catch in his throat, and his mouth is too dry to swallow. He doesn’t want to fight her, he wants to love her. And at the same time, he wants to impress her with his prowess. He couldn’t care less about the Pokémon league. He knows that now. It was all leading him here, every trainer battle, every badge, every poké ball; to a mere fragment of time between the boy and the man, one plane and the next. If anywhere in all this crazy world there’s a woman to crack ♂COBRA♂’s granite heart on the basis of her name alone, then COOLTRAINER♀ is surely she.

It can never be, he realises, crushing the life from the ember before it can even begin to smoulder. His destiny is locked, as if on rails. They clash as rivals, not as lovers, not even as friends. The Pokémon League covers ♂COBRA♂’s life like a blanket of poisonous fumes, exacting its toll on every single corner of his mind as if it were a starving god. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is special. ♂COBRA♂ knows he must find the will to feed even this, the fragile bloom of his emerging love, into his strange god’s unfathomable maw.

Fortunately for our league hopes, COOLTRAINER♀ doesn’t stand a fucking chance.

This is Erika, who seems like a nice lady. But she’s standing in my way. Which means she’s dragon food.

That tiny chip off WINTERBORN’s health is the sum total of the damage she was able to deal. But it’s hard to feel cocky when she’s being so polite about it.

And with that, we turn our back on the ladies of Celadon Gym – and one in particular – leaving them to their fate, whatever it may be. And as we pass the pillars:

*scratch-scratch-scratch*

Yours,

Noel

Click for Owen’s reply!>>

The Pokémon Letters: Chapter III

Editor’s Note:

Congratulations are in order, for in the face of adversity and strife we have risen up to the challenge of our rivals, and we now sport the eye of the pika. Each week my internet piñata Owen Grieve is weathering numerous scatalogical attacks on his personality as we share a game of Pokémon Red/Blue. 

Follow our journey as we romp together in verdant virtual meadows, threshing dismayed animals out of their homes and performing twisted and sadistic rituals upon them.

I am 31 years old.

This week: Vermilion City!

Dear Owen,

I’ve come to a realisation over the past week, and while I’m not enjoying the game per se, I suddenly feel as if it’s clicked. I understand now why you have found this so absorbing. The moment my second-stringers started chain-evolving, as we saw last week, I realised where the investment of my time had been going. The return was pretty piss-weak and meagre, but it was better than nothing. In those moments, my posture towards the game rose from hostile to merely bored. Which, given that I’m over 20 years distant from its target audience, I think counts in its favour.

I stuck to my isolationist guns throughout my stay in Cerulean City. I spoke to no-one I didn’t have to, and when I did have to, I let my ruthlessly exploited menagerie do the talking. ♂COBRA♂ is emerging in my mind as a world-weary and embittered Man with No Name. He wanders a crudely-settled land, drifting from town to town, too battered down by life to bother with the niceties of conversation. His temper is short, his brows beetled. And with his weapon of choice, his deadliness is unmatched. The archetypal gunslinger – or perhaps ‘bunnyslinger’ is more apt.

He is yet only a child but his innocence is as corrupted wreckage, and his life must now be defined inevitably by conflict; wasted pursuing one ultimate, all-consuming battle, while the world rejoices. It is a tragedy on the grandest scale, that stoic Aristotle himself would weep to behold.

As to the fossil I collected under Mt. Moon: In ♂COBRA♂’s satchel, beneath the crumpled nudey mags and empty coke wraps, I found a helix. Perhaps I can flog it to the museum for a fortune, and settle ♂COBRA♂ down into a warm, comforting overdose. I did pay the Cerulean bicycle shop a visit and considered it something of a joke. Having said that, I never seem to be short of cash, so I assume it’s not that difficult to accumulate disgraceful quantities of wealth via the exploitation of mother nature.

Very well. To business.

First of all, I managed to completely overlook the blindingly obvious clue – which you had also provided, I now notice – of the house ransacked by Team Rocket, and instead wandered around and around Cerulean trying to figure out how to leave. I blame myself for this.

I can just imagine, yes.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was to finally see this, Owen. We get into a few random scuffles here and there as we pass along our way, but with the burgeoning WINTERBORN serving as our pokéhutch pit boss, I’m finding more or less everything we run across gets flambéed and mauled with barely a pause. He’s like a miniature Godzilla.

We stop in someplace and leave one of our adopted babies in the care of a complete stranger. I think it was LEONARD.

I assume this is to induct us into the world of trading in animal slaves. I take a couple of trades, and I don’t feel particularly good about it. I end up with something called SPOT, and a duck thing, which actually turns out to be pretty handy. Also the little animation takes ages and is fucking annoying.

This is the Pokémon fan club. Contrary to their credo, they make me feel very welcome, which just shows they’ve radically misjudged me.

I decline the polite offer of a Powerpoint presentation, and we go about our business.

The gym is only a couple of doors down from here, but there’s no way to access it. Instead, I decide to cash in our ticket for a cruise on the SS Anne. 

(Not to scale.)

Realising that exploring the companionways and cabins will just lock me into battles I don’t have time for, I head below decks, where this happens.

Wow, it feels like I only dispatched this joker about two minutes ago. Winterborn just burns everything he has to the ground until his spunk tortoise shows up, now calling itself WARTORTLE. That’s when WHITEWIDOW gets tagged and buries him. This time for good.

I’m all about that tactics.

AVIRGIN quits, and we find ourselves in the Captain’s quarters, where their occupant is bent over and groaning.

Ask me about the other types of relief I can offer, sailor man.

In return for our seedy and dubious intervention into his ‘seasickness’, the captain gifts us the power of ‘cut’. We bestow it upon USELESSBOB, whose hysterical moniker is becoming less appropriate by the week. This lets us turn our little bee fellow into an instant machete, which gives us access to the gym and the surly Lt. Surge!

I keep putting this cockend in his place. When will he learn to accept it?

I step all over Surge’s minions, and we’re faced with a really dumb randomised puzzle to open the steel doors the big bad army man has hidden himself behind. PTSD is a tough break, bro. Eventually we waltz through, and Surge immediately jumps all over our shit.

Hang tough, big guy.

WINTERBORN leaves him with almost nothing but the smell of charred fur in his nostrils, before he is sadly vanquished at the last hurdle. OWENGRIEVE hops up to put the coup de grâce on. He’s turning out to be one heck of a reliable back up for my hot little lizard guy.

And I guess that puts us over the top for this week. My frustrations with the battle system have now sort of waned a bit, Owen, not because I’m in a better mood, but because WINTERBORN can pretty much torch whatever the fuck he wants. Sometimes I like to imagine he sets them on fire before ‘mega-punching’ their heads clean off.

Most of my vitriol this week came from either getting stuck or getting lost, not to mention that sodding puzzle. Still, at least I feel like I know what’s going on now.

Yours,

Noel

PS: I’m definitely not enjoying it.

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