Editorial 45: Modern Warfare (2019)

The last Call of Duty I actually wanted to play was Black Ops 2. After that, the series became an afterthought thanks to Activision pushing out a new title each year. CoD played like no other, laying the groundwork for all shooters since the very first game. 4A Games perfected the formula with Metro and shooters would not be what they are today. The latest release, Modern Warfare (2019) is the first game I bought in a long time un-ironically (had to play Ghosts just to make sure). You can tell Activision understood the need to return to normalcy after years of monotony. My only gripe is with the game’s story.

I have no problem with the inclusion of white phosphorous or the Highway of Death allegory. The gaming press before launch made a big deal about the game having WP as a Killstreak because they had nothing better to do. Yes, it is not a great weapon before or after you use it, but it is useful when you want to start a fire that wont spread or need to set off munitions. The Highway of Death allegory meant nothing overall, but the reaction to it inspired me to write this.

MW (2019) is military fiction, but it is so far outside conceivable reality it is fantasy. The word “fiction” is a misnomer because the genre is grounded in the real world. The story makes sense if you do not think about it; were I not researching Russia’s history as a military power, I would not be writing this. And before I continue, I do not have a pro-Russia bias. They make the best guns and women next to Czechs, but they have a history no normal human being could overlook. I am not going to be offended for them; they are quite skilled at doing that on their own.

Less than five years after the Soviet-Afghan War, Russia became the target of the longest insurgency in its history. The Chechen Wars were a continuation of the kind of warfare that lost them tens of thousands of men years before, but in a form no nation can afford. Chechnya is located in North Caucasia, within Russian borders, and directly south of the country’s industrial heartland. Further south is Transcaucasia, the Middle East, and Turkey, a cornucopia of would-be adversaries that could take advantage of a compromised sector if need be. There were two Chechen Wars and an insurgency that went on for about fifteen years, including a hostage situation whose outcome changed how Russia would approach terrorism.

America dealt with similar problems in Vietnam, but post-Perestroika Russia had far less time to catch up after their own Vietnam. The country was and still is somewhat Third World having been under Communism for roughly eighty years. Before then they were barely up to par with Europe or America; the Japanese were able to defeat them in 1905 and they just came on to the world stage. The deck has been stacked against Russia for about a century and only recently have they figured out how to play to their strengths.

The key to contemporary Russia’s military success is a balance of diplomacy and police action. They dealt with Chechnya by appealing to pro-Russia moderates among the secessionists while assassinating-the-shit out those they could not flip. With terrorism, no one is taken alive and hostage takers are killed through the hostages. There are stories out of Dagestan where homes are raided and suspects shot on site. Crimea was annexed while Ukraine was in the middle of political upheaval without firing a shot because the country was fearful of a localized “fascist” takeover. Russia gained a further foothold in Ukraine by assisting secessionists in Donbass, a war that continues today. And in Syria, I am willing to bet there are less than a thousand Special Forces and Air Force personnel assisting President Assad.

This tells us Russia is not willing to engage in large-scale conflict, nor could they maintain it without employing depopulation tactics like in Afghanistan, to the further detriment of their already tarnished image. In the event an insurgency or escalation seems likely, they go through diplomatic channels. In Donbass, they organized a semi-successful ceasefire with Ukraine after President Trump took a firmer stance compared to his predecessor. Chechnya was turned into a federal subject under a puppet, Ramzan Kadyrov, and I predict the Donetsk and Luhantsk People’s Republics in Ukraine will follow suit.

I would also like to point out to certain American readers (you know who you are) that Russia’s tactics do not include nation building or destabilization. They would never and cannot rig elections for a country of our size, nor could they influence an election via memes or “hacking.” The most they would do is resort to conventional intelligence gathering and espionage, whereas Soviets were quite fond of assassination. This whole “Russia got Trump elected” horseshit was conjured by sore losers in the corporate-controlled media to stagnate our government in an investigation that led to fuck and all. If you actually believe this shit, get yourself committed.

Conventional warfare is not an option for today’s Russia. They would only take action if success was guaranteed and they could do it quickly. Back in Crimea, Russia stole the region from Ukraine in less than a year because there was so much upheaval during Euromaidan. The same can be said for Donbass, Syria, Chechnya, and Georgia.

In American military fiction there has always been the “great enemy” trope among others. Russia is the cunning main villain, Arabs are terrorists, Africans are warlords while Afrikaners are mercenaries, South Americans are drug lords or despots, and American politicians are corrupt middlemen. These tropes defined military fiction from years’ past with some reoccurring today in one form or another. They are extremes based in reality that seem outlandish, but make sense when you keep in mind it is still fiction.

In the first Modern Warfare Russia was a mutual ally dealing with internal strife. The second game made them the enemy after an ultra-nationalist regime takes over and launches a sneak attack on America’s east coast, followed by an invasion of Europe in the third game. The first was perfect military fiction whereas the last two skirted by because it was able to justify Russia’s aggression. The HBO show Chernobyl put it best when it referred to Russia as a country “obsessed with not being humiliated.” The incredible “No Russian” mission in MW2 was the catalyst for the invasion because that mission was seemingly carried out by Americans as it was engineered to be by the real antagonist.

Contemporary Russia is similar to Imperial Japan. It is modern, but cannot sustain a long-term, large-scale war with another superpower. Had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor, they could have taken over China and been on par with America in a matter of decades. After Pearl Harbor, however, they ran rampant through the Pacific for six months before we pushed them all the way back to the Home Islands. In MW2 and 3 the invasion lasted about a week or two before the East Coast was liberated. It was also probably the same in Europe where only major cities were occupied, but I played that one days after it came out and never again.

The first three Modern Warfare games had stories that worked within the confines of military fiction, but the latest reboot makes almost zero sense considering the current state of Russia. Logic was likely sacrificed to push the story’s allegory for the Syrian Civil War and to play on the “Russia Scare” currently consuming a number of mentally ill Americans. MW (2019) suffers the same problem as Bright where it was more interested in saying something instead of thinking about its own world. I am pretty sure the writers had a cursory understanding of military fiction from movies and Tom Clancy books, but did not bother to understand what made them work.

The overarching set-up of the story is Russia has been occupying a small country the size of New Jersey called Urzikstan in the northeastern corner of Turkey. The war has lasted 20 years with a strong insurgent movement that has resulted in routine reprisals with neither side making much headway. In the middle of it all emerged a terrorist group called Al-Qatala that stages a brutal attack on London in the second mission. However, AQ was a red haring being used by rogue Urzik insurgents to get back at the leader of the occupation, General Barkov.

Pretty standard stuff when you do not think about it. When you do, the whole enterprise collapses in on itself. As an allegory for the Syrian Civil War it kind of makes sense. For one thing, it is said Urzikstan is in a civil war with AQ at odds with the insurgents (one coded as ISIS and the other YPG), but the Russian occupation is pushed as the primary antagonistic force that is doing the most damage. AQ was well defined as the Islamic Extremist allegory with the best missions featuring them as the enemy.

The story has a strong anti-chemical weapons theme where Russia uses them on the Urziks and later vice-versa. To the writers of MW (2019): ever heard of the Geneva Convention? The Soviets were quite brutal to the Afghanis, but they were not dumb enough to use chems and I doubt any nation, big or small, would use them today. However, I see what you were trying to do considering Assad’s alleged use in Syria. Yeah, he got a few angry letters from the UN, but President Trump made sure he got a proper punishment after taking office… allegedly.

Furthermore, it is strange that Russia would bother occupying a country like Urzikstan given its size and political situation. It would have made more sense and fit the allegory if Barkov was working with either the insurgents or a third element like a pro-government force. It seems all there is are AQ and insurgents. On top of that, there is no reason why Russia would go to the trouble of wasting twenty years trying to control a country via anti-partisan tactics in a comprising part of the world.

Urzikstan is situated along the Black Sea (practically owned by Russia), directly south of Georgia (almost Russia), and a neighbor to Turkey (who hates Russia). That country and Transcaucasia as a whole serves as a buffer zone to the Middle East. Were they closer, it would open up the Russia to attack from Western powers that are entrenched throughout the region. Is there some resource in Urzikstan they are desperate enough to exploit that they resort to total war? Do they want to install a puppet regime to increase their sphere of influence? I have no idea because it seems to me the game is more concerned about saying something profound instead of explaining itself.

All of these shortcomings could have been justified had MW (2019) made General Barkov divorced from Russia. In the game he appears pretty well off with a large estate in Moldova and chemical plant in Georgia. He does not even wear the RusFed flag on his uniform, nor do his troops. Like Zakhaev from the first MW, he could be a warlord with connections who decided to lead a conquest of Urzikstan like Slavic Caesar. Maybe you end up working with Russia to help put him down because he is making everyone look bad. Sure, you are essentially repeating the first game by appealing to logic, but with the added allegory to current events, people would have looked the other way.

Modern Warfare (2019) is still a video game and no one will give that much a shit about the story unless they are not focused on the game element. Other than Metro Exodus, there is no better shooter on the market right now. The feeling of going through missions and doing what we have been doing since the very first Call of Duty has never felt better. I could not recommend picking it up enough. I just wish the same effort applied to the gameplay was put toward the story.

Editorial 44: Matt- Portrait of Misery

I am going to talk about something I probably should not, but it has been picking at the back of brain for some time. Today, I’m going to talk about YouTube Bullshit. I am not referring to Logan Paul or any other neurotic dweeb who has no life beyond YT. I am referring to the realm of commentary and its dramatics. This is where the personality of content creators is without superficial skin and bares it all. However, honesty can be a detriment to not only the creator, but the audience as well. Sometimes your personality comes out in ways you did not intend and next thing you know it, you lose a hundred thousand subscribers.

This past year has seen the greatest shake-up for a sect of commentators who cater to drama and politics. This group commentates on commenters and it is an excellent source of entertainment. There have been several subjects picked apart like a corpse in the company of buzzards, but there is one commentator’s ever spirally downfall that has forced me to exercise a little introspection. In very small ways everyone can relate to this unfortunate failure of man.

MundaneMatt is a content creator that reads stories from Google News on webcam, uploads it to YT, and repeats this process throughout his day. He is a spam-up-loader much like the New England Cockroach, DarkSydePhil. The only reason Matt achieved any sort of notoriety in the past is he had a video flagged by Zoe Quinn, a hack writer that got jobs in comics because she slept with a bunch of dudes to get good reviews for her game. She also made a guy kill himself last month over still unproven abuse accusations. The flagging was one catalyst of GamerGate, the gayest culture movement in history. Not only Matt, but a number of prominent commentators got their start talking about GG in protest to those like Quinn seeking to make games more progressive.

The flagging helped Matt gain some prominence, and his GG content gave him much-appreciated attention. Ironically, however, a flagging would begin his downfall. Last year, Matt was exposed live for flagging several videos criticizing him, many being other commentators, on the KillStream. Weeks ago, the same stream released audio leaks from Matt’s Discord server where he criticizes fellow content creators, is openly jealous, is very aware of his shortcomings, and unfortunately, reveals that his infant daughter is not his own.

Within a year the man’s reputation as a serial flagger and all around passive-aggressive weak-kneed cuck culminated in a series of revelations that will undoubtedly bring him lower than dinosaur bones. It remains to be seen if Matt will acknowledge the leaks, and while I wrote this, the KillStream released more leaks. Many, including myself, found the revelations hilarious. Here is a man that is not only incapable of improving himself, but is aggressively stubborn to the point he refuses to change. Matt is a joke and yet, I feel bad for him.

The flagging of other creators is inexcusable, but it comes from a place many have been. According to a former acquaintance and other videos on the subject, he wanted to break into the film industry. Judging by his facial hair, he strikes me as a fan of Kevin Smith, and as a movie fan that grew up in the 90s, it makes since he would model himself after the man. So, Matt moved to Los Angeles in the late 00s to pursue a career in screenwriting while making his own movies. Here’s a link to his IMDB where some of the posters were changed to imagines of Matt attempting to cry.

Obviously he failed and moved to the Pacific Northwest to do what he does now, but the impact of failure is still with him. He has become so obsessed with avoiding further failure he has not only pigeonholed himself, he is openly hostile to criticism. He is aware and unaware of his shortcoming because he lacks humility. You are supposed to learn from mistakes, but Matt is afraid of his mistakes and attacks people when they confront him. Even as he talks about trying to change his content and how to improve himself in the leaks, his timidity keeps him bound to monotony.

And then there is Matt’s nonsensical ego. You look at the guy, see the things he has done, and think there is something wrong with his brain. Matt is in complete denial of his shortcomings to feign confidence. I find it hard to blame the guy given his past, his features, and the fact he is raising and providing for another man’s child. And yet he holds onto what self-respect he has left, manufactured or otherwise. In a way he sees his failures as learning experiences to dictate how other creators should operate on YouTube, while also studying said content, and not changing his own.

The leaks show a clear animosity towards more successful creators like The Quartering and Bearing for essentially doing the same thing in every video. Even before his flagging was exposed Matt criticized a Star Wars-centric channel about the monotony of their content. He also tried to start something with Ethan Van Sciver, a very talented comic book artist and commentator that is not at all serious. The leaks also revealed he takes issue with content that appeals to rage or confirmation bias while he wallows in boring, perpetual stagnation.

So, what we have here is a stubborn man that has known great failure, yet is incapable of learning from his failure, and makes it his mission to criticize the work of others in a vain attempt to feel confident. He sees himself as a YouTube expert dictating how others should produce content while ignoring his own advice. Furthermore, he has a history of taking out his anger on his critics by flagging, the proverbial cardinal sin among creators. What we got here is a bully with a vagina deeper than the Mariana Trench that lashes out at others for the qualities that make him unappealing, while putting no effort into changing, and I feel bad for the poor bastard.

Everyone has known failure. No one that is successful has achieved it without failing, nor have they not known weariness in the face of monotony. In my personal experience, I lost interest in writing movie reviews after four and half years. I just did not care to the point I wrote myself a list of rules to cherry pick the movies I actually wanted to see. Then I simply quit reviewing them. I used to go to the theater every week and I can count the times I have gone this year on two hands.

Did I bite the bullet and write a review for everything that came out? The last movie I wrote about was Captain Marvel and I could not work up the will to write about what I saw after. Do you know what I did instead? I dedicated my time to writing genre fiction because that is where I found renewed interest. I still review streaming titles, but only something I actually want to see. Only reason I have not written about Too Old to Die Young is because I do not know what to say.

When you are faced with a brick wall, you have to pivot around or go through it. No one can do something they hate day in and day out, and not try something new. When I was stuck in two jobs I hated, I chose to work towards something I actually wanted to do and I have yet to give up on it. To this day I am still working on getting somewhere better. Matt obviously hates what he does and refuses to change. In the leaks he sounds miserable and if he put the same effort he does into criticizing others toward improving himself, he would be happier. Even Kevin Smith, Matt’s apparent idol, got tired of directing to the point he went on a hiatus for years.

In this regard, he deserves everything he gets because he needs to be reminded that he has no one to blame but himself. Matt’s misery is the result of his inability to improve himself while attacking others. He has no right to criticize his betters when he is incapable of showing he can do better. Until he makes an attempt to fix his situation, he will always be the butt of jokes.

If you are reading this, Matt, and I know you are because you have Google Alerts set up, I am going to tell you exactly what you can do to set yourself on the right path. Firstly, go on the KillStream and apologize. It has been a year since you were exposed and you have yet to give an honest apology. Whatever happens on stream, you need to take it like a real man, because you are not. Second of all, the changes you want to make to your videos that you keep crying about? How about actually make those changes? It is not hard.

Lastly, and this is most important, dump your girlfriend, and stop raising her child. It is not because no one making fun of you will ever live it down while you draw breath, but because it makes you less of a man. I have no clue how long you were seeing her before the birth, but I am guessing you were in the room when your girlfriend’s daughter was spired? What was his name and how many were there?

Does not feel great, does it? Are you so desperate for puss’ you debase yourself by clinging to and paying for a woman that needs (a) stunt-cock(s) to satisfy her? Does she not find you attractive enough to let you in, but she accepts the food you put on the table? Judging by your appearance I am guessing she is not that much of looker. There are not many beautiful women that would find your “Kevin Smith but Fatter” look appealing unless they were pretty ugly themselves. Makes me think of the kind of men that usually prefer a woman of substantial girth, but that is a joke for another time.

To quote Shaun of the Dead, “Sort your life out, mate!”

Editorial 43: Johnny Mnemonic

At the start of every June is the Electronic Gaming Expo (E3), an event where developers and publishers show off upcoming titles and demos to the public. This year was okay with not many worthwhile announcements other than the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation. While the footage shown was pre-rendered, it revealed that Keanu Reeves would play a character before the man himself appeared on-stage. His presentation became a meme within minutes, but he reminded me of a lesser-known movie from his past. He is best known for Neo in The Matrix, but years before, Reeves was Johnny Mnemonic.

The early 80s and 90s saw an explosion of cyberpunk films. Blade Runner was the first to put the genre to screen and influenced many a prospective director. Hardware, the Nemesis movies, Class of 1999, Cybernator, and Hands of Steel were low budget attempts to capture the essence of Blade Runner. Whether they succeeded or failed is debatable, but because of the volume of such movies, cyberpunk was pigeonholed into B-movie status for years.

By the time Johnny Mnemonic (JM) came out in 1995, many tropes were established in how these movies were supposed to look based on budget limitations. The genre was still in its infancy and I imagine not many producers would take the risk of dumping money into projects about cyborgs. As a result you get a false equivalency: most cyberpunk films are cheap and thrown together, so all cyberpunk movies should be cheap and thrown together.

Rather than begrudgingly accept this fact, JM embraces it. From the very start, the film is proud to be a B movie, and does a great job of appearing professional.

From setting to setting you feel the desolation and decrepitude of the world. The opening hotel scene appears clean and tidy, but it is packed with people and cluttered with stuff that likely does nothing except take up space. Then you get to the truly ruined setting of Newark that is lawless and disgusting with trash piled in corners of run-down buildings. There is this anti-corporate resistance group called Lo-Tek living in this fort built of scrap and garbage on a destroyed bridge with tons of make-shift elements inside.

The costumes leave a bit to be desired. Everything looks mostly thrown together or pulled right out of the closet hours before shooting. Even the borderline homeless Lo-Tek guys look like extras from a Mad Max knock-off. Early on, Dina Meyer’s Jane wears this chainmail top that looks so out of place and uncomfortable that she loses it not long after. All the Yakuza goons wear trench coats that were three sizes too big. Then Dolph Lundgren’s Street Preacher is dressed like a friar that slept in a dumpster for three days straight and somehow he is this powerful cyborg.

However, all the awesome props throughout make up for the lack of better costumes. From mini-cd readers the size of pagers to a giant VR headset made of computer scrap, there are so many little things to admire because the tech in JM is analog. It came from a time when no one knew how advanced wireless would become; hardwire seemed the only way to connect back then. On top of that, it works in favor of the setting because the world is so rundown it has not progressed beyond analog. As a result we get physical, unique props that someone put effort into making appear real.

Good production value can only get you so far without a good story. The titular Mnemonic is a courier that stores information in his brain for delivery. On his latest job, the data Johnny downloads is so overwhelming that it will kill him in a matter of days unless he gets it out. While tracking down a specialist to extract the data to give to the client, Yakuza under contract by a major pharmaceutical company is on the hunt for Mnemonic’s head to take the data.

Given what we know about the storage capacity of the brain today, the story is totally far-fetched. At the start, Reeves plugs a device into his head to give himself extra gigabytes, which does not make sense unless it removed data because the brain retains about 2.5 petabytes. Unless Reeves had a ton of uncompressed crap in his head from other incomplete jobs to the point he deleted parts of his childhood to make room, still nothing makes sense. That being said, the story has stakes and a ticking clock to keep things moving along. Once you divorce logic from the equation it works a lot better and makes for a great cyberpunk adventure.

It also helps that the movie is just about perfectly cast. Actors from a wide variety of fields take up the supporting roles like B-movie veteran Udo Kier, the late voice actor Denis Akiyama, rapper Ice-T, and Takeshi Kitano, a legend in his home country of Japan. The only bad casting choice was Henry Rollins. Whoever thought that was a good idea probably lost their job. Everyone else does very well, but Lundgren had such a tiny part that why he was cast remains a mystery. All he does it show up when the characters need to be in more danger, but he is so non-threatening it does not matter.

The way Reeves plays Mnemonic is related to why he picked the roles he did back then. For years he was the Ted-half in the Bill and Ted movies, a skater-punk that travelled back in time for reasons (haven’t seen it). The kiss of death for actors is to become typecast in the same part over and over again because casting directors think you cannot act. Reeves played a pretty convincing skater-punk and signed on to not only a second Bill and Ted movie (soon to be third), but a show as well. To audiences at large that part was him and Reeves knew he had to show off his acting chops elsewhere, lest succumb to slow career death.

And so he branched out after 1990 with Point Break, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Little Buddha, and did not stop for nearly 24 years. Each new movie he showed off his skills as best as possible with varying degrees of success. The self-imposed demand for diversity shines through in JM where Reeves plays not only an arrogant scoundrel, but also a petty one. Mnemonic’s a morally neutral criminal that takes most dirty jobs and the last thing he wants is complication. When he gets the data uploaded, everything turns upside-down, and he just wants it out of his head. What begins is a cascade of hardships that culminate in a hilarious rant by Reeves that should have been better remembered had people actually seen it.

While JM is not the most remarkable cyberpunk movie, it nonetheless had a look and feel that influenced some, most likely the developers of 2077. Blade Runner may be the grandfather of the visual style of cyberpunk, but it was JM that perfected it if you ask me. Casting Reeves was a no-brainer considering his role as Mnemonic, but after re-familiarizing myself with the movie, I noticed JM had a lot more to do with 2077 than Reeves’ casting.

If you take a scene from the film and put it against any 2077 footage, they almost blend together. The degradation of the setting, rudimentary tech, and clutter are inherent throughout the movie and game. There is some wireless tech, but the hardwire element is still prevalent in 2077 with the characters putting chips in their heads or plugging into each other. It is not a clean setting either with grimy, dirty rooms packed with people. Little things also appear busy and overbearing with oppressive neon advertisements and clothing on the characters that is so complicated I cannot imagine wearing it in public… except the Samurai jacket.

Johnny Mnemonic is based on a story by William Gibson, the father of cyberpunk, and Cyberpunk 2077 is a follow-up to the TTRPG Cyberpunk 2020, which references Gibson’s work as the progenitor of that world’s punk movement. And being the visual realization of a seminal work of cyberpunk, it would be fair to say that Johnny Mnemonic had as much to do with the creation of 2077 as 2020. Casting Keanu Reeves seemed almost necessary. Whether other members of the cast or figures in the cyberpunk genre will also make an appearance remains to be seen.

Obviously I am going to write about 2077 when it comes out next year. Before then I will review the “Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit” in August from the original creators of 2020. As a fan of the genre, the next several months are going to be great. Getting back into writing after an extended hiatus to talk about a cyberpunk movie was a great reminder of why I got into this hobby so many years ago. I apologize for the long wait and it will be a very long time before I leave you guys hanging like that again.

Editorial 42: Metro Exodus

Not long ago I was a videogame reviewer when I lived in Orlando. I would not have considered myself a games journalist; I have dignity, but I did not have a great time to say the least. It is far more fun to play videogames than write about them, which explains why real games journalists are cowardly degenerates. I would either make up nonsense I did not give a shit about or outright lie to meet the required word count. The only articles I am proud of are my review of Doom (2016) and an analysis on BroTeamPill. Everything else belongs in the garbage. That being said, I find it difficult to not write something about Metro Exodus.

When we think of the post-apocalypse many imagine barren blasted wastelands patrolled by raiders in makeshift cars and revealing attire. Road Warrior and the like have taken over our imagination of what the world would look like following a nuclear holocaust. The genre has been so impacted by this collective understanding there are hardly any deviations across cultures, except for Russia. Obviously, I am sure there are other localized interpretations, but the current benchmark for the Russian post-apocalypse comes from Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro trilogy.

Set in the Moscow Metro the story follows Artyom, one of thousands of people living underground 20 years after World War 3. In an effort to survive with little to no resources and under constant threat from mutants, the Metro is divided among a handful of factions that look to the past to survive the future. There is the egalitarian Hansa, the communist Red Line, and the fascist Fourth Reich. Everyone is trying to take over while the Spartan Rangers keep to the margins of society, taking down anyone or anything that threatens the Metro.

Metro 2033 was the first book and first game in the series. Originally released in 2010, I played the Redux version some months ago, and before that Last Light, the sequel. Both experiences are very different, but the core design ethos of the series is still there. Half-Life 2 set the standard for all first-person shooters, but I think Slav developers like Metro’s 4A Games perfected it.

The series is known for their immersion. You really feel you are underground not just because of the atmosphere and technical tricks, but how you progress from level to level. You as Artyom walk through long stages that have different ways of progression, either loud or quiet, with little to know direction. The developers were mindful to use light sources to guide players in a natural, unconscious fashion. On top of that is the sense of claustrophobia and danger. You have to maintain the power in your flashlight and keep a supply of gasmask filters in the event you stumble into a toxic area or journey to the surface. The tension is ramped up thanks to the fantastic sound design that make monsters scary and stealth heart pounding.

Metro Exodus continues the series traditions while taking a massive risk. After a certain revelation I will not spoil, Artyom, his wife Anna, and a handful of Spartan Rangers escape Moscow by train. When they find out Russia is not as desolate as they once thought, the group decides to search for a place to settle down and give the people of the Metro a proper future. With a greatly overhauled karma system, what happens along this journey depends on your actions.

Each level is the size of a small open world with points of interest that offer supplies to craft perishables and work/rest stations. Exploration is encouraged and not restricted by linear progression. You can start a level, go just about everywhere, and the characters will even bring up that you already visited certain areas. Character requested items are located throughout that can boost your karma if you get them. There is absolutely nothing stopping you from striking out on your own and if you follow just the main missions, you will miss a ton of extra content and negatively affect the ending.

This works in tandem with the game’s character development. The way you figure out where to go or to search for items is by interacting with your comrades. You do not speak as Artyom, but when you hover around characters they will talk to you. If you played the original games, this is how you gained karma between shoot-outs. When you listen in Exodus you not only get side objectives, but also learn about the characters and build rapport. Though not quantified in a way similar to Mass Effect 2, you get to know them like real people, and enhance your experience. For your wife Anna, not matter what, listen and interact with her whenever you can.

Gunplay is vastly improved. No one makes a better military shooter than Slavs and Exodus plays like Call of Duty made by artisan craftsmen. Every shot feels like it has so much power with each squeeze and with accompanying sound effects that sell the sensation. Modifying your weapons is far more fluid and easy. The more parts you gather from enemies, the more you can change. When you trade one gun for another in the field, you can take those parts and save them for when you get the same gun again. There are also several customization options. You could turn a revolver into a rifle or the Kalash into an RPK. There is so much you can do and the only drawback is you cannot replay the game and keep all of your attachments from your first play through.

I hope that changes in the future.

It is easy to call Exodus a “fans only” kind of experience. Newcomers will not be aware there is a karma system or how it works without research and miss out on some important character moments. It would be a learning experience, as it was for me. Where I was used to the claustrophobic tunnels and mild survival elements, I had to contend with wide-open spaces and a lack of resources to create what I needed to stay alive. Couple that with great character interactions and gunplay and you get a fantastic experience that is well worth your time, fan or not. It is certainly a more worthy purchase than Anthem or that new Far Cry expansion I cannot remember.

Editorial 41: Frank Castle, Ubermensch 2

So, the site in which this article was posted disappeared and all its contributor’s work with it. Thankfully, I have the original final drafts of what I wrote, including my favorite Punisher-related article. Enjoy.

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Any time I have the opportunity to talk about Punisher I go all out. Of the Marvel Pantheon, he is the most interesting character with great depth that many readers overlook. Garth Ennis was the first to delve into Frank Castle’s psychology in Punisher MAX, exploring his transformation during the Vietnam War and time as a vigilante. After reading so many comics, I have come to the conclusion that Frank is a Nietzschean Superman.

To the uninitiated, Fredrick Nietzsche was a philosopher that pioneered the concept of nihilism, the belief that morality means nothing because they are ideas adopted on the basis of human ignorance. He really spoke to me growing up and influenced how I see the world today. My knowledge of Nietzsche is cursory to say the least, so I recommend doing your own research.

One of his more famous concepts is the Superman or Ubermensch, introduced in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Superman is an individual that can transcend the bounds of common belief and operate on his or her own terms. They are completely independent and function on logic alone, forming a set of values that supersede those of the majority, and shaping their destiny.

In fiction and history there are positive and negative examples of the Ubermensch. The Founding Fathers, Napoleon, and Hitler overcame society and did what they wanted. Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now discarded morality for instinct to fight the Vietcong. The Emperor from Warhammer 40k developed the logic based Imperial Truth to unite disparate human worlds across the galaxy. The Brotherhood of Steel from Fallout worshiped technology because it means salvation for the Wasteland.

The Superman concept fits right in with the pseudo-objectivism of superheroes. A hero using their powers to save people could be a form of showing how much better they are. Does Clark Kent really care about humanity or does he enjoy being revered? Why else would Batman enforce his own justice if not to assert his values? Does Captain America use his inherent symbolism as a way to show others how to act and behave? Though cynical, it is hard to deny the underlining motivations of vigilantes. What really drives someone to take up a symbol, a set of principles, and enforce it upon the people they do not like?

Castle’s transformation into a Nietzschean character happened in Vietnam. Overtime, he could not live without war because he loved fighting. In the story Born, America was pulling out and Frank actively prevented his unit from leaving their post. Later his war ended, but when he returned home, the incident that killed his wife and children forced him back into the mindset of a soldier.

He is driven by a bloodlust resulting from PTSD. Usually soldiers at home will want to go back to the front because that was the last place they felt normal. You spend a year in place where everyday could be your last and when you transition into a whole other environment, it can be difficult to accept the change. Hunting Vietcong was Castle’s normal and after his family was murdered, he saw the gangsters, murderers, and child molesters as Vietcong. Even after getting revenge he kept going because he believes he is fighting a war and does not want to stop.

Frank’s set of values as an Ubermensch is based on basic justice and pure instinct. His motivation is very simple: If you are evil, you die. He has no problem murdering someone for even associating with people connected to a major crime. He killed his partner Microchip because he worked for a heroin kingpin and executed a thug that helped him infiltrate a gang hideout.

He sees the world in a black and white moral spectrum. Castle thinks you are either totally bad or totally good with no in-between. When dealing with good, he acts with a compassion that penetrates his stoic demeanor. He was once a family man and when reminded of that life, he regresses into a father or husband. Frank is selective about what he cares about, but he actually cares and feels emotion. Mother Russia has the strongest example where he rescues a little girl from a missile silo and prevents her from seeing the worst of him. When fighting off waves of Russians, he made sure the girl was nowhere in sight of the violence and safe.

Castle holds so close to his values that there is no room for hesitation. He is a practical man, using his training as a soldier to function in all aspects of life besides work. If he owes someone a favor or they have something he needs, Frank is willing to play nice, which happened a lot in Punisher MAX. He is dismissive about working with others and moves on once he gets what he wants.

There is also no feeling behind his need to punish because to him it is normal. It takes a very specific event to really compromise Castle’s cold exterior. One time was a mobster filming himself defiling the corpses of his family. Another was a prostitute telling her story about being a victim of human trafficking. In those instances, Frank’s stoic bearing broke and he was a different man all together. After the deed was done he returned to a state of calm.

We idolize heroic figures because they transcend our notions of humanity. Inside us is the power to be something more and all it takes is the will to do so. Fredrick Nietzsche believed that the Ubermensch was the next step in human evolution as we drift further away from our primordial roots. Frank Castle is just one of many possibilities if we are to realize our potential. He may not be the most ideal, but even damaged of individuals have the capacity to become heroes.

Editorial 40: The New Thing

Neon Oldie is my second attempt at a serialized story. My first was essentially the same narrative years ago, but of less quality and time devoted to getting it perfect. I just jumped in without thinking and lost interest shortly thereafter. Later I figured out how to approach the story and format and here we are.

This endeavor is mostly experimental. I not only wanted to attempt serialization, but give my take on cyberpunk and noir. I studied the genres and worked up a decent understanding before putting pen to paper. My hope is I translated the various tropes and clichés well enough that readers will get what I am trying to do.

I have half the full story ready with roughly a quarter in final-ish form. Each completed chapter or installment is scheduled to post every Sunday morning EST. While some completed chapters wait to be uploaded, I will finish and edit more before getting them ready for posting in the future.

Keep an eye out every Sunday for new installments.