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Aaron Waite Aaron Waite
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Old-School Payne

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Coming back to a classic

The pressure bore down on me like a lioness hunting for her cubs, relentless and cunning. I sat in a daze at my computer, $20 in credit for Steam in hand and a mind muddled by multiple shots of Mountain Dew. The Summer Sale was clamoring for my attention, the various sellers virtually leaning out of their stalls in an attempt to tempt me to pay them some modicum of focus. I hadn't seen this many $5 deals since I'd worked my gig at Wal-Mart. Then it hit me: I should find something I had played as a child and hadn't really had the intelligence to think through and fully understand. Cocky and precocious as I was, there was still so much lost on my adolescent mind, a sin that I had to redeem. If buying older games was holy, I was the Pope.

I sifted through the various offerings, feeling the overweight monkey of decision eating bon-bons on my back. 'Delta Force'? No, there are places even this grizzled gamer doesn't go anymore. 'Tachyon: The Fringe'? I hadn't piloted a starship in years. Perhaps 'Thief'? The steps to get it to work on a Windows 8 machine formed a rap sheet as long as my arm. It seemed my nostalgic quest had evaporated with the heat before it even had a chance to see the light roasting it into oblivion.

Then that old pushy dame found her way onto the marketplace floor, wearing that same dress she flaunted in 2001 while knocking back a few at the local waterhole. The years showed on her, but not her face. She still had that same wheel-of-cheese constipation look that had enchanted my caffeine-riddled younger self. Even in her state of disrepair, she was beautiful, a sight to sore, bespectacled eyes:'Max Payne.'

I was brought back to our earlier days together, me, a budding gamer, and her, a blockbuster title. Even the title screen brought back memories. The noir poured from this game like bad coffee at a hole-in-the-wall diner: thick, cheap and an acquired taste. It was a gimmick that had forgotten it was a gimmick: a welcome piece of storytelling technique. The bullet time held true like the Empire State Building, still steadfast after all these years of other games attempting to rip it off.

However, once I found myself going through the first few levels, I realized the gameplay itself, while marvelous and even a bit captivating, was a bit more bullish than I recalled. Checkpoints were Saharas apart when you forgot to save, wastelands with damage-absorbing hitmen standing in the place of scorpions. Somehow, had I finished this game twice without throwing my controller in a fit of rage at the tender age of 14, but a decade later, I felt the vitriol rising like the fires of hell were stoking my misfortune.

I wasn't the same person I was before. I had gotten used to cover systems, iron sights and regenerating health. Now I was consuming painkillers at a pace to make House M.D rethink his addiction. I wasn't going to make it through.

I dug through my online contacts that I'd made over the years, searching for an edge, when in the very bowels of the cheats, I found the infinite ammo cheat.And suddenly, I was back. I was the action hero again. I could fully enjoy this game without bemoaning its pacing downfalls, its archaic health system with a renewed vigor.

I recaptured the magic of 'Max Payne' that night. I'm not proud about what I've done, but I've done worse in the years that led up to this meeting. At the end of these sweltering summer nights, I alone bear the burden of cheating to recapture 2002's glory. And enjoy I do, my old poison of Mountain Dew in hand, and Max's strained, boxy face on-screen, blasting mobsters with practiced ease.

I feel my mind easing back into old-school habits, and it's like riding a bike for the first time all over again. 

Aaron Waite made Ramen yesterday, a cruel reminder of his long-dead bachelor self.


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