It's raining. The British summer has been everything we expect it to be, and at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon, you're not supposed to be sitting in your car playing Pokemon Go.
But addiction makes you do things you wouldn't normally do and things you certainly wouldn't normally admit to.
The cosseted interior of a BMW 5 Series is a fine place to launch an assault on the local Pokemon Gym. It's raining, after all, and as a 39-year-old it's perhaps a little too wet to be outside, even if that's what Pokemon Go wants you to be doing.
Sheltering under the bridge next to this particular Pokemon Gym are three teens. The flash of green on their permanently-awake smartphones confirms they're Go players too. This is their Gym and they're about to lose it.
The gym is a soft target, although it takes several Pokemon to defeat the fully powered-up Hypno who's lurking there. From the soaring high of the victory, comes the crushing low of seeing those teens rush out to reoccupy the Gym with a new set of more powerful Pokemon, faster than we can move in. It's an embarrassing twist of events.
This is where Pokemon Go takes you. It crosses divides, from the softly heated leather of a BMW, to the cowled figures sheltering from the rain. You're not playing in your front room on your sofa - something that has characterised computer gaming from its inception - instead you have to take yourself outside into the real world, where there are real people.
This was the position in July 2017 when we got hooked on Pokemon Go and 6-months later, we're still addicted, borne along by the game's changes and evolutions.
Pokemon Go review: A game of two very different halves
It's at this point that Pokemon Go is likely to divide its players. There are two sides to Pokemon Go. The first is the collection of Pokemon. This is the aspect that's casual, but very, very, addictive. You have a Pokedex, a list of those Pokemon you have and those you could have, so you face the same sort of addiction that drives people to collect football stickers or Facebook friends - you don't want gaps, you want the complete set.
Pokemon Go rewards you for heading to new places. Your garden is unlikely to yield much Pokemon action and quiet residential streets may be the same. But head into a town, or city centre, and Pokemon Go quite literally takes over. This will cause frustration for some players: if you live in the country, Pokemon might be hard to find and that's been an enduring criticism of the game.
Pokemon variety has been addressed by Niantic - the game's developers - increasing the types you'll find in a particular area, but you still need to travel far and wide to find those missing types. In Spain the normal Pokemon are different to the UK, for example, so this is a game that needs and rewards travel. That's fine for business folk, less good for kids.
PokeStops - places where you can collect items like health potions and Poke Balls - are often on notable cultural locations, like statues, memorials or pubs, once you're in a populated location, the riches are plentiful. Walk through Trafalgar Square in London and you'll be collecting items about every 10 paces, feeling the endorphin rush of having your cravings sated, but again, the countryside can be sparse, a barren Pokemon Go hinterland.
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It's the capture and collection of Pokemon Go that provides much of the excitement. Even after 6-months of fairly consistent play, there's still a thrill or sense of relief in capturing a missing Pokemon. Standing in Los Angeles airport trying to catch Tauros - a regional exclusive - while in transit through the US is the sort of thing you need to do to collect them all.
This is the side of Pokemon Go that will likely be popular with all ages and types of mobile gamers. You can sit in the park, eating your lunch, catching Pokemon. You can head out to walk the dog, use the game's nearby feature to find a Pokemon you don't have, and head that way with your furry friend. It's a lovely distraction.
Or someone might drop a Lure at the PokeStop pub you're sitting in, and it's happy days. It's here that the augmented reality that Pokemon Go has been lauded for comes into play. When you go to capture, the camera on the rear of the phone shows you the real world with your target character in it. It's fun, it's novel, adding a sense of purpose to AR in a game that it has so far lacked, giving that feeling that you're actually living in this alternate reality.
But as time has passed, the live AR has been one of the things we've ditched. It still provides a lot of amusement for kids - there's a Lapras on your head! - but in terms of gameplay it makes the game slower, uses more battery and makes capture more difficult. Unique the AR might be, but it's really the geographical element that makes Pokemon Go interesting.
Pokemon Go review: Cry 'havoc!', and let slip the Arcanine of war
Pokemon isn't just about catching them all. It's about pitching them into battle. This is where Gyms come into play, and ultimately, this is what the different Pokemon stats are about: how strong they will attack and how well they will survive attacks, as well as which Pokemon is more effective against which other type - water betters fire, grass betters water, for example.
Ultmately, capturing a Gym is how you'll earn coins to send in-game without using real money. Gym battles also give you XP boosts, to help you progress in the game.
When you encounter a Gym, you'll find it occupied by a team and defended by one or more Pokemon. It's here that Pokemon is a very different game to the cutsey "catch 'em all" fun. Having to go to that Gym with those aims is very different to exploring and the reward of discovery.
Ultimately, the aim of catching, hatching, evolving or powering-up, is so that your Pokemon champion is more Gregor Clegane and less Tyrion Lannister. You'll also want an army of strong Pokemon, rather than just a few, so you have the resources to take down a Gym. This is where the obsessive catching and evolving, filling out your Pokedex comes into its own.
For many - those with the time - hanging out at Pokemon Gyms will be the hit, bringing the buzz of Pokemon Go, and taking the game to its highest highs. But for others, it will feel like Pokemon OD, where it gets too much, takes too much time and involves too much loitering.
The pattern for Gyms has perhaps been unexpected. You can train at Gyms to build up their "prestige" and add more defenders, making them more difficult to defeat. But typically, a high level Gym gets slowly whittled down by passing opposition, until someone takes it down and captures. We first expected Gym dominance to make the battling rather stale, but in reality, Gyms change hands so often, it isn't a problem.
You also only get to claim coins from one Gym at a time. You can claim those coins once in 24 hours, but it's unlikely you'll stay in a Gym for that long.
Pokemon Go review: Real world costs
Aside from the real money you could spend, if you're so far gone you just have to buy more stuff through in-app purchases, there are other tangible costs.
As smartphone users know though, keeping your phone on all the time costs you a lot in battery life. That's where Pokemon Go really hits home. As you need to phone awake to be playing the game, you need it on. You don't have to interact with it all the time, because you'll get a vibration to notify you of something, but battery drain is what Pokemon Go is known for.
With walking specific distances necessary to hatch eggs in incubators, there's a feeling that things could be handled better - is it about the walking, or time spent with the game open? Sadly, it's about walking with the game open, so there's no escaping the massive drain on the battery as you do so, but we've started carrying a 10,500mAh battery pack like a pro, good for three full recharges.
If you're fully addicted to Pokemon Go, you can expect your battery to be drained in a couple of hours - but just think about how far you might walk - we've chocked up 15km walks on some days, although Pokemon Go's measurement of distance seems much lower than what you actually walk.
Pokemon Go review: Pandemic problems, now resolved
Pokemon Go's success has surprised everyone. The game became pandemic, seeing huge adoption in regions in which it was yet to officially launch. At launch there was a downside that plagued the game, however, and that's a point of infrastructure. Server problems were rife and that meant failures to access the game, and failures to sync.
Niantic has done a lot to tackle these problems and the early days of failing to sign-in now mostly seem behind us. This is likely due to a gradual decline in the number of players, but also due to better handling of the traffic.
Then there are the locations. One of our local Gyms isn't in a place you can get to. We don't know how Pokemon Go's locations were put together, but we guess it was some sort of location scraper that used online sources to collect data and images of places. But in the real world, you'll find some of these locations are behind fences, on private property, or for us, on a building site.
Early reports told us of people trespassing, getting into danger and other incidents, which now seem to have subsided, as Pokemon Go mania subsided. New Poke Stops and Gyms are also appearing too, with deals with Starbucks, for example, adding another 9000 locations to the Pokemon map in the US.
Pokemon Go has made its mark on the landscape. It arrived at a time when many people wanted a distraction from the turmoil of the real world and Pokemon Go whisked us all away on a flight of fancy.
Exploring, collecting and catching is exciting, and being able to do that in that outdoors, on your feet, wherever you happen to be that day, is part of the magic, whether you're young or old, in a group or on your own.
For many, the battles and occupying the Gyms will be the game, especially for those with a Gym on their doorstep. It's about dominating, owning your territory and leaving your mark, but some might simply find they're too far from a Gym to ever really exploit that side of the game. It's a social game that doesn't leave you chatting to strangers via some chat app, but swapping tips with real people, in the real world.
Pokemon Go has been 2016. While the furore may have subsided, it's still a game that's captured the imagination of many, it's boosted the Pokemon crazy once again, enthralling a new generation of players, both young and old. We're all now waiting for the next influx of Pokemon characters, in a game that, for many, still has the appeal that it did on launch day.
First published in July 2016
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