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Retrospective: Far Cry 2

Friends like these.

Name: Quarbani Singh

Age: 45

Nationality: Mauritian

Eye Colour: Grey

Quarbani wasn't my first buddy in Far Cry 2, just the first person I'd met in Africa I didn't actively hate on sight. He seemed to at least have a little dignity in the depths of his mercenary psyche. Maybe it was just that he didn't say a whole lot, or what he did say was the bare minimum needed to convey his message. In a world notorious for its absurdly fast-talking, verbose residents, Quarbani was a breath of fresh air.

You'll regularly threaten and blackmail unarmed men, because you're such a great guy.

When Far Cry 2 gives you a buddy, there's not a lot of fanfare. They deliver their hyperspeed dialogue about how we should all be looking out for one another here in the depths of Africa, and then you've got some prick who will ring you up before you do a mission with something borderline genocidal and most definitely approaching a war crime for you to do on top of that. It's that or a guy who'll save your life a dozen times, at least.

Quarbani was the latter kind of buddy, the one that saves your life. When you go down in a firefight, you black out, getting snatches of consciousness as your buddy rushes in to save you, blasting away at whoever plugged you while dragging you to safety. Then he gives you a shot of morphine, a pistol, and you clear out the bad guys together.

It's an experience that'll create emotional ties between men. It's not often that I have my life saved by a game character in what wasn't a completely scripted occurrence, and to have it happen multiple times over a few hours made me really bloody grateful to have him around. Thanks to Quarbani, I was all but immortal. I relied on him. Hell, I even began to enjoy his company, when he had the time to give it.

Quarbani Singh died while I was trying to steal some diamonds from a militia checkpoint.

I'd gone in way too hot, rather than picking them off quietly. It was because I was being lazy and I had enough arrogance because I'd done it before. Except this time I got hit by an errant grenade and went down, doing that whole blacking out, semi conscious routine. Quarbani saved me, pulled me out of the fire, and we finished them off, splitting up to deal with them more quickly.

When your buddy goes down in Far Cry 2 they let loose a flare. It's always a bit of a shock to see, because they're tough bastards, but you just give them a morphine shot and they're done. Maybe two if you've taken your time getting to them.

I ran over to the flare, knelt down beside him and jammed a shot into his chest. His fingers beckoned at me. He needed more. Another shot rammed home, and another beckon. I only had one left, but he'd never needed this much before. So I gave him another shot, and again, he beckoned.

Well f**k.

I didn't have any more medicine, and so my buddy was going to die. He'd saved my life numerous times, and I couldn't even get him back up. I could leave him here to bleed out, or I could end his pain with a bullet to the head. The game, and I, looked away and the gun fired. I closed his eyes.

He was the first.

Name: Frank Bilders

Age: 36

Nationality: Northern Irish

Known Alias: The Mazeí

As if things weren't bad enough, rocket launchers have backfire, which sets more fires.

Frank Bilders, the ex-IRA nutcase who would do just about anything to get out of Africa and back to Ireland, including genocide, robbery, diamond heist and medicine destruction. Some really s**ty stuff. I never liked Frank, as charming as he was on the radio. Frank was a dick.

He'd always call me up when I was about to do another distasteful mission, giving me something even more unpalatable to complete, and I'd have to try and justify it to myself. More often than not I'd ignore him, but this time he was getting clear, getting the next plane out of Africa. I suppose I owed him that much.

I don't want to take blame for this one. My gun jammed, some piece of s**t AK-47 that I'd been using for far too long. It's probably my fault for not swapping to something that wasn't rusted through and covered in dirt, Far Cry 2's way of telling you your gun isn't worth the bullets you put in it, but firefights have a tendency for making you not really pay attention to the little things. A bullet has an amazing power to distract.

He was surrounded, and it'd just be a case of emptying a clip into them and he'd be fine. But the bloody gun jammed, and by the time I'd cleared the chamber he was dead.

So Frank never left Africa. The world is probably better off, but I've let down another person that didn't have to die.

Name: Andre Hyppolite

Age: 40

Nationality: Haitian

Andre replaced Quarbani as my secondary buddy. He was ok, did the job, didn't screw up too often. He only lasted a few hours though.

I think he got run over by a jeep while I was leaving the area. The residents of Far Cry 2's Africa are homicidal, and while you can blaze through the checkpoints in a jeep, if any of them have transport, they'll chase you like no one's business. After going down and getting rescued, I'd cut my losses and hit the accelerator. Andre didn't make it to the passenger seat.

I didn't exactly stop to go check he was alright, mind. I just never saw him again.

Name: Michele Dachss

Age: 35

Nationality: French

Hair: Blonde with a red bandana

Michele was annoying. I would've killed her myself if she hadn't taken a shotgun blast to the face in a militia camp somewhere.

Name: Xianyong Bai

Age: 24

Nationality: Chinese

Tattoos: Full sleeve Chinese Dragon on his right arm

A knife is a bulletwound's best friend.

He shouldn't even have been in Africa. What the hell does he know at 24? Idiot.

Got hit by a grenade.

Name: Josip Idormeno

Age: 48

Nationality: Kosovar Albanian

Known Alcoholic

Josip didn't die. How could he, when he had all these people sacrificing themselves to save his life?

I came to Far Cry 2 expecting intricate fire physics, a beautiful open world to explore and revel in, and a Heart of Darkness-lite story to tide things over. A standard shooter with a bit of extra weight on its bones, some freedom for the player, and the odd literary nod.

Thing is, Far Cry 2 managed to make me care about people I had no reason to care about. Nasty, amoral characters who cared about little more than themselves. Yet, because of the way the game worked, I built an attachment regardless.

And then, once all this had been done, it pushed me away, and made me care even less than I had when coming into the game. What's the point in investing in these people when they can die so easily? Why bother even learning their names, if the next grenade could finish them off? No, it's better to just take them for granted until they're gone, and then replace them with a new face.

It's still an astonishingly pretty game.

Far Cry 2 taught me the emotional detachment of a mercenary, while at the same time holding up a mirror so that I could see this happening to myself. It's not perfect by a long shot, with its psychotic inhabitants driving hell for leather the instant they even get a whiff of you, but it's still the only game I've played that managed to really nail emergent narrative in a way that felt natural and involving.

Every one of my buddies died in an unscripted scene that was a direct consequence of my own actions, and my own mistakes. Their blood is on my hands. I caused that, and I then have to live with a reminder that I messed up in the guise of whoever replaces them.

You're not Quarbani, Andre, and so I don't care about you. You're not Quarbani, Michele, so I couldn't give a s**t. You're not Quarbani, Xianyong, and so I'm not going to watch out for you, to make sure you don't get killed.

The fact that guns can jam, that fires can start, that grenades can roll innocuously down slopes and staircases before shredding the surrounding area created a game world where these battlefield stories can occur. And at the same time, it establishes a set of rules that ensures there's drama - eventually. The player will die, at some point, and so you'll have that last minute rescue. You're going to get into a critical state and have to perform some battlefield surgery, pulling bullets out of your arm or some rebar out of your leg. Things go wrong, and stories emerge.

Despite all of the problems with Far Cry 2, the fact that it can do that sets it head and shoulders over most other games. If you can get over the constantly respawning checkpoints and accept the grimy undertones of each mission objective there's a game that embraces the unpredictable, and has decided to strip away the heroic bulls**t of other FPS games. It's a hard pill to swallow, but it's good medicine.