Thursday, 25 June 2009

Permanent Death, Episode 2: From Here to the Hearafter

A couple of other bloggers have been inspired by this ‘Permanent Death’ experiment, so I’ll mention them here. Michel McBride is playing along as Xianyong Bai. Catch up with his progress here. Nels Anderson is playing as Andre Hyppolite, and his excellent first entry is here. If you are playing along at home, leave a comment and let me how you’re finding it.

“He doesn’t need to know!” – Prosper Kouassi.

I started this episode inside the UFLL headquarters in Pala. The warlord’s mission was to eliminate some commando’s who were parachuting into the desert somewhere. Mission accepted, I went back outside to check my map and stand with my back to the setting sun.

My new buddy Michelle rang and asked to meet somewhere north-east of Mokuba, I drove east. Coming to the first of many manned checkpoints I overestimated the distance from myself to the soldiers ahead. I was still stepping out of the car when the first bullets started pinging off the bonnet. I remember thinking ‘this is it – my first firefight’ and the feeling of danger threatened to overwhelm me. Certainly, the mixture of exhilaration and jitters proved to pose more of a threat to my survival than did the enemy soldiers. I spent most of the fight crouched here.

It was almost a let-down how easy it was. Dispatching them all safely, I scouted the camp, picking up some grenades from the stockpile to replace the ones I’d frantically lobbed into the scrub. I hopped into a nearby UNIMOG (a vehicle that looks like the love child of a tank and a dune buggy) and continued on my journey east through the dense jungle, spying and capturing a safe-house just off the main road. The fight was short and dangerous and I got flanked from behind by a patrolling jeep. This is normal difficulty however so I only lost ½ my health.

While I slept in the safe-house, I was shown a view outside and spied two soldiers approaching under the cover of darkness. They didn’t really stand much of a chance since it appeared the soldiers default to crouching and waiting in the dark once night falls.

Back again in my trusty UNIMOG I approached a second checkpoint further down the road and, still in complete darkness, dismounted a safe distance away. I crept up to well within earshot of the checkpoint and took out enemies while squatting in this lovely fern.

All clear, I commandeered a jeep from the camp and made the last leg of the journey to my meeting place with Michelle. On the way I couldn’t resist snapping this picture of a beautiful waterfall. One of the things I like best about Far Cry 2 is the stark contrast between the natural beauty and the purposefully ugly humanity.

I hung out with Michelle inside the safe house for a few minutes while she told me that the soldiers who I was tasked with killing were actually here to get back at her for stealing some supplies. Another of the great things about Far Cry 2 is that it doesn’t beat you over the head with morality like many other videogames – it’s up to you to determine the morality of your actions. If you think about it for a second, it is really okay to kill that Michelle wants you to kill these soldiers? It’s very easy to slip into videogame thinking and just go ahead with everything you are presented with the option of doing.

Working with Michelle would, however, upgrade my safe house effectively keeping me safer and better stocked with health and ammunition. So I accept Michelle’s secondary mission and after a quick nap head to The Gun Shop. A bolt-action sniper rifle is within my budget thanks to the UFLL’s generous upfront payment scheme and with my shiny new rifle in hand I headed back west and north. I reach the border of what is marked as “private property” on my map.

I prowled on up the path towards the villa where my target lay and peered through my rifle scope. It appeared that the checkpoint some ways up the road was deserted, however I knew better from experience. I skirted around the side and crouch-walked through a building, looking for hostiles. Peering out the open front door I spied a guard, crouched cannily behind the front wall. If I’d have walked up the main driveway I would have been ambushed! As it was, he was unaware that I was now about to ambush him.

I’ve heard that ‘concentration’ can be described as like ‘a flashlight’, illuminating certain things while keeping others in the dark. You may have heard of the experiment where a person is told to count how many times an object is passed around a circle. The person concentrating routinely fails to notice that a conspicuously dressed person (sometimes in a gorilla suit even) walks through – they were simply concentrating too hard on one thing to notice another. In this case, I was concentrating so hard on the soldier on the right that I neglected to see the fellow on the left, sitting motionless in the bushes across the drive. As Robert Muldoon would say – Clever girl.

If this were anything harder than normal, I could be dead, machete in hand. As it was, I only lost a single bar of health before I took out the other soldier and continued unimpeded along the path to the villa. On the way, I spotted a briefcase full of diamonds.

Creping up to the villa, I scouted the area from a slightly raised position in the south-west corner – spotting a prowling sniper and dispatching him easily, thankful for the telescopic lens of my rifle. The shot drew attention to me, however, and I had to scoot back from my position as the bullets ricocheted around me. Enemies swarmed around like ants, and I used my rifle and pistol like an ant-squashing boot, putting them down easily. I ducked inside a small hut to reload and tend to some superficial wounds. Peering out through the only window, I was suddenly sprayed with fragments of wood as the boards covering the window were shot to pieces. In the middle of dispatching this fresh wave of attackers, one of them launches a flare high into the sky over my head.

I had plenty of warning before the “reinforcements” showed up – the jeep had its lights on and in the darkness stood out like a sore thumb. I took out the gunner in one, ducking behind a slanting piece of wall and sliding back the bolt to ready a second shot, popping up to take out the driver. I was now free to take on the house. I grabbed another briefcase full of diamonds and headed up stairs.

Inside the single lit room, hunched over some papers and a wireless was The Belgian. Looking straight out of the 1950’s with his thick-rimmed, jet black glasses he raised himself from his chair as I approached, jamming my machete against his throat. He spoke good English and understood my intentions, giving the commandos the new coordinates that Michelle had specified. Upon leaving, I paused to deliberate as to whether he needed to be eliminated to prevent him from calling them back and warning of the ambush. Michelle hadn’t specified, but I didn’t see the need to shed any more blood than necessary, so I shot up his radio instead. A futile, but symbolic gesture, as the radio was indestructible. I pretend otherwise.

Next thing I know, my phone is ringing and it’s Michelle on the other end. She tells me that the soldiers were moving into place and that I should go and destroy the evidence of the theft. It was in the back of a truck at a location one map south of the villa. Instead of going there directly, I went north until I hit the small river and grabbed a boat from the dock. There were some guards but they were no threat to my continued survival. I rounded a bend and picked off three soldiers guarding a safe house and, picking up another briefcase of diamonds on the way, moved inside and to have a nice safe nap.

Upon awakening, I re-entered my boat and headed east until I reached land, with another safe house in the distance. On the way, however, I discovered a deserted jeep sitting in the middle of the road. As I approached, I noticed a fellow walking away from the jeep, through the long grass towards a group of soldiers guarding the safe-house. It looked like he had gotten out of his jeep to stretch his legs before deciding to go and chat with the nearby soldiers. I stood dumbstruck for a moment at the normalness of the situation before shooting him in the back of the head.

I engaged the guards at close range and took them out easily, interrupted briefly by a bout of unexpected malaria. Seeing his opening, one soldier decided to forgoe his cover for a better shot at me, rushing out from behind a rusty car. Back to full health I proceeded to shoot him to death with my pistol and in his death throes, he knocked over a barrel of burning pieces of wood, starting a lovely fire that spreads quickly to where the other soldier lies in wait. I use some bullets to help him along into the next world and head inside and to have another nap. It’s nearly dawn.

I pack my bags and leave the Hotel de Safehouse, stepping outside into – THIS! The glorious rays of the rising sun.

If the path of my trip so far has seemed oddly circuitous, it’s only because I know that in Far Cry 2 the most direct route is often also the most dangerous. It’s also usually quicker to avoid checkpoints and guard posts when you can, and if you spend a few minutes planning it’s often possible to plot a reasonably safe and unimpeded course to your destination. Such are the lengths to which I will go just to stay alive. Here’s a rough map of my current journey so far:

Taking the bus from the nearby far-east bus stop meant that I could travel directly to the bus-stop in the south-east corner of the map, bypassing a number of checkpoints. Someone had left another briefcase of diamonds at this bus station and after dealing with another jeep patrol I travelled on up to the gun shop to pick up a fresh new rifle. From that same store that I had visited twice now, I proceeded west to come around at my target from the north and passed the same waterfall from earlier, this time in the daylight. While trying to take yet another beautiful screenshot I failed to watch where I was going and had a bit of a car accident. I wasn't even going that fast officer, I swear!

No sooner had I given up on righting my now useless Unimog than I was assaulted by soldiers. I forgot to mention that I picked up a new machine gun for my special weapon slot back at the gun shop, which I put to good use. Here is a man who met the business end of the weapon and ended up in the river.

Finally, I neared the location of my primary target – Mokuba, a shanty town with a mass of hazardously placed explosives just waiting to devastate living flesh. Here’s some exploding impressively while I coolly reload.

I cleared the camp and, upon reaching my target, fire a bullet into a conveniently placed propane tank, blowing the whole thing sky high.

My phone rings again it’s Michelle telling asking for some help. Not willing to lose my buddy so early, I wander on down the road to the checkpoint where she is holed up. I spot some soldiers crossing the road (to get to the other side, probably) and take aim with my rifle.

They return fire, their AK47’s pinging ineffectually off the rocks around me. This is why I advocate long distance engagements in my original “How To Kill People More Effectively in Far Cry 2” post. I take out the last stragglers see and head in closer. On the way, a solitary burst of AK fire and the words “mission accomplished” inform me that Michelle can take care of herself. She tells me that she’s okay for now that I can go on my merry way. Stopping only to pick up another briefcase of diamonds, I head to back to the bus-stop and take a bus back to Pala, completing a giant, lopsided circle and the first of many missions in Far Cry 2.

A few things I learnt from that episode: Number one – Far Cry 2 is a long game but writing about it takes even longer. This was (if you’ll believe it!) the condensed version of Episode two and still clocked in at 2,000 words. I’ll definitely be making these shorter in the future. With Far Cry 2 containing around 30 or so missions, going at the current rate I would end up writing around 60,000 words by the time I got to the end (assuming I made it that far). That’s enough for a decent sized novel! Suffice to say, I’m going to have to skim a bit in the future.

Number two: On normal, it’s still far too easy for me. I’m going play some more and hopefully as the enemies get better weapons it will become harder, but I’m still considering doing something along the lines of purposefully avoiding working with my buddy or limiting myself to only using shotguns (which is, quite frankly, the quickest way to get yourself killed in this game).

For the moment, I’m going to try and breeze through a couple missions and condense them all down into an episode. Maybe when it gets hard again I can go into greater detail about my trials and triumphs. As Justin Keverne has pointed out, the best moments in the game happen when it all goes horribly wrong.


L.B. Jeffries said...

I'm wondering which mission gets you killed, because the game definitely starts cranking it up a notch. I'm thinking either the one where the gold is down in the well and you climb back up into an ambush or...hrm, you already know how they all play out so maybe it won't work.

Pity we can't wipe your memory for this experiment.

Nels Anderson said...

@Ben Normal isn't feeling too hard for me either, but will that complacency be the architect of our downfall? A few lucky sniper rounds plus an exploding jeep or RPG and it's curtains.

Although, with Normal being relatively easy, it's probably less likely to go down at some random checkpoint or road encounter. It will be a bang, not a whimper, at least.

@L.B. Heh, I was thinking the same. These first two missions seem quite similar to my first time playing though and I imagine they'll be similar when I get there again. IIRC, it branches a bit more after Mokuba though.

Michel said...

I did the same mission next but snuck in to the "private property". I also had the thought of making sure he couldn't use the radio, for in-character reasons, but I did not want to draw the guards with a gunshot to the radio, so killed him with the machete. I guess his screams still alerted them though. Oh well.

Michael Abbott said...

This may be the best idea you've ever had, Ben. Sorry I don't have time to join you right now, but I'll continue to read your and Michel's and Nels' accounts.

Eventually I'm gonna have to play this game again, aren't I? I would have finally left it behind if it weren't for you meddling kids. ;-)

oprina tiberiu said...
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Alan Jack said...

Funny you should mention the stark contrast of beautiful environment and disturbingly violent behaviour. I've always felt that was what Far Cry 2 really was - a reflection on, rather than revelry in, videogame violence and the objective way we make decisions in games.

Some food for thought: in playing a game like this, would you return to it after death? Would you feel cheated had you not chosen to play the game in this way?

Clint Hocking argues over at Click Nothing that having the option to have a "do-over" is what makes games games. It took me a while to get it straight in my head, but I agree with him now - playing Far Cry 2 in this way makes it more of a player-directed interactive story and less of a game. Not sure that's a bad thing, though.

Elliott said...

You're troubling yourself too much with ideas to make things harder. My suggestion is to just change the difficulty, rather than limit yourself to a Shotgun. But the game does get harder as you progress. So if you want, you can stick with Normal and just let yourself be challenged by the enemies later on, or up the difficulty, and the ante as well.