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A good video game story is nothing without a good protagonist and a good video game protagonist is nothing without their companions. From shooters to strategy and from RPGs to walking simulators games have provided us with innumerable scripted AI creations to keep us company. They make us laugh, make us cry and when the going gets tough they’re usually the first to jump in and help out. So whether it’s a young woman with reality ripping powers, a chain-smoking crocodile or a fed-up guardian angel detective you’re bound to have played with one of these friendly faces.
Bea – Night in the Woods
Very few games let you call a chain smoking crocodile lady your friend. In fact only one does. Night in the Woods is a game about friendship, about seizing onto the last gasp of adolescence before plunging headlong into the roaring madness of your twenties. At least that’s what it’s about for main character Mae. For Bea the forward march of adulthood has already ground her dreams into dust leaving her with a dead mother, a grief-stricken dad and a family business she wanted nothing to do with. For me much of my focus on Night in the Woods went on restoring Mae’s friendship with Bea. Whether it was repairing a boiler, exploring a graveyard or even talking Bea down from the ledge it felt like I was making inroads on a friendship I’d left gathering dust but that Bea had just been looking for a chance to rekindle in her own grumpy way. As Angus says late in the game: “I believe in a universe that doesn’t care and people that do”. I think Bea definitely cares.
Dog – Fable II
Sure Fallout 3 had Dog Meat but Fable II’s most consistent companion felt – in early game terms at least – like a real animal friend. A sleek black Labrador with a loyal streak so deep they end up taking a bullet for you Fable II’s dog operated like a well-oiled machine. In fairness it was but its assistance was often invaluable in the early game. It helped you find treasure, attack enemies and provided constant companionship on the lonely cliffs and wild moors that made up Molyneaux’s wildly ambitious if ultimately under-whelming sequel. Dog reacted to the way you treated the world and it and although it’s AI and behaviours are pretty dated now it laid the groundwork for a whole host of other canine companions along the way.
Ellie – The Last Of Us
You need to have a heart of stone not to feel for Ellie. Orphaned and alone she comes to rely on the smuggler and player character Joel for protection and eventually as a surrogate father. Through thick and thin the two travel a near-future America’s infected and abandoned landscapes. Ellie overcomes a great deal along the way: her abandonment issues, the violent death of a new friend and her own near death at the hands of cannibals. It helps that she’s a very competent AI companion often helping out in more difficult scraps, pointing out materials and ammo to Joel and accessing hard to reach spaces the bigger man can’t. It hurts doubly then when Joel turns around and lies to her face by telling her she’s just as average as everyone else when in fact her immunity to infection might just be mankind’s last great hope. Her declaration of “Don’t tell me I’d be better off with someone else because the truth is: I’d just be more scared” has been ringing in my head for years.
Further Reading: Alone at the End of the World in The Last Of Us.
Elizabeth – BioShock Infinite
The ability to rip open the very fabric of reality is a handy advantage to have in a gun battle. Elizabeth’s ability to open Tears to more guns, health or even mechanized allies to aid player character Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite is invaluable. So too is her more regular assistance in and out of combat as she throws you ammo, Salts for your elemental themed Vigours and points out world-building secrets throughout. Though there can be a slight disconnect between her enthusiasm for lock-picking versus the numbing traumatic events she experiences on her adventures through Columbia this dichotomy never really takes away from her incredible journey. It’s thrilling to see Elizabeth go from curious waif to reality shattering sorceress over the course of the game. By the final chapter the hollow exchange from the start rings true:
Garrus Vakarian – The Mass Effect Trilogy
Expert sniper. Traumatized vigilante. Drinking buddy. Best friend.
These are the things I think of when I remember the Turian spec-ops sniper Garrus Vakarian from the Mass Effect trilogy. By turns severe, sardonic and shy Garrus never felt like anything other than a fully rounded character. Though he followed the same basic patterns of every other AI companion in combat he gained new life in the interactions Commander Shepard had with him outside of firefights. The option to romance him as the female version of Commander Shepard was always there but I played the male version and thus Garrus became one of my most trusted and loyal friends on the journey to stop the Reapers. Whether it was hunting down organ traffickers, cleaning up a space station or literally and figuratively shooting the shit Garrus was always there both as back-up and as a dear friend.
Kim Katsurugi – Disco Elysium
Waking up from a mind-shattering, reality altering bender is not the worst thing to happen to Detective Harry DuBois on the first morning of Disco Elysium. Awaiting him downstairs is fellow Detective Kim Katsurugi. By all accounts a stick in the mud and a by-the-book police officer Kim is revealed as the flower at the heart of Disco Elysium. Over the course of the game Kim opens up, his personality and complex core ethos blooming outwards. By the end of the game Kim is either your best friend, your worst enemy or somewhere in between the two. Disco Elysium would be a far uglier, meaner game without him. Constantly either surprised by your deductive brilliance or rolling his eyes and muttering “For fuck’s sake” Kim is your guardian angel in ZA/UM’s groundbreaking RPG. It’s up to you how much you want to disappoint or please him.
Uncle – The Red Dead Redemption Series
In the grand pantheon of loudmouthed sack of shits Uncle is the loudest and shittiest of all of them. He’s constantly complaining, drunk and smelly. He never does any work. He couldn’t even shoot himself with a gun. And yet. And yet! He’s pretty good company on the dusty trail. He can carry a tune, tell jokes and hold a conversation all by himself. He’s a welcome foil to all manner of characters in the Red Dead Redemption games. He makes John Marston and Arthur Morgan look like fools in their stoicism and Micah Bell and Dutch Van der Linde campy in their villainy. And despite this unending source of lumbago-based comic relief it’s still hits hard when he meets his fate in the original game.