Far Cry 4 and First Person Driving In Video Games

Driving a car in first person in a video game is, to me, the anti-fun. Far Cry 4 is a game that manages to make that experience worse, and ruins the enjoyment of the game.

When I drive an actual car, as a driver, I have the benefit of a variety of things that, in a video game, I lack. I have peripheral vision which gives me a better grasp of my environment. I have mirrors that allow me to better see my car’s blind spots, which are also often in my peripheral vision, so even if I’m not actively looking at them, I can shift my focus to them with a minimum of effort, so I can tell what’s to the left, right or behind me.

Similarly, spatial audio is generally better between the two. Stereo headphones can help give a better sense of where vehicles and objects are around me, but the replication of that audio in a game environment never quite matches the way that sound would work in real life.

And, most importantly, there is the sense of spatial awareness. I know how big my car is, I know where I am in the car, and my brain is able to extrapolate from that to the rest of the vehicle and the world beyond. This isn’t totally flawless, because you’ve still got blind spots, and there are points where your brain starts to abstract things, which can be why parallel parking can be extremely nerve wracking.

Many video games, when doing first person driving, try to do things to help compensate for this. This can be an accurate cockpit recreation, with mirrors, along with steps that are normally used to make driving easier as well. In particular, the most useful one is one that’s become standard for driving controls – using dedicated drive and reverse/break buttons that work similar to pedals. This allows the player to feel a little more comfortable looking around the vehicle independently, without losing a sense of where the vehicle is in comparison to them, and improving navigation.

Apparently Ubisoft, with the Far Cry series (at least through Far Cry 4), looked at this, thought it was stupid, and decided that instead to have driving work by having vehicles move in the direction you move the left analog stick. It’s not even remotely intuitive, and is aggravated further by the additional fact that with the world being as big as it is, in order to progress the story, you have to drive, and the game doesn’t give you the option to move out of first person while on a vehicle.

This ultimately means that, after getting through the first act, realizing the size of the world, any sense of fun that could be drawn over exploring this environment was just sapped from the work, because the prospects of having to navigate through it were just to taxing.

Kryat is beautiful – I’d like to be able to explore it, if it wasn’t so terrible to get around.

I wanted to like Far Cry 4. It had, by all accounts, a more complex narrative than earlier tiles. Pagan Min is legitimately an interesting villain, and the environment, at first glance, looked like it would be fun to explore. It’s just the decisions made in the mechanism for exploring it takes the fun away – and if it’s not fun to travel through that environment, why would I want to?

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