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Why are Far Cry 5’s drivers so appalling?

Far Cry 5 driving

My new hobby is tutting at every other driver in Far Cry 5.

“Gosh, look at that,” I mutter to my uzi. “That’s so dangerous. They’re going to cause a crash.”

It’s a bit rich, of course, coming from the federal agent of chaos who almost single-handedly set off The Reaping and plunged Hope County into religious war. But they really are awful drivers. It was one thing to see a tuk-tuk careen across a Himalayan dirt track in Far Cry 4’s Kyrat, where passive dictator Pagan Min presumably didn’t enforce particularly stringent road safety. It’s quite another to see a version of that AI applied to big American roads, made of tarmac, painted with centre lines, and adorned with crash barriers and signs warning of errant deer.

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The Hope County Highway Code does not advise slowing down when spotting an accident up ahead. Turns out there’s an alternative way to avoid collision without losing speed, and it’s called swerving. In fact, one of the fastest routes to high-octane thrills in Far Cry 5 is not to attack an Eden’s Gate compound but to climb into the passenger seat of a civilian vehicle – or simply enable autodrive, giving yourself over to the Terminator of self-driving cars.

The other day, I watched a cultist helicopter come down in the woods, spilling fuel and flame across a muddy track. 30 seconds later, a droning buzz heralded a rider on a quad bike – and if she made any attempt at evasion, none of that intent came across on-screen. This amateur Knievel rode straight into the fire, crashed head-on into the blackened cockpit, and flew from her seat into the flames.

These are what, in the real world, we call freak accidents. In Hope County, freak accidents happen all the time.

But why? This isn’t the standard in open-world simulation as a whole. Hack an AI-controlled car in Watch Dogs 2, and you’ll watch it wrestle with your influence, fighting – often successfully – to get back to its pre-approved route. Even GTA V’s drivers, who leap from zero to hysteria if you so much as touch their bumper, are otherwise good citizens. They trundle around Los Santos at sedate pace, stopping at every light. They wait to ensure oncoming traffic has passed and their exit is clear before making a left turn.

Far Cry 5 cars

The more I think of Far Cry’s drivers as following an anti-Highway Code, the more they start to make sense. Driving safety laws are an attempt to make behaviour on the road predictable, right? There’s no inherent reason why UK drivers should drive on the left side of the road – it’s only important that everybody knows the rule. This is why hiring a car in another country where the rules are flipped is so unnerving: our ingrained understanding of how others are going to act while driving has been gravely compromised.

If we aim to avoid emergent behaviour in our real lives, then, where people are vulnerable and conflict is unwanted, the opposite is true for our games – and this one especially. The dangerous drivers of Far Cry 5 are, I think, designed to be as unpredictable as possible, in keeping with the spirit of the game.

While GTA thrives on chaos, it’s a chaos created at your convenience. Far Cry 5, by contrast, presents a world in constant crescendo, where there’s so much gunfire in the air you can’t possibly respond to all of it. The driving is symptomatic of that: a system designed to provide regular and literal collisions between the people and animals living in its mountain wilderness, whether you’re directly involved or not.

Far Cry 5 stunts

These collisions yield cascading stories, not once every ten hours, but all the time. It’s for the same reason that Hope County has such an issue with extraordinarily aggressive skunks and eagles. No Far Cry 5 anecdote is simply about something that happened. It’s about something that happened, and then.

I’ll keep tutting from behind my steering wheel, but fondly. Ubisoft’s highway maniacs were never meant to emulate real driving – quite the opposite. That’s why they’re so jarring, and why Far Cry 5 is so much fun.