Gratuitous Grievances (or, Cullen’s Complaint Column): Not Far From Fiddly P1- Ballistic BS

An alliterative record! By way of reverting to form, I’m going to grumble bitterly against something. Since I have plenty of somethings to grumble against, there will be plenty of these. And what better way to begin than with vidya games? Well, something slightly less mainstream, perhaps. Yes, mainstream. I don’t care what Fox News says, gamers are mainstream. The biggest game blockbusters are starting to rival the profits of the biggest Hollywood movies (though when a AAA game costs $60, that’s not so hard).

Some of you may either be aware of or beginning to suspect the fact that I am a part of the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race. Do not laugh at this line, because this line is not mine; if this line were mine, that would simply be divine, but though I writhe and whine, that line is not mine. It appears that I’ve forgotten even more about how to stay on topic. Sorry. In any case, flame wars aside, the core principle of PC Gaming is this: Freedom. You can be sure that’s the case, because some people have $600 rigs more powerful than three PS4s, and some people have $10,000 rigs that die immediately after being plugged in. Freedom is messy! Freedom allows for mistakes! Freedom also allows me to play games that were released in 1998 on a computer made in 2014, in 2014! What that last part means is that I can make direct comparisons between games released in the last few months, and every game I’ve ever played. It’s completely fair. So…

Farcry 4. I like it. It is an open world game about shooting things, wherein the only penalty for viciously assaulting enemies with an Asian elephant is that the elephant might get shot. But I’m not here to talk about what I like. I’m here to talk about the things I don’t. Little stupid things that reviewers don’t have the time or pettiness to mention; but I’m not a reviewer, just a bored and fractious little nerd. First off, that shooting things bit? Some of it is good. A lot of it is just flaccid. (Side note for a later editorial: I am using this ironically, but stop comparing killing implements to penises. It’s pathetic in all the wrong ways.) Because, you see, I never complain more bitterly than when something that I really like is riddled with minor flaws that don’t ruin it. If it were ruined, I could just give up.

Rambo lied. Guns are hard. Anyway who uses guns in the real world can likely tell you this. Bullets are stunningly unreliable because they sadly have to obey the laws of physics, just like we do. Bullets can miss the target by millimeters due simply to recoil inaccuracy and barrel warping. Bullets can get caught by a gust of wind and pulled whole meters off course, or land between the targets legs because the sniper in question is horribly incompetent and forgot that gravity even exists. Bullets can actually impact the target precisely where you want, but then fail to kill- er, sorry, eliminate- the target, because ballistics are just messy. This is good in reality, where people can do things like feel pain and experience shock. It means you have a better chance of defeating your enemy without necessarily killing large numbers of people. In a game, however, it’s just infuriating.

chunk_picard_full

Of course I’m exaggerating with this GIF. Farcry’s submachine guns are never this accurate!

 

I’ve played military simulators with less irritating ballistics systems than Farcry 4. The point of a sniper rifle in every intelligent game ever is that it drops targets in one hit, at least as long as you hit them in the torso. While it’s not that reliable in reality, most snipers can’t afford to put multiple rounds on the same target, so most sniper rifles tend to use big bullets. How big? We use them for hunting midsize wildlife such as deer, and they wouldn’t be out of place against lions, tigers and bears (a headshot, oh my! That’ll ruin the pelt.) For a game to model someone getting hit by one of these bullets and just shrugging it off without any ill effect is moronic. Either it’s an in-depth simulation game such as the Arma franchise, or it’s a power-trip shooter a la Call of Duty and yes, Farcry. For heaven’s sake, enemies in freaking Skyrim are more consistent about dying than the ones in Farcry! You know, Skyrim, that exceptionally realistic game about fighting dragons with the ancient power of yelling really loudly? That game.

Here’s a list of my favorite ballistics gaffs in Farcry 4, all of which were also present in Farcry 3. One- bullets missing enemies by inches because they suddenly twitch to one side after standing at in the same pose for fifteen goddamn seconds. If someone is going to shift back and forth, they do it consistently! This is also an animator’s gaff. Protip: other people move like you do, which is what separates them from the body-snatchers the CIA is using to spy on you. Real humans do not suddenly bend sideways without warning. Boredom leads to decreased activity, not twitching all around like the most stereotypical of drug addicts or the most coffeed-up accountant. I don’t care what your Mocap actor did when you told him to act bored. He’s an actor. He overdoes things unless subtlety is specifically asked for. If you saw Barry from Programming just suddenly snap-lean left in his swivel chair, you’d ask him what had him all twitchy, because Barry drinks so much coffee that his body just vibrates constantly instead.

This is also an issue because the guns are inaccurate but the game uses collision detection on the model itself rather than a hitbox. For the record, a hitbox is literally just an invisible collection of oversize boxes projected out from a character model in a game, corresponding to various parts of the body. This is why Call of Duty is so easy- you don’t actually have to hit the enemy, just a box encasing a part of his body. Farcry 4 doesn’t do this; if the bullet doesn’t physically pass through the model, it’s a miss, which is oddly realistic for a game about using elephants as battering rams and injecting syringes to mystically make bullets twice as damaging.

There’s no point in having an Ironsights system when bullets can just veer off in random directions for no reason while using! There are no gravity or wind mechanics in the game, so why are they doing this? Every fight in the game happens at ranges of less than two hundred meters (by definition, which I’ll get to in the next paragraph). Most of them are at around the 30-40 meter range. You know, gun range distances? Yeah, forget it, only sniper rifles ever hit things consistently. But then people don’t die when you shoot them directly in the mid-left chestperforating their beating hearts and rupturing the largest arteries in the body in one fell swoop. Adrenaline can’t save you from that, I don’t care how many injections you pile on- in fact, you’d just die faster because that’s how freaking bleeding works. Which, by the way, would make up for the idiotic accuracy and damage modeling- if opponents actually suffered lingering trauma. But no, they don’t. Every enemy you meet is apparently impervious to pain, unless you use the bow.

uhf-weird-Al

Again, exaggerating. The AI are aimbots and the arrows aren’t that fast.

 

Yes, that’s right. The bow. That dumb gimmick of gaming for the last two years. The bow is the only weapon in the game aside from high explosives and rifles intended for killing elephants and destroying armored cars that can kill someone regardless of the impact point. If you hit a man in the foot, he’ll die. Yes, the foot. I’m dead serious. Every enemy you meet is Achilles, but doesn’t even need to be poisoned. It’s a little sad. Again, this is the bow: the thing we phased out in favor of guns. The weapon primarily intended to wound and demoralize even at its zenith. The weapon where it made more sense to rely on infection from the wounds than actually killing anyone during the battle proper. The weapon whose sharpened ammunition often passed clean through while inflicting minimal damage. That weapon.

And let’s be clear, this isn’t a Dark Souls kind of deal where the  difficulty is contributing to gameplay. In Dark Souls, all of it was carefully planned: the overswinging and excessive wind-ups on almost every weapon in the game, the fast attacks counterbalanced by long recovery and low stamina- all of that is calculated. Of course a real knight wouldn’t have been wheezing like an asthmatic cat in a mustard gas attack after just four swings! Of course no one can even wield an eight-foot sword that weighs one hundred pounds! It’s a game! Games function differently! Real medieval fighters would be faster and have much better endurance than Dark Souls characters, but Dark Souls works because it know exactly how and where it’s breaking reality. Yes, it ignores the rules, but it institutes its own instead. Farcry doesn’t do that. Shooters are one of the simplest, most common genres, so there’s no excuse for not having the rules down pat. And in a game supposedly centered on player agency, arbitrary difficulty spikes through pure developer incompetence are not acceptable. It’s not that any of the issues I mentioned even make the game harder! They literally do nothing more than waste my time!

Instead of cleanly picking off five enemy soldiers with five well-place shots from a semi-auto sniper rifle, my average fight looks something like this: Fire. Hit first man in neck rather than face because he suddenly decided to do one calf-up. Farcry apparently forgot that having your carotid arteries severed hurts like hell and causes most people to lose consciousness within seconds and then bleed to death. Man also not paralyzed, because all spines in this fictitious third-world Tibet-India hybrid are apparently made of tungsten. Have to shoot him again. Miss next man entirely because he manages to duck all over the place while still moving forward at a consistent speed. Next shot hits him in the head. Take aim on third man. Miss shot because one of the other two hits me a single time. Miss fifth shot for same reason. Reload because even though the Dragunov only ever had 10 round magazines in reality, and the one in game is modeled with a 10-round mag, it only holds five rounds. Same amount as bolt-action rifle but with lower bullet damage despite using same caliber. Waste three rounds to finally headshot two survivors, because they keep suddenly hitting me at the end of 10-round bursts when their accuracy should be lowest.

No, I am not exaggerating. I have encountered almost this exact scenario multiple times. Did I mention that despite a vast map a dozen miles across in any given direction, the longest-range rifles in the game only fire out to 150 meters, which is a minute fraction of their real-world effective range (not maximum, effective– the range at which you can reliably hit with them). This means that any gunfight is confined to a relatively small box so that things aren’t too hard on the AI. Yeah, the AI. You know, the computer routines who can land bullets while firing full-auto from the hip because they adjust their weapons for recoil instantly in real-time, even though moving so fast would shatter a human wrist like an icicle hitting granite in Death Valley? Those guys. Would be a shame if the artificial intelligence actually had to be intelligent to fight back against the sentient human player who paid $60 for the game, wouldn’t it? Gotta protect those non-thinking lines of code from feeling too pressured.

Again, this does not make the game harder in any meaningful way. In fact, every single one of my deaths so far has been by accident. Not enemy fire. The enemy has actually not killed me a single time in the six hours that I’ve been playing so far. Brace yourselves, friends, because my rage is not yet spent, and there’s a lot more to gripe about. And for the record, no, I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed: Unity. I’ve been a pasty white guy among other pasty white folk for the last 22 years. I don’t need to play as yet another in a series supposedly dedicated to breaking rules (rather than its own coding! Hey-o!)

Picture 49

A face that represents lost sales. Piss us off, make us laugh, make us cackle with power-mad glee. But never, ever make a gamer bored and mildly irritated with a recurring minor issue.

 

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