Far Cry 4: “emergent gameplay” and why it’s not just a buzzword

Far Cry 4 does a lot of things well. It does driving well, it does badass knife kills well, it even does a pretty good job setting up combat scenarios. Probably the best part of the entire game, though, is the inclusion of tons of different animals and, subsequently, the inclusion of animal bait. It was the specific uses I found for these living elements that made me look more into the term “emergent gameplay.”

A while ago I heard some podcasters complaining about the use of the term when it came from PR reps who worked for big publishers. The podcasters were arguing over whether or not the term was being overused to the point where it was starting to sully the reputation of games even before the game was released. Of course, instead of looking into the term myself, I took this to be true and taught myself to hate the word “emergent”. I have now come to realize that there’s more to the concept than I previously thought.

So what IS emergent gameplay? I’ve come across a number of definitions, but they mostly hinge on the idea of a game being more than a simple “on rails” experience as designed by the developers. Elements of the game design should allow for unexpected experiences within a set framework, whether that’s allowing multiple people to play at the same time (how many made-up game modes does Halo multiplayer have now?), giving players creative tools to do whatever they want (one word: Minecraft), or  even introducing complex artificial intelligences that are capable of interacting with each other.

“After quite a bit of experimenting with throwing rocks to distract guards and throwing bait to attract predators, I hit on a decent set of tricks.”

This last point is the one I want to talk about in terms of Far Cry 4. My experience with the game, having only played Far Cry 2 previous to this, was pretty jarring at first. I wasn’t used to the constant interaction with animals in the environment, the use of bait to manipulate situations, or just the overall chaos that you can stumble into at any moment (the eagle randomly attacking you was a nice little surprise).

But, as I came to grips with the way that the chaos was organized (or NOT organized), my nerves settled a bit and I started to think about ways to use it to my advantage. At first, I used the elephant-riding perk to bust up outposts and thought that went pretty well for the most part. But that gets boring. So, after quite a bit of experimenting with throwing rocks to distract guards and throwing bait to attract predators, I hit on a decent set of tricks to use on enemies.

One trick, heavily dependent on the availability of prey animals in the area, is to push deer or pigs into an armed outpost then immediately throw a bunch of bait into their midst. The ensuing hullabaloo caused by predators trying to eat while being shot at was enough for me to stealthily take out the few guards that weren’t in the fray. Then I would simply dispatch the rest while they fought off dingos or whatever those non-wolf dogs are. For as dumb as this sounds, it is really satisfying when you can pull it off.

far cry 4

Rhino sees all. Rhino knows all. Rhino is life.

My next trick involved rhinos. Now, for anyone who hasn’t played the game, rhinos are a real pain in the ass. One at a time they’re manageable, but when you have two or more, forget it; you might as well just run. So “run” is what I did.

I would track down some rhinos (they’re usually chilling in pairs), poke them by firing a giant shotgun blast into their sides, then run like hell towards the nearest outpost. With a few quick maneuvers (and sprinting syringes in full supply), I could run through a manned outpost without getting hit, largely due to the fact that baddies take forever to actually start firing when they see you.

You can imagine what happens next: rhinos charge and destroy every enemy, vehicle, and explosive barrel in the area whilst I hide out on a ridge nearby watching everything through my trusty camera’s zoom lens. Watching rhinos tear through anyone but you is pretty satisfying on it’s own, but when it also means that you claim the outpost when they’re done, well that’s not too shabby either.

What I didn’t realize while doing any of this is that what I was doing was in fact a result of emergent gameplay. The developers did not make a point of saying I should draw rhinos into a camp (although one trailer shows an elephant doing it). They didn’t tell me to push those poor deer into an ambush just so I could claim some stupid outpost. But I did it anyway. And that’s why emergent gameplay is not just some marketing shill’s way to get you to pre-order his game but is an actual positive concept.

For some reading on emergent gameplay, check these links:

Disclaimer: I have not played Far Cry 3 so I don’t know how much of what I’ve said applies to that game as well. I have heard that Far Cry 3 and 4 are very similar, though.

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