The first time I saw a dancing corpse in Far Cry 4, I stopped dead in my tracks. It was in the middle of a tense firefight at the bottom of one of the radio towers scattered across the chaotically beautiful world of Kyrat. I'd just shot a full clip into a soldier trying to start his ATV.
I thought he was done for, so I ran past him to take cover behind a small wooden shed. His fellow soldiers were still shooting at me from the other side of this weak barrier, so I kept reloading and peeking out over the other side of the side to shoot back. Returning to cover, a flash of movement caught my eye.
The soldier hadn't slumped over or fallen to the ground the way he was supposed to. His body had gone limp, in a way. And it began to glimmer, flashing with a bright white sheen -- Far Cry 4's way of telling you that this is now an object that can be interacted with, meaning that you can walk up to it, press a button, and receive a reward. But it kept jostling in place, his feet shifting back and forth incessantly as if he was performing some mad ritual. It was oddly mesmerising, watching this corpse struggle to find a place to lay itself to rest.
I've come across many weird moments in Far Cry 4. Ones where things... don't quite work the way they're supposed to. Bodies stuck in oblong positions or zombie-like mimetic movements. Vehicles or buildings that act like sinkholes -- trapping me inside for no apparent reason, and with no clear way to escape. People and animals rocketing around the world in a way that betrays anything resembling the laws of nature.
We commonly think of technical hiccups like bugs or glitches as a problem with a game -- things that are meant to be resolved so that it can run smoothly, perform as intended for the people playing it. At their very best, bugs or glitches can provide gamers with zany moments of oddball humour. Things like the forks in The Sims 4that would never leave a Sims hand. They might make us chuckle for a moment, but we'd still rather see them go away. Or never appear in the first place.
I haven't run into any problems playing Far Cry 4 on my PS4 that have broken the game or forced me to restart yet. Instead, the ones I have encountered have been something far more substantial than unintentionally silly flourishes. They have actually made the game much more fun to play. In my experience, the glitches in Far Cry 4 help play up the absurd, slapstick humour that makes this game so great.
One of the first nights I played online co-op with my friend Francis, we ran into a particularly glitch-riddled patch of Kyrat's landscape that summed up the beauty of Far Cry 4's glitches. We were running up a dirt road, when we spotted an armoured truck carrying supplies for Kyrat's resident supervillain Pagan Min. As it always does when you're nearby one of these trucks, the game prompted us to try and capture it.
I shot the driver through the windshield, and he tumbled out of the driver's seat onto the ground. The truck rolled off the road and came to a stop by a cluster of trees. Francis ran up to it excitedly, saying that we should capture the vehicle. But when he tried to open the door and get in, something else happened. The game teleported him a few inches past the driver's seat, sticking him awkwardly between the truck proper and the semitrailer behind it.
He started laughing, not knowing what to do. I circled around the truck, watching Francis fidget back and forth in the middle of the air. Convinced that he was stuck for good, I said that we might as well just blow the thing up. That way he could die and respawn, and we'd still get some experience points for successfully completing the challenge at hand.
I tossed a grenade. It exploded with a soft thump that jostled the truck briefly but didn't do much damage. The truck remained intact. Francis caught on fire.
"What the fuck are you doing?!?!" He shouted to me through the headset, laughing. "I'm still trapped in here!"
A few moments later, he managed to untether himself from this bizarre patch of virtual quicksand. Not thinking clearly enough, I walked up to the truck and was immediately transported to the same weird position he'd been stuck in.
Seeing no better way to extricate myself from this inexplicable trap, I dropped a grenade directly under my feet. The explosion almost killed me, but not quite. And still the truck remained, resolute and undefeated. We both cracked up again.
Other enemies began to pass by. We'd kill them as they arrived. I wondered what they might have thought of the scene they happened upon: two guys carrying heavy weaponry but wearing drab civilian clothing, giggling ecstatically over the fact that one of them was trapped inside a truck.
Eventually, we both managed to escape the truck. As we were heading away from the area in another car we nabbed from some of our more recent victims, we ran into another arrestingly weird scene. Francis got out of the car and started shooting at nothing in particular. Or at least, I didn't see anything there.
"Uhhh...what are you doing?" I asked him.
"I'm shooting at the truck," he responded.
"What truck?" I asked.
"The truck that's right in front of us, man!"
I did not see a truck.
Stepping out of the car, I looked down at the ground and saw a disembodied AK-47 flapping about on the ground. Nobody was holding it or anything. It was just leaping back and forth like a scared fish. I paused to admire this macabre, seemingly supernatural scene before the two of us walked away.
We reflected on our peculiar Far Cry 4 co-op session online this afternoon. Here's how Francis remembers it:
So there was a whole other truck, and an explosion, and a guy attached to that assault rifle, and I didn't see any of it? It's like we were playing two different games simultaneously. Or there were two alternate Far Cry 4 universes that almost overlapped with one another seamlessly, but not quite. Both of us had sunk into the muddled space in-between the two.
Getting trapped inside of a piece of Far Cry 4's scenery might have been very silly, even frustrating if it had gone on much longer than it did. But what amazed me about this episode is: something that clearly shouldn't have happened in the game ended up ringing true to the core experience of playing it.
Far Cry has always been an invigorating, challenging game because of the way it drops you right into the middle of a fiercely chaotic landscape, explaining little to nothing about what you're supposed to do to survive. Or, at least, that's what I and many other fans like about playing Far Cry games.
The elaborately staged setpieces in Far Cry 4's scripted story don't really speak to that experience. However ironically, hiccups in the game's performance did. Think about it: what's more tense, even frightening, to encounter in a dangerous open world game than suddenly finding yourself stuck on the side of the road, trapped because your vehicle's malfunctioned, turning you into easy prey for whatever predator passes by? The game doesn't have many deliberate features like animal traps or car crashes that make you feel this way. But it's unstable enough, technically speaking, to create them all the same.
As Ubisoft continues to tweak Far Cry 4's performance across the many platforms on which people are playing it, I imagine that moments like my sudden truck imprisonment will become few and far between. Maybe they will disappear entirely.
That's a good thing, on one level -- especially for players who've reported more systemic problems with their versions of the game. But as Far Cry 4 is fixed, something about the game will be lost as well: the comedy, joy, and occasional terror of its most intricately bizarre moments. The ones that aren't so easy to intentionally create.