Regenerating some healthy debate

I’ve always enjoyed FPS games, although over the past few years the amount of time that I’ve spent playing them has dwindled. If anything I tended to only really get interested in reboots or installing my older games.

My favourite FPS games include:

  • Delta Force: Black Hawk Down
  • Duke Nuk’em 3D
  • Left 4 Dead / Left 4 Dead 2
  • No One Lives Forever
  • Unreal Tournament

There’s a bit of variety in there, with a mix of all guns blazing and more tactical/methodical play. However one thing in common is that none of them have is regenerating health.

Taking (heavy) damage changes your approach throughout the remainder of the level. It means that your mistakes have consequences for the next few minutes. It can be quite unforgiving. For example in a game of Delta Force I forgot to check a blind spot and got shot twice, putting my health into the red. I then had to be careful throughout the rest of the level. It was tense and I had to be extra sharp in order to succeed. I needed to shoot the enemy before they shot at me. This was fun.

In a modern game, I would have gotten away with that mistake. In fact if I fancy my odds of killing all the enemies in a room before they kill me, why bother being careful at all? I find it is too forgiving of players mistakes or rash behaviour. This also means that I often feel quite bullish in games with regenerating health. They take away the tense gameplay and replace it with a safety net.

My other criticism is that taking damage during a firefight means that you need to hide for a few seconds. This process of hiding to regenerate your health isn’t inherently fun (in my opinion). It is removing me from the fun. If the health takes a fair few seconds to regenerate then the enjoyment of that firefight has gone and replaced with frustration while I wait but of course instant almost healing would remove the challenge. Most games seem to double up the frustrating by removing your ability to see through fancy effects like strawberry jam on the screen. Given the only thing of interest whilst waiting to regen is watching for enemies coming around the corner, it annoys me that I can barely do that either.

Of course the upside of regenerating health is that if I was dumb and ran into a bunch of enemies, got shot up and was on the verge of death then hid before returning to successfully win the firefight, I can progress with the game. I get this. We want the player to progress therefore the game has a mechanism to let them recover without having to go back through the level. However doing this doesn’t tell the player “that was stupid”. It doesn’t really educate them that their approach was incorrect.

On many occasions I realised that I was taking the “wrong” approach. I was meant to try out getting my squad together, lobbing flash bangs etc but I survived and will no doubt survive again. If the game wasn’t so forgiving then I’d have had to rethink what I was doing and experiment a bit more. It would make me a better player. Negative re-enforcement can be useful!

So yeah, I don’t like regenerating health.

[Health… regen… I’m so amazing with my article titles!]

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