Regenerating Health Kills
I’ve been gaming for the better part of twenty years and, in that time, I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go, however this one seems to be more resilient than some of the bosses from the Metroid Prime series. Recently we’ve seen a few games move away from it, but it’s still knocking around and I’m going to provide an overview as well as my opinion on the whole subject of regenerating health. As you may have already gathered, I’m not a fan of the concept and hopefully what you’ll read here are not only the reasons why, but also how I think it could be improved.
To start, with let’s look back at where this all began. Due to its commercial success, there are those who regard Halo: Combat Evolved as the first time a regenerating health system was used in a game. While it may seem that I’m being pedantic in stating this, I don’t actually believe it to be the case. Halo had a regenerating shield bar and a separate health bar that you could get health kits for. While it may have also made the concept popular, the first game to actually use this was Faceball 2000, for the Game Boy. As the Halo series grew in size, the health system underwent many changes but I believe they all featured some sort of shield / health balance as opposed to just regenerating health.
The first Halo game was released back in 2001 and as we slowly strafe our way through 2011; we have seen an explosion in the use of regenerative health / shields in one of the cornerstones of gaming: the First Person Shooter. Attaching itself to one of the most popular forms of gaming has allowed this form of health system to spread to well known franchises such as the Call Of Duty and Gears Of War series. If it’s so popular then why do I think it’s a bad idea?
For a start, I believe it heavily impacts the fun factor of gaming. I understand that there are different types of first person shooter games today; there are your “Serious Sam” types who wade in all guns blazing, the “Thieves” who have to sneak around and not get spotted, in fact, there are possibly hundreds of ways of playing today’s games, however I believe that the fun factor is being hampered when gaming becomes a task of returning fire and then taking damage, before hiding behind a rock for five to ten seconds to heal. It just isn’t realistic.
People will, of course, say that not all games are realistic. Fine; but if I’m playing as some hulking space dude who’s circumventing Saturn’s fourth moon while riding my chocolate and swede rocket ship, I want to be able to shoot at the evil space slugs of the planet Lorn without having to worry that I need to go hide behind the nearest asteroid belt, just in case I got shot a bit too much. This impacts the fun element of this style of game, and the game is based on one thing but the gameplay suggests something else.
It also works the other way around, with games that lean towards a more realistic setting. If I’m currently playing a “real war” game that’s set in medieval England, or out in whichever the latest nameless country is that someone has invaded, I don’t count getting shot with a rocket before quickly scurrying behind the nearest car to regenerate my left arm and right kidney as being totally correct. I just don’t feel that it has a place there in the context of the situation. This impacts the fun element and, in turn, breaks immersion yet immersion is the reason these games work so well.
I believe that regenerating health also impacts the skill factor involved in gaming. Unless the game in question has particularly gifted A.I., there is nothing to stop the player from hiding behind the nearest solid object and slowly picking off the opposition one by one. I would much rather know that after I get shot a couple of times I’ve either got pull off the impossible and cap the last two guys without dying, or make a dash for that health kit. It does not enable the sort of player development that I found crucial five to eight years ago if you can literally wait each fire fight out. I find that, in order to make harder difficulty settings for today’s mainstream games, developers just propose to throw more and more bodies at you and rely on you succumbing to the fact that it merely involves too many people shooting at you at one time. If regenerating health does have a place in mainstream gaming, then perhaps it is on an easier difficulty setting and as you move through the settings the health recharges less, or not at all, and health kits have to be used.
Linked to the skill factor, is the lesser point of fairness. Now don’t get me wrong, at this stage you’re probably thinking that this is all a rant because CptToffer sucks at games. While I am by no means as amazing as some people I know and have watched, I am also not the world’s worst gamer. I played with a successful clan for the best part of three years and enjoyed winning a lot of matches and competitions, however the use of regenerating health in multiplayer has a negative effect on the experience. If I’ve spotted you, shot you and you’ve managed to get behind cover, well done, have a cookie! I, however, have injured you with my deft shooting and, as such, you should now be at a disadvantage because you were busy… being about as self aware as a banana. What I find to be totally annoying and downright agitating, is that when said “banana” pops his head up and starts blasting away at me, he’s returned to full health, and I (the total mug in the open), having made a mad dash to get to him before his magic health bar refills, am now totally and utterly screwed. People will say that I should’ve killed him the first time, or I should have waited, and that’s fine but the fact remains that he’s still got a full health bar again despite my early advantage.
“What else? If not regenerating health CptToffer? You can’t be critical without some sort of better option.” Luckily my dear fellows, I have one. The Far Cry 2 / Resistance model represents this better option. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it uses a mixture of regenerative health, segmented health bars and health kits. This means that the health bar will perhaps be split into four separate 25% bars and, if your health empties out of one segment, it can only be regained by a health kit. If you take a slight hit and it knocks a little bit out of the segments then, given a few seconds, it will refill. Lose the majority of your segments and first aid will have to be used, perhaps by removing a bullet or setting of a broken bone. I’m not saying that this is perfect, nor is it above criticism, and if I thought that pulling a bullet out of my leg would solve any health issues after being shot over thirty times then I would’ve picked up a real gun long ago. However, I think it’s a step in the right direction.
While I have gone about highlighting the negative effects that regenerative health has on the genre, I cannot as a gamer ignore the positives, however minor I may feel they are. It does afford new players to the genre a better learning curve than the unforgiving nature of using medkits, which would generally require them to kill someone to earn it. Some may even argue that this increases the fun aspect for newer players as they will enjoy the early stages of the game more. Another bonus is that it avoids the “suicide” approach to multiplayer gaming, whereby someone with low health would kill themselves and return to full health, which was an annoying by-product of not having regenerative health. This was deemed as cheating in the eyes of many but isn’t an option with the current popular health model.
In closing, I leave you with this thought, and something that honestly only struck me while writing this article… I’m currently playing Call Of Duty: Black Ops, which has a regenerating health system. Grenades are regularly thrown at me because I’ve got into the habit of actually killing people. Now, with a health pack system, I would be running and diving for cover, grinning like a madman if I managed to survive with even a small piece of health. With the regeneration system I view this grenade… this rolling ball of death, as nothing more than an inconvenience. I can’t kill it; it will be gone soon and there’s a good chance it won’t kill me. I watch it roll near to me and wait. It explodes. I take damage, wait, and move on. The grenade may as well not have even existed. This reaction, or lack thereof, is created by regenerating health. It totally removes the fight or flight response that gaming brings out in me and, for that, I find that regenerating health is slowly killing first person shooters.
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