Health in First Person Shooters

There are really only two ways in which a first person shooter game deals with health; it either replenishes or it doesn’t.  Games like Goldeneye 64, Perfect Dark, Doom, and Borderlands don’t automatically replenish your health over time, and thus you either have to find a health pack or die in order to get it back up there.  Games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Rage have an automatic replenishing system where, if you can get in cover or away from the fire, you’ll automatically be healed after a set amount of time.  Lets be honest, neither is a realistic system.  In games where your health never replenishes, you take painkillers and suddenly you’re healed?  In real life you’d still be a gunshot victim with a new penchant for prescription fraud.  And under the replenishing paradigm, your bullet wounds wouldn’t just heal up as long as you jumped behind a sandbag wall for a minute or two like it never happened.  But I doubt anyone wants 100% perfect realism, or at least I wouldn’t.  I don’t want to die of trench foot while hiding behind cover, and I don’t want one bullet from some crap gun like the Skorpion killing me instantly.  So which is the better system?  Of course its subjective, but so is everything worth debating.

For the last time Grandma, I'm not gonna keep playing Mortal Kombat with you if you keep using Smoke! He's cheap, and so are you!

This is a contentious subject among gamers, known for their asperger-like devotion to every minute detail they can argue about.  The most prominent arguments for non-regeneration of health is that it is the original method used in most FPS games of old, it takes more strategy, and only casual Wii bowling players will opt for regeneration.  At the other end of the spectrum, people argue for regeneration in that pausing to get into a menu, selecting your medkits, and then going back into the fight fully healed takes you out of the action, can make games annoyingly difficult, and is not conductive to an e-sports type of competitive gaming like Call of Duty or Battlefield.  Both sides make good points, and I have played games of both types that I have enjoyed immensely.  But is there one system that simply works better, or is there a new type of system that could placate the two sides into agreement?

Doctor, I don't know what it is, I've just been feeling about 59% lately...

It got me to thinking.  I love some Call of Duty firefights where bullets are flying at you, you’re hiding beneath an open window, explosions in the distance.  Your screen is outlined in red, you’re close to death, and you need to wait it out before you get back into the action.  But do I love it because that’s a fun game, and a fun situation with others, despite the regeneration of health?  I think indeed, I do love it despite that flawed system.  Its just so unrealistic, I believe the gameplay could be improved by altering the healing system (to take longer to fully heal) or to have some sort of health pack system thrown in.  The current trend in FPS games since about 2001 is to have health regenerate automatically, but I’m wondering if this is a situation that helps newcomers, and thus helps sales, to the detriment of the overall experience.

There is a good article detailing someone’s first hand experience involving Half Life, explaining why the regeneration system may take away from the gameplay experience, which you can read here.  A lot of the time I find myself in regen games simply waiting for my health to come back, and not actively looking for ways to boost my health.  Actively looking for health means I must progress and not just wait around.  I must explore, I must search for ways to help myself, and this adds in a more desperate, frantic feel to a first person shooter, a feeling that should be present instead of sitting around until my screen gets less red.  Of course, I’m speaking mostly towards singleplayer gameplay at this point, but I believe it could translate well to multiplayer also, even if concessions were made, where health could regenerate but at a much slower pace.  None of this is to say that games that let you regenerate health aren’t fun; hell, that would be saying that most games over the past 10 years haven’t been fun.  But there might be a system, discarded in the early days of FPSs, that could use revisiting and could possibly add to the experience.  Goldeneye 64 did not have a regeneration system for health, and that multiplayer is among the most epic out there.  I don’t think FPS multiplayer was thus improved in the years since, when that system was discarded in favor of a red screen and the impulse to hide for a while.  I believe a better system would be a set health system, where you have to actively gain more health, and not passively as so many games tend to do.  But for God’s sake, don’t make the health packs be painkillers.  We have to do something more realistic than that.

Just regenerating my health, be out in a second


6 Comments to “Health in First Person Shooters”

  1. I forget which game did it, but I think as far as singleplayer goes, I like a health system where you regenerate when you go below a certain level and then are required to find health in order to go above that level. I might not be explaining it well, but for example: anything below 10% you will regenerate until you are at 10% again, then after you must find health to go over 10%. I think this method does a good job of balancing out the frustration of dying while (as mentioned above) at the same time forcing exploration and giving you that frantic feel.

    Multiplayer on the other hand I think should stick to the auto regeneration of health. Think back to when you and I played Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. We ONLY played one hit kills. This made the game more competitive, and we never had to worry about people camping around health or body armor or running away because they were weaker on health( fear of skill is another thing). It also keeps the game fast paced, Auto regeneration encourages players to engage in firefights without the worrying of being handicapped on health. Players are likely to be more aggressive and keep the battlefield interesting and active.

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  3. I think Halo has one of the best ways of getting around the health regeneration argument. Health doesn’t really matter, only your shields do. That works the best for the Halo style of gameplay. But for other, more RPG style games, I think Oblivion’s got it. Your health doesn’t regenerate unless you rest. While that doesn’t make that much sense- after all, I don’t think getting set on fire or stabbed is going to be cured by sleeping- it’s a fair compromise.

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