Thinking about Health Systems in FPS games.

January 24, 2008

I was musing recently about the Halo style of health in FPS games, and whether or not it was time that some games returned to the old method of medic boxes and armour pickups.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the fact that I can poke my head out take a bullet and then use my Wolverine inherited abilities of health regeneration to fix myself up while crouched behind a car but sometimes it just feels wrong.

Sure, Master Chief is a super human who is wearing an advanced space suit that probably has the ability to heal plasma burns and cuts built into it. However your man in CoD 4 is a fairly lightly armoured American or British trooper and he is a bullet sponge. But don’t worry because a few seconds behind a wooden fence will sort out that bleeding pelvis!

One of my friends described CoD’s system as a ‘you’re going to get shot in a minute’ warning of some sort, which I could accept if it wasn’t for the sound of bullets penetrating flesh and my character’s heavy breathing. Don’t get me wrong, as I already said I like the system but I do think that the old school health system could still have a place in modern shooters.

For example, the new Turok follows the same style while your character is being pushed, sliced and bitten by dinosaurs and shot to ribbons by humans all the while wearing nothing more than a khaki vest and trousers. How about making Turok carry around bandages that I have to use? Or have a team medic supply him with the necessary sprays to restore a health meter? There’s just something about healing a Veloceraptor scratch with the power of gritting your teeth that doesn’t seem right.

Not only that, but it makes encounters with some enemies too easy because you don’t mind being hurt, which should not be the case. I was recently playing Doom in which I was constantly ducking away from enemy attacks, but had it been a modern FPS I’m sure I would have willingly taken the shots to the face and just shrugged it off after cocking my shotgun a few times, ready to face more hell spawn. It would not be the same.

Of course, there is still one shining example of the health/armour system that stands proud and that is Half-Life 2 and its spin offs (both single and multiplayer). These games prove that the system still has a place in modern FPS games.

However in my opinion the best health system an FPS has ever presented is one that many people would not think of, and that is the system employed by the flawed Perfect Dark Zero. In the game you have a health meter but upon taking damage you take permanent and temporary damage, with temporary damage recharging Halo style if you avoid damage for long enough. This merges the best of both worlds and creates a comfortable middle ground that means the player does have to watch their health, but by playing sneakily and keeping to cover you can still recover from light attacks. It’s just a shame the rest of the game wasn’t quite up to scratch…

But yes, I think it’s high time the health system in FPS games saw a revision because while the regenerative system is very good, and works for a lot of games, there are some in which it is just not right.


One comment

  1. The “Halo system” is important because it encourages a creative use of cover in a way that health pickups just can’t. The hit mechanics don’t really feel any worse than taking a rocket to the face and then running over a magic box and absorbing it with your feet to make the nasty pain go away either. Arguably Halo 1 had the best system though, with a combination of health and shield providing the player both with that sense of invulnerability but still providing a “so many strikes and you’re out” mechanic.

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