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In Defense of the Health Pack
Posted on May 21, 2011 by

I lost interest in playing first and third-person shooters some time ago; the only one that I have any interest in these days is Gears of War. I'll probably be done with them for a while after I play though Gears of War 3, assuming it doesn't pull that "you've saved the day...BUT" crap at the end of the game like the first two did and actually wraps up the story. I haven't become a complete hippie, though. Shumps and run-and-gun shooters are still parts of my gaming diet.

I had the pleasure of playing the Resistance 3 demo at South by Southwest a few months ago. I hadn't played either of the first two Resistance games and I was pretty rusty (Gears 2 was a while back, y'all). I started playing the demo, got shot up pretty good, and instinctively ran behind a wall to wait for my health to restore.

You know the drill. You get shot one too many times, and the screen turns blood-red or you start to hear the beep-beep-beep sound that means your shields are gone. You get the hell away from whatever is shooting at you, have a seat and wait for the red to disappear from the screen or for the 'shields up' sound. It is a habit that I've picked up from years of playing Gears of War and Halo before that. This time, though, nothing happened. Actually, that's not true, what happened was something like this:

That "I'm in trouble!" feeling is something I hadn't felt in some time while playing a shooter. I have gotten so accustomed to having regenerating health that I automatically assumed it would be there when I played the Resistance 3 demo. As game mechanics go, regenerating health isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I feel that its presence has taken something away from the shooters that use it.

When I realized that my health wasn't going to automagically restore, it changed the way I played the game. I went into panic mode. I spent more time behind cover, picked my fights more carefully, and did a little more exploring in the hope of finding hidden health packs. Even after I got my health back up, I quit charging into battle like Rambo and instead was a little more careful as I advanced through the level. The reassurance of knowing I could be back to 100% health by hiding for a few moments wasn't there anymore.

And you know what? I liked it that way. I enjoy the true feeling of desperation as bullets whiz by and rockets explode, the panic upon entering a room with 5% health and (metaphorically) crapping my pants when I hear a chaingun start firing, the feeling of relief upon finding a full health pack, the feeling of accomplishment at killing a boss with just a sliver of a life bar remaining and the frustration of getting killed and having to restart from the last checkpoint. For me, at least, those moments are part of the experience of playing a shooter, and it isn't quite the same when the security blanket of regenerating health is there.

In contrast, when I know that I can get back to 100% by just resting up for a few moments, it is a lot easier to barge into an area without any regard for safety, so I am willing to take more chances. It is more fun on a certain level, but it takes out some of the suspense of "am I going to make it?" and makes the game just a little bit easier to play.

I won't say that regenerating health has ruined shooters, but when its there, it changes how I play them and even how I feel when I play them. That feeling of desperation and panic just isn't there when you can heal yourself at any time and without it, a shooter just isn't the same for me.

So, what do y'all think? Do you prefer your shooting games with regenerating health or not?

-Eduardo "Randomizer9" Soliz

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