‘Resistance 3’ Proves the Deficiencies of Health Packs

Regenerating health gets a lot of flack. I’ve heard plenty of gamers criticize such elements because they make shooters “easier” or “less intense” or “lazier,” but after playing Resistance 3, it seems to me that most of those criticisms are only exacerbated when a game uses a health pack based healing system.

The most common complaint about regenerating health is that it forces the player to spend lots of time hiding behind cover, staring at rock textures rather than actually playing the game. This is true to a certain extent, but I spent far more time hiding in Resistance 3 than I did in Modern Warfare 3.

Since health is limited, players are encouraged to play conservatively in order to better manage this limited resource, and the more hurt that we become, the more conservative that we play because that important resource becomes even more limited. Getting hurt in a game that uses a health pack healing system has more dire consequences than getting hurt in a game that uses a regenerating healing system; the former encourages us to avoid danger, the latter encourages us to embrace it.

To then regain health we must find a new pack, which means venturing out from cover, putting ourselves in more danger. In this way, health packs do encourage proactive play, though not really aggressive play, but they also force us to be proactive at our weakest moment. For some, this is the appeal of health packs over regenerating health, this tension between safety and danger, but there’s no denying that this system is inherently contradictory.

Resistance 3 tries to get around this issue by including a gun that shoots though walls. This does force players out of cover quite effectively, but this is simply a band aid used to fix a bad system. Such a gun is only necessary because the health system actively holds players back from combat, rather than pushing them forwards through the world.

The collectible nature of health packs also works against them: Since health packs are items that must be picked up, they distract players during combat. When a player is hurt and near death, he starts to look for health packs; he starts to focus his attention on the ground and on walls, looking for that telltale glow, rather than at the actual bad guys who are trying to kill him. Health packs encourage players to ignore immediate danger at the worst possible time. Even a well designed health pack that is easy to see is still distracting.

It’s a one-two punch of frustration: A system that demands we put ourselves in danger at our weakest moment, and then demands that we look everywhere except at that danger.

Resistance 3 uses more band aids to make up for these frustrations. You’ll automatically pick up a magic health pack at certain checkpoints if your health is too low, which is itself an admission that this system is flawed, and certain enemies will also drop health packs when they die if you get hurt badly during a fight. Both mechanics are only there because using a health pack system in its purest form would make some fights impossible. If you don’t collect health before a fight, you will not be able to win.

This might seem like a complaint that health packs make games too hard, and it’s true that this is a system that puts more onus on the player’s skill, but in terms of combat design, health packs actually force developers to play nice. Too nice.

Enemies always come in bursts in Resistance 3. You never fight against a horde, so at no point does it feel like you’re up against impossible odds. Insomniac always holds back the violence because they don’t know how much health a player will have at any given time. They have to design encounters for players with full health and those with half health, and this leads to less vicious combat overall.

This would be fine if the game wanted to be an intimate shooter, one that focused on combat between individuals or small groups, but Resistance 3 wants to be an epic travelogue though a war torn America. The health pack system prevents the game from ever becoming as big as it wants to be. With regenerating health, developers can always throw more danger at you since they know you’ll always be at or near full health.

Most shooters now use regenerating health and for good reason. It is the same reason that many RPGs now auto heal your character(s) after each fight, ensuring you enter each battle fresh. After all, it’s easier to design fun and intense combat when you know the player’s starting health. Resistance is one of the few series that still sticks to health packs, even Halo uses a mix of both at the very least. If Resistance 3 is the best modern example of what health packs can bring to a shooter, then I say good riddance to this out-dated system.

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