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Regenerating Health in FPS Games

Updated on August 8, 2017
Doom (2016)
Doom (2016)

There's a lot to love about the new Doom 2016 game. No aim down sights, no reload and most importantly, no regenerating health. This game single-handedly glory killed all tropes in modern military shooters. So, I have decided to write about the health system in video games.

"You are hurt. Get to cover!"

If you play modern first-person shooters like Battlefield or Call of Duty, you know exactly how it played out. You shoot baddies, baddies shoot back, you get hurt, you hide behind indestructible wooden cabinet while the screen turned from red to normal. The concept of regenerating health is nothing new. In fact, it was first used by an 1984 role-playing game called Hydlide. In this game, the player have to escape damage for a set amount of time in order to recover health. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It played out exactly the same with the system that we commonly see in fps nowadays. This system is later featured in Ys series and even modern rpg such as Skyrim. This system later made it way into other genres especially shooter.

Hydlide (1984)
Hydlide (1984)

There is a huge misconception of the first shooter to implement this system. A lot of people assumed Halo: Combat Evolved was the first game to make use of this system. In truth, it is wrong on so many ways. Firstly, Halo didn't feature regenerating health, but instead regenerating shield. The game still make use of health bars and health packs like classic shooters. When players take damage, the shield bar is first to deplete, then the health bar. Unlike health bar, shield bar will regenerate after the player manage to avoid damage for a few seconds. Pretty smart, don't you think? This system highlights further how advanced Master Chief's power suit.

Shield bar (top) and Health bar (bottom) in Halo: Combat Evolved
Shield bar (top) and Health bar (bottom) in Halo: Combat Evolved

So, if not Halo, then which shooter? The answer might surprised you. It's Faceball 2000, a first-person shooter that tasked players with making their way through various mazes while taking out teams of opposing players. Not surprised? Well, I can't blame you since this 1992 shooter was extremely low in popularity.

Faceball 2000 (1987)
Faceball 2000 (1987)

Talking about popularity, what game that popularizes this unique system in shooters? If Call of Duty comes to your mind, you are right. The second installment of this annually released franchise is the game that bring this feature to the masses. After that, a lot -and I mean it- a lot of first-person shooters to make use of regenerating health including Battlefield, the game that most people agreed as Call of Duty's main rival in military shooters.

Call of Duty 2 (2005)
Call of Duty 2 (2005)

Why First-Person Shooters?

At this point, you might be thinking why fps games love this system so much. The answer is simple; hitscan weapons. Hitscan means the player will take damage if they stand directly on enemy's line of fire. Before this, most fps games use projectile type weapon which can be avoided with quick reflex. Unlike projectiles, hitscan is unavoidable. You can't avoid bullets. So, most developers agreed that if the game can take your damage, it's only natural to give it back. There are some more games that are not categorized as first-person shooters use this mechanic such as The Getaway (2002) but they all worked pretty much the same. Shoot, cover, shoot again, repeat.

Changes and Variations

While most developers settle on regenerating health, some developers decided to make some changes and introduce something new, something fresh for the players without ruining the formula. F.E.A.R., a 2005 horror shooter made health regenerates to a limited quantity, which is somewhere around 25 percent. The game still features health packs which the players need to find in order to fully heal themselves. Wolfenstein: The New Order sported this system with a twist; giving players the ability to overcharge their health points by consuming additional health packs while having maximum health. Then, the health points will slowly decrease to the maximum value which is 100.

F.E.A.R. (2005)
F.E.A.R. (2005)

Another variation of health regeneration is fragmented health bars. It is unsure which game is the first game to feature this but a 2008 action fps game Far Cry 2 is surely the game that popularizes this system. Unlike F.E.A.R., Far Cry 2 health system regenerates over time to the nearest notch in the bar. Other empty portions can only be healed by health items. The sequels in the franchise make use of this system later on. Far Cry 3 later enhanced this system with variations of health items. If the player have health packs in their inventory, the character on screen will heal themselves with it and recover 2 health portions. If not, they will use any sort of improvised medical items such as a stick to pull the bullet out of their arm and recover only one health portions. Ouch. This system encourages crafting but also making sure the players are not in hot water if they refused to spend time collecting leaves to craft a health pack.

Far Cry 2 (2008)
Far Cry 2 (2008)

Is It Truly The Best?

Regenerating health is no stranger to being a subject to heated debate between gamers. And there's good reason for that. Traditional health system makes game more difficult and challenging, encourage exploration to find health items and urge the players to be more careful and plan ahead for every enemy encounter. On the other hand, regenerating health allows the player to take more risks and experimenting with new stuffs while making the game more accessible to wider audience. But every once in a while, I do miss the feeling of excitement when I found some health packs lying around while low on health.


In the end, there is no perfect way to portray health in video games. It all depends on the players themselves. Hardcore gamers who seek thrill and realism in video games would settle on traditional health packs while some casual gamers would sit back, relax and enjoy the game without stressing themselves over it. My only wish is that the developers would put more effort into creating a brand new health system that can be enough challenge to player and at the same time not frustrating them. I know, it's not gonna be easy but I am willing to wait.


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