Saturday, 4 February 2012

Linearity in First-Person Shooters

Doing my usual background research before I start a review, I was checking out the critical reception of Legendary, a first-person shooter where a thief hired to steal Pandora's Box opens the box, and unleashes various mythological creatures and magical forces on the world (see my review here). The game's average score is only 50%. The two main complaints are that it's too linear, and that there are too few enemy types.

If linearity and poor enemy diversity are enough to drop Legendary to 50%, then why do Call of Duty games consistently receive ratings of 80-90? Why are some FPS games criticized for being too linear while others get a free pass?

Depending on how technical you want to get, I can argue that Call of Duty only has 1 enemy type: humans with guns. How boring is that? Legendary offers gryphons, werewolves, fire drakes, and golems, as well as humans with guns.
Besides, in a first-person shooter, linearity is the name of the game. Always has been. FPS games restrict player freedom and mobility as a compromise for tightly-controlled, adrenaline-rush pacing. It's difficult, maybe impossible, to have both complete player freedom and balls-to-the-wall action at the same time. If you let the player do whatever they want at all times, you have no guarantee that they'll even show up for your action setpiece. If you restrict the player's freedom to a set path, you can create, for example, a fast-paced chase sequence with explosions and destruction all around the player.

Legendary is a first-person shooter. So why is linearity a problem in Legendary, but it's overlooked in such celebrated, highly-regarded games as Call of Duty, Half-Life, Metro 2033, Halo, and others? It's easy to say that Call of Duty gets a free pass because of its quality multiplayer, but Metro doesn't even have multiplayer, and yet linearity is fine there. What makes Legendary different?

Let me know what you think in the comments here, or check out the discussion on the Steam forums.


  1. I don't think linearity has ever been a real problem in shooters. The game just has to shake things up to keep people interested. Present new scenarios, give us new weapons or tools, and keep giving us something fun to shoot at. They just need to make us want to keep moving forward.

    If a shooter is criticized for linearity, it probably just wasn't interesting or compelling enough.

  2. It was only once FPS games stopped being necessarily linear that I got into them - and now I can't stand 3rd person perspectives. Fallout 3 and Borderlands changed my gaming life.

    However, I agree completely with your post. It definitely makes me wonder about publishers paying reviewers for good reviews on games like COD.

  3. Linearity in terms of "point A to point B" were always apart of FPSs. But in terms of "Going in a single path with no turning back or exploration", then no it hasn't. If you actually look at the level designs in Doom, Quake, Duke3D, and Deus Ex, you'll notice that you aren't always confined to a single direction, usually thanks to multiple paths, no fixed order of the given mission's objectives, or even backtracking.