Are Linear Games Inherently Bad?

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I see something like this in many, if not most, professional game reviews, "This game is awesome, but it's too linear."
Why do people think linearity is inherently bad? There have been good, linear games made: the Half Life series, Portal (I assume Portal 2 fits this too, but I haven't played it yet), the Left 4 Dead games, Bioshock, Metroid Prime, and Super Mario Bros. (all of them) leap to mind. These are all excellent games; hell, Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made. Every game in this list brutally linear. You play it the way the developers want you to, and that's it. (For the record, I love all these games.)

Now, I understand that if a game tries have an open world fails horribly at it, that's different. If the game thinks it's open-world, but really isn't, that's bad. But, these conditions are because the developers didn't put enough thought into the open-world design and they didn't commit to linearity. They don't commit, because they rightfully believe they will be lambasted by critics who firmly believe that linearity is inherently bad.

Are games inherently bad? Why or why not?
EDIT: Let me be clear on my position--if the levels feel like natural exploration, like Half Life, even though they're linear, then the game is good. Or the level design at least.

Because sandbox is the in thing this gen apparently.

Not by any means, there are plenty of linear games that are great. You mentioned some of them.

The problem with linear games is the developers have to know what they are doing, or the whole thing could potentially fail...

I'm personally a fan of open world games, but still love a good linear experience when it is done right.

No, its not. That won't stop me from wanting more games to be more non-linear though. If I make the comment "too linear" it doesn't necessarily mean that it makes the game bad so much as it could have been improved. Games have been and still are long linear chains of pre-planed events even if attempts have been made to wave our hands and disguise it so linearness can't be bad since all games have it.

are you calling PoP sand of time bad because it's good. linear games are good because your actions are planed around a line of where you have to go making interesting story

No. No game is inherently bad. It's all about the execution. Left 4 Dead is still one of my favourite games. EVER. But Sandbox styled games are becoming the new "gimmick" of modern-day videogames.

Miles000:
Not by any means, there are plenty of linear games that are great. You mentioned some of them.

The problem with linear games is the developers have to know what they are doing, or the whole thing could potentially fail...

I'm personally a fan of open world games, but still love a good linear experience when it is done right.

I agree, linear games can be great but they have to be done right, they should have a gameplay style that works with the ....linearity...ness. Bulletsotrm for example felt way to linear because the game mechanics and even the characters attitudes were all action and mayhem, the game should have given players a wider space to go nuts and have fun with that, rather than cattle-prod them through bottlenecks and corridoors over and over.

Well, I think it depends of your definition of linear. I for one don't think there are true non linear games out there (perhaps save some text based games like like MUDs). At best they offer choices of different linear branches.

But to be more to terms with the industries definition: The mentioned good linear games are linear, they do offer either some sort of freedom, or randmoness because of how the enemy AI is programmed so they react differently everytime a game is reloaded. To summarize it, you could say that they still are somewhat procedural.

On the other hand, bad linear games, like call of duty SP, have almost everything hard scripted, so each situation plays out exactly the same, and it takes away the feeling of accomplishment of improvising a solution out of a tight situation and transforms it into simply going to the more or less exact motions the designers intended.

I don't really understand why linearity has suddenly become such a "bad word". In a well-designed game you won't even notice that it's guiding you along a linear path, and many games are stronger because they're linear. It allows the creators to create a very streamlined experience for the audience (if done right) and keep the player immersed. It's a lot harder to maintain a steady flow of gameplay in a sandbox (but not impossible).

Bad is as subjective as it gets.

But, given how well things like God of War, Halo and Call of Duty sell, I'm going to guess most people don't think it is bad.

I agree, linearity isn't a bad thing. But, sandbox does seem to be the in thing, and I've probably had more fun with open world games (Morrowind comes to mind).
Actually, in some cases "too linear" could be a legitimate complaint. If I'm playing an RPG, I want freedom, exploration, non-linearity. I'm not saying everyone does, but that was a major complaint of mine about Fable.
So yeah, the complaint is overused these days thanks to the popularity of sandbox gameplay, but it can sometimes be a legitimate complaint.

This is a point of discussion that drives me nuts, because, I too, have gotten the response "it would be good, but it's too linear." Since when is this bad? If people are going to consistently stand up for games as a wonderful storytelling device, they have to understand that 90% of storytelling is linear. That's how it works. Sure you can convolute a story, have it double back on itself, or present it in reverse; but it still has a start point, an end point, and a sequential progression of events to connect those two points. Linear.

Even sandbox games do this, but the point of sandbox games is to pile on so much more content, that you are often distracted from the linear progression of the narrative (this is not meant to be a slight against sandbox games at all). However, lots of other games make a design choice by saying "We think we have a really interesting story to tell, so we're going to have the player focus almost exclusively on that," and that really isn't a bad call at all.

So the next time someone expresses a distaste in linear games, point out to them that their games of choice are in fact linear as well, but just presented in a different way.

image

I will admit, this did have some element of exploration, though.

Not at all. Linear games can be amazing. Like mentioned above, Mario! Absolute classic, you dont see him roaming a sandbox now do you? You know why!?...hes way too awesome for the sandbox to be able to contain him and him 80's italian stereotype moustache. In general, it all depends on where the story takes the game, if the plot unfolds nicely, at a steady, understandble pace and the gameplay is imaginative and enjoyable along the way....Yeah, its probably going to be a good game. At no point do you 'need' to add the option of freedom, because then you're giving the player his own goals to achieve ( which is all well and good ), and this defers them from the original goal. Of pwning koopa ass as an italian plumber. Or running really fast and collecting rings. or stopping a locust invasion etc. etc.

Linear games are usually far better than sandbox/open world games because the level design and mission quality are usually so much higher. Very few devs have the ability to pull off a quality sandbox game. The 1st Mercenaries is probably the best example on how to do a sandbox game properly, and it made me realize how bad the GTA games are. You can really tell each mission in Mercenaries was basically designed from a linear standpoint; great attention was paided to the level design and enemy placement for each mission. Then, all these stand alone missions were placed on a canvas to create a map. Whereas in GTA, you can really tell the map was created first and then the missions were added in with the expectation that they would be good instead of actually making them good. There are just so many more creative ways to go about completing a mission in Mercenaries campared to the GTA games, I had a great time finding ways to not piss off the factions in Mercenaries.

There's linear, ala Halo where you're given one path but open environments with the enemy doing something different every time.
Or there's COD linear, which is incredibly scripted from beginning to end, which may be incredibly fun and thrilling the first time round, but lacks any replay value whatsoever.

Flippincrazy:
No. No game is inherently bad. It's all about the execution. Left 4 Dead is still one of my favourite games. EVER. But Sandbox styled games are becoming the new "gimmick" of modern-day videogames.

The 'new' gimmick? RPG games have been sandbox based since the early 90's (Legend, Blade of Destiny etc). And that's where the complaint comes in. FPS games are, by their nature, linear, and so linear play in FPS games is not bad. But in RPG games, where the emphasis is meant to be on exploration and doing what you want, then linear gameplay is bad.

Personally I prefer semi-linear games. Those are games like Dragon Age. You have a specific goal and you are limited in what you can do or where you can go at that specific time but you are free to accomplish those goals in any order you wish. You could go to the Circle tower first and go to the elves last. Or you could go to Redcliff first and go to the dwarves last.

For me truly sandbox games tend to make me lost sight of the goal. I start doing one thing then notice something else so I go to check it out. Before I know it I completely forgot what I was doing before.

Linear games are fun but having some freedom improves it. For me it goes Semi-Linear > Linear > Sandbox.

I find that a story heavy game is better linear, open world games struggle to find pacing and can often suffer for it. When a dev accepts which style is best and designs around that then it works. When they try to hammer square block through circle hole it just doesn't work.

uhhhh no linerarity isnt bad at all

its not like "games must eather be this or that"

its all about the kind of game your making

No.

Well... it depends what you mean by linear. I have nothing against linear stories or linear progression (i.e. level 1 -> level 2 -> level 3 etc).

However, I prefer the gameplay and level design to allow for a little bit of elbow room.

I agree - a lot of good games are linear, and there are a lot of bad games which are sandbox. Some games do like to even out the linearity though. There's a really interesting thought about that in this article - http://www.nowgamer.com/features/1349/the-making-of-goldeneye - which says that early in development, Goldeneye was meant to be an on-rails shooter like Virtua Cop - about as linear as it gets. When they changed this, they fleshed out the levels so that the player was able to essentially explore outside of the set path that was designed before.

It's probably likely that there'll be good games doing one or the other, but a lot more good games striking a balance IMO. Mass Effect features linear levels set in an Open world - the first level on Crysis features a sandbox area with no linearity aside from a start and end point (and a few funnels), and eventually moves into focused gameplay. Without linearity there's no compulsion to move ahead.

Of course there's also FFXIII, which was 20 hours of running through corridors. Fun.

No, linearity isn't bad. Hand-holding and railroading are, though. As you've already stated, games that attempt to appear non-linear but just end up being a linear game with a bunch of crap tacked on to the sides are also bad.

For me, it's not overly-linear unless it is just running down a corridor with no other rooms to enter like the doors are painted on the fucking walls, making you stop every now and then to fight some enemies and has a huge glowing neon sign saying "Go straight in this direction you stupid cunt!" every 5 meters

No!
Portal 2
/thread

It's just a question of current taste, really. Linear games are not bad otherwise.

Well good linear games include Escapist favourites like Silent Hill 2 and as you mentioned Half Life 2/Portal so I'd be surprised if many people here at least argue that linearity is bad.

Nickompoop:
Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made.

Since When? I have never heard of anyone say this sentence in real life, sure people say its good, but do people really think its worthy of that title?

Not at all. Linearity is a story telling technique (for want of a better word) and works really well when the game has a powerful and compelling story. In sandbox games it's easy too easy to be sidetracked.

There is a difference between "go to point B from point A" and "go to B from A, BUT you absolutely HAVE to do this, that and the other" basically, if I have to simply go from here to here doing the same thing each time, with little to no choice on how to do it, it's the bad linear. Now Half-life had a lot of weapons, and different ways to deal with each encounter, as do most shooters, giving them a degree of choice, as opposed to a puzzle game with only ONE solution, or a game where the only way to win is to use this move, at this time.

Linear storytelling has to be done well and no linear story telling has to be done REALLY well. Bar story telling. Sandbox for sandboxes sake is needless. In fact needless exploration or stupi side quests/jobs for upgrades is a big minus in my eyes.

A big issue is some games give you too much of one or the other. Other get the mix right. There's liniar game play and storytelling. You can have an open world and a set story with side bits or a closed world with an open story, or vice versa.

Nickompoop:
...Bioshock, Metroid Prime...

Although both of those do follow a path, they both encourage tons of exploration. In fact, the latter's main idea is exploration. Metroid Prime is very far from being a "brutally linear" game.

I have no problem with linearity, none at all. It has its advantages. Most of my games are linear and I greatly enjoy them. Sandbox games are fun as well. It's just two different types of games. Just Cause 2 would not have been the same as a linear game, and Red Faction Guerilla would have been much better off as a linear game (which is one reason why I'm getting excited for its upcoming sequel!"

innocentEX:

Nickompoop:
Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made.

Since When? I have never heard of anyone say this sentence in real life, sure people say its good, but do people really think its worthy of that title?

I do! OK, not the best, that title belongs to Super Metroid. But it's way up there. Also, IGN has continually named it their "best PC game of all time". It's held in very high regard in many places.

believer258:

innocentEX:

Nickompoop:
Half Life 2 is commonly considered the greatest game ever made.

Since When? I have never heard of anyone say this sentence in real life, sure people say its good, but do people really think its worthy of that title?

I do! OK, not the best, that title belongs to Super Metroid. But it's way up there. Also, IGN has continually named it their "best PC game of all time". It's held in very high regard in many places.

You too? Metriod was Awesome XD

innocentEX:

believer258:

innocentEX:

Since When? I have never heard of anyone say this sentence in real life, sure people say its good, but do people really think its worthy of that title?

I do! OK, not the best, that title belongs to Super Metroid. But it's way up there. Also, IGN has continually named it their "best PC game of all time". It's held in very high regard in many places.

You too? Metroid was Awesome XD

"Too linear" means the game feels overly constrained. Someone tried to draw a contrast between Halo and Call Of Duty which kind of illustrates the principle, but Call Of Duty features fairly large levels that allow for slightly different approaches. It's linear but I can move around and approach fights differently.

But there are games that restrict you to a very narrow corridor where you are always aware of the boundaries of the level. That's too linear. It's one think to bump up against the limits here and there (either the obstruction or invisible wall) but when I'm going through a forest and its all I see in a level as narrow as an indoor level, the game has failed to immerse me. That's too linear.

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