Opinion: The Problem With Regenerating Health

I like to play football at least once a week. I’ll admit that I’m not all that good, or even particularly good. However it’s fun to have a bit of a run out, and some friendly competition is generally fun. Unfortunately while playing this morning I twisted my ankle, leading to the most concentrated period of swearing in my entire life. It’s never good when walking becomes a challenge.

This did, however, lead to me thinking about injuries in games and how health systems work. I suppose it all comes down to the problem of how realistic games should be. There’s obviously no-one size fits all solution, but it would be nice if some games did take a slightly more realistic or interesting approach to injuries.

I mean I like recharging health systems at times but they do seem like they’ve become the obvious choice don’t they? They seem to be the automatic decision in shooters now, and although there’s obviously some work that goes into getting the balance right for damage inflicted and recovery rates, they don’t seem all that challenging as an option.

[drop]For example, games that effect your character’s performance due to an injury seem far more interesting. Limping because you took a shot to the leg or finding it tricky to aim because someone clipped your arm is just a more interesting option in my opinion.

You obviously don’t have to go that extreme, even games without regenerating health feel like they add an extra level of danger. Games that force you into the collection of some kind of health pack just feel like they’ve got this added level of danger.

They remove the possibility of using your inherent ability to regenerate health in a tight spot, making the whole thing feel slightly tense.

Take DmC, a game that actually has a nice combination of health packs and regenerating health. The game features demonic looking sacks on the wall from time to time, slicing through them improves your health. Not only to these fit in nicely with the game’s setting, but they really do bump up the difficulty level.

However, if you get into a tricky situation then there is a way out. If your Devil Meter is sufficiently full you can use your Devil Trigger to not only hamper your enemies, but to also regenerate your health. This limited regeneration adds a layer to the game’s difficulty but gives you an out if you really need it.

The hybrid system is a great touch, and introduces some tactical thinking into a system that’s become completely trivial in modern gaming. That’s all I’m really asking for here, for developers to try and make us think about how we manage a character’s health, much like we would with any other resource in a game.

Take the injury scenario from earlier. Wouldn’t it be interesting to consider whether it’s worth continuing through a scenario with a limp, or double back to find something to treat your wounds?

No, you don’t want that in every game, but it’d be nice if more games took this approach. Off the top of my head the only games that feature that kind of mechanic is the Operation Flashpoint series, and even then I’m not entirely sure it’s integrated in quite the way I’m thinking of.

I suppose this is really all about variety, and not just borrowing the most common system that’s available. I can only see that improving games as a whole.


  1. I always thought Legacy of Kain was interesting because to gain health you’d have to devour the souls of your enemy or feed on blood.

    • Similar to The Darkness (2 for definite, never played the first) In that you could eat the hearts of people you killed to refill your health. Made it pretty ease though due to there being a lot of people about most of the time.

  2. I have mixed feelings towards health regeneration but I personally prefer the sort where the screen goes grey if you take cover you recover.

    I hate games like dead space or dues ex where you need find Healtg packs cause sometimes you can go on forever without finding the packs.

  3. I think the way the Fallout games have done health is a quite good system with the fact that you can get crippled limbs making walking slower and or having blurred vision when you’re head gets crippled. I always thought that was a method that would be good to have employed in other games

    • I also like Fallout’s approach. And different food give you different HP, and also have side effects. Hardcore was pretty interesting too.

      • Such systems are good in games but sometimes they do hamper enjoyment for me. I played Batman: AA recently and the system in that works OK in that health is measured during battles but then regenerates after battle. I was enjoying Fallout 3 until when I stopped because I had no money, extremely low health and I couldn’t find a bed/mattress or money without dying. Not my idea of enjoyment when I just want to advance the story and explore the world some more.

        Realism is good, but for a game concessions need to be made imo.

    • I too love the FO approach, not just because it adds more realism to the RPG, but because the health system works both ways. Being able to slow down an enemy, or cripple their arm causing them to drop their weapon adds a huge strategic value to the game that increases replay value.

  4. Resistance Fall of Man had a really good system for a shooter- they split the health bar into blocks and would allow your health to regenerate up to the limit of whatever block you were on but if you wanted to go above that to full health you had to find a health pack.

    At least, that’s how I remember it anyway, it’s been years since I played it.

    • Yeah I remember that, exactly as you described. Shame the latter two games when for regen health.

      • Actually Resistance 3 uses Health packs, and turns out to be a pretty effective system with decent amounts of health drops from enemies.

      • Really? Apologies. My memory is very poor, i even have the plat for it :P

    • Yeah, Red Faction 2 was like that as well. Not the ultimate model, but better than the CoD style ones.

    • Far Cry 3 uses this exact same setup. Although like a few have said here, Fallout had a brilliant method

  5. It’s true that games without regenerating health (like hardcore mode in COD) do add something to the experience, there’s definitely an extra adrenaline rush knowing you don’t have much health and it won’t regenerate if you take damage.
    Having it realistic where if you got hit in the leg, you couldn’t run, or hit in the arm and your aim goes wobbly would just get annoyingly frustrating.

  6. I’m old. Regenerating everything please.

  7. I don’t mind it either way, but if I’m playing with a health bar I prefer to be able to carry some kind of med-kit, as the health power-up system causes players to spend too much time backtracking looking for power-ups.
    In multiplayer I actually kind of perfer what I call the battlefield hardcore system. You get a 100 health points and if hit you need a medic to recover. Not only does it create teamwork but it just seems more fair to get an “assist” when you shoot someone but don’t kill them. It creates the question of do I take a chance sitting here recovering health, or do I keep moving hoping that being some place else is safer. Also, I realize camping is in every game, but it seems like games with regenerating health have more camping than those without, which is odd, but that’s just been my experience.

  8. Played through Ace Combat Assault Horizon recently, even the airplanes have regenerating health now! I think the earlier Rainbow 6 games had a great tension to them as you only had a few blocks of life and taking damage early on made the mission really difficult.

    • It’s hilarious when a player is in a tank and everything being fired at the tank is tearing the tank visually to pieces but is actually hurting the players regen health more than anything. A game that does that is the recent halo games I believe.

  9. I guess it depends on the game for me. Halo could get away with it as there was reasoning behind it in the canon. However, COD and Co. cannot for he same reason.

    • The original Halo had a great combination of regenerating health and slotted healthbar you’d fill with health packs.

  10. I quite liked Dead Space’s way of doing things with health. An upgradeable bar with different health kits and different ways to obtain those kits, as well as the fact that health was largely based upon how you’d handle situations and the difficulty.

    To be honest I think health in games largely depends on the game itself. ArmA 2 is good because it is a simulator and I want a real life battlefield situation on my hands when I play it. But as mentioned in games like Fallout it is unattractive because I want a game not a simulator. Constantly caring for health doesn’t add anything to Fallout for me except tension in battles, and one can have that with regenerating health. CoD just has regen health and it suits because they bombard you with enemies and offer you cover mostly. Therefore the gameplay and environments are built for regen. Hence I rather think whatever is put in the game is done so for the sake of a game system that works well; I can’t be bothered with the whole realism thing unless I expect it from the genre.

Comments are now closed for this post.