Lin-e-ar: Adjective, definition:Consisting of or predominantly formed using lines or outlines.
When discussing video-games, linearity is a subject that tends to come up often. It's used to discuss the overall design of any game, whether it be an FPS or an RPG, or even Puzzle games. It's a term that is used for just about every game in existance, and with most people, it tends to be taboo. But there are those who believe that it is a practice that should be wholly recommended to developers. But who would be right in the discussion; people who are given a straight line to walk in, or people who want to choose which straight line they can walk in? No one would be, both have strengths that the other couldn't possibly achieve, no matter how much time it takes to design both.
As for me? I would lean more towards linearity. With linear games, you get elaborate designs that couldn't possibly be matched by a huge, open world. Take a game like the first Castlevania for the NES.
As a lot of you know, the game is essentially a straight-forward action game, and one of the hardest in it's categories. The elaborate design of the game couldn't possibly be matched by any open-world game, even by todays standards. What Konami made with Castlevania was something that was unmatchable, a game that required up-most skill to beat, and to this day, I've only made it about halfway through the game before rage-quiting. This is an example of a linear game done exceedingly well, and is still one of the best games ever made.
The game is a lot shorter when being compared to games with bigger scope, and more massive worlds, which is why people argue about linearity in the first place. With open worlds, you know that there is going to be more to do, and that you don't have to do all of it if you wan't to complete the story. In linear games, it's pretty much impossible not to do everything while completing the game at the same time. This makes the game generally shorter when being compared with something with an open world. But people only seem to use the length of the game as their main reason for liking open-world games more than games with linear design in mind.
Call of Duty is an example of linearity being one of it's biggest flaws. I like this series, and enjoy playing through the campaign, but it's pretty obvious that there wasn't a lot of thought put into it. The whole campaign is just you, with a gun, going through a bunch of "elaborate" corridors. It's fun, but it isn't nearly as memorable as something like Castlevania, where you know that the developers definitely knew what they were doing. What makes Call of Duty memorable is just it's numerous amount of explosions, which makes it seem like an action film, but let me ask you; do any of you remember what happened in the action scenes of Tranformers 2? You don't? Well, neither do I. That's exactly what I mean here.
Castlevania is a game with a lot to it; enemies are varied, design is pretty much unmatched, the difficulty came from legitmate challenge, and so much more. A lot of what makes Castlevania special is what it does that no open world can even hope to do. Games like Dark Souls, Dead Space 2, and Rage take advantage of their linear designs, and create experiences that stick with us. Games like Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 reinforce people's ideas of linear designs being simple, and way too strict. It's nothing but the same thing over and over for games like this, and with little true variety in their folds, they end up feeling like a waste of time. This is why some people don't even bother with the campaigns of these games, and just skip to the multiplayer.
What about open worlds though?
Games like Assassin's Creed are the perfect example if you want to describe open-world games as "a waste of time". For the record, I don't hate these games, but I'm not exactly fond of what they do and how they do it. Playing Revelations, you'd have to be lying to yourself if you didn't think that things were relatively simple in this game. The combat is just a mess of button mashing, and the AI is some of the worst I've ever seen in an open-world game. You'd never see these type of flaws in an action game like Castlevania. In fact, you saw the opposite in games like Castlevania. The enemies wouldn't stop attacking you in that game, and using your whip required patience and timing. Constantly mashing the whip button meant that you were going to die soon, because you're not using it right.
It's impossible "not to use it right" in Assassin's Creed. The game pretty much played itself in a lot of aspects, with the climbing, the combat, and jumping around the city. If you wanted to do a whole bunch of neat tricks in this game, all you needed to do was hold down two buttons, push forward, and let the game do the rest for you. Again, have you ever had games like Mirror's Edge have you just hold down a few buttons? You had to have legitimate skill if you wanted to get far in that game. Assassin's Creed, quite literally, holds your hand through out the game in it's entireity.
Fallout 3 is an example of an open-world done exceedingly well. On hard, this game offered quite a nice challenge. Not only that, but the game didn't constantly guide you through the game. A lot of what you did in Fallout 3 came from the choice of the player, while still offering a main narrative for the player to follow. The game wasn't designed around the concept of elaborate set-pieces, or narrow corridors, it was made with player progression in mind. The variables all matched up to aspects of your character that you had been building up ever since you had left the vault in that game. You could take up fire-arms as your main source of attack, and risk being useless in melee combat, practice speech, and be not very good with explosions, etc.
Games like Assassins Creed offered other things in their open worlds, but none of it felt right. As I mentioned, this game offered little in the ways of player freedom, not only in combat and movement, but also in planning. Everything in the game was designed for you to just blow right through it, with an almost unneccesary amount of items to use, and too few times for you to actually take advantage of what you want. It isn't that the game gave the AI too little (which they technically did), they just gave the player way too much.
I suppose it's just players choice as to whether or not they just want to sit down and enjoy the experience (Assassin's Creed being the prime example of that), but making the arguement towards linear games that they don't offer enough is downright wrong a lot of the time. They may not offer as much content as these huge expansive worlds might, but what they do offer tends to last a long time in your mind (if done right). I hope that more developers start to take care of their single-player story modes more in ways that older games like Castlevania and Megaman did. Games like Dead Space 2 have shown that a straight-forward design can make for a prosperous game, that people will want to experience over and over again.