Calling a game linear shouldn't be an insult, and we need to stop treating it as one.
I've never treated it as such, for I recognize that linearity, in the right proportions and with the right games, only enhances the experience into something focused and true to what the designers saw in their own grand designs. A bit of linearity makes it simpler to set a goal and follow it through; it's what happens on that path that determines whether linearity is a good or bad thing, not whether or not you can stray from it whenever you like.
Journey TLOU Uncharted Heavy Rain All quite linear and very well off for it.
Linearity is only bad when it's not what's expected from a particular game. If Elder Scrolls went linear, people would feel mad about it, for a reason. But no one ever complained about the linear structure of most platformers or jrpgs. Who uses linearity as an insult anyway? Last time I heard about that was for the original Final Fantasy XIII, and the problem was not about linearity really, all FF games are linear, but about the lack of side content to explore.
While this is an excellent article that makes a lot of good points, I need to point out two things: 1. The stigma against linear games nowadays isn't because people really think there's anything inherently wrong with linearity; it's more the fact that linear game design seems to be the most popular thing today, and some people may be getting tired of this. It's similar to how we're seeing fatigue against first person shooters, or 2D platformers (gaming genres that also tend to be pretty linear, BTW). There's nothing wrong ioth the genre, but the market is saturated with these kinds of games, and people are starting to feel it and demanding different experiences, where non-linearity could be a great help to make things feel fresh again. 2. Linearity doesn't always equal to "straight to gameplay". Actually, in some cases, it may be quite the opposite. Take The Last of Us as a prime example of this. This game, while extremely well polished in all areas, doesn't really have anything special about its gameplay (which still controls well nonetheless); actually, a big portion of the game is so tightly driven by cutscenes and narrative devices that the gameplay feels heavily limited in most instances. However, that narrative-heavy focus is possible precisely because of its linearity, resulting in a game that has arguably the best narrative of any game ever made; and it's said narrative what makes the game special, earning itself hundreds of GOTY awards from almost everywhere. It may be a linear experience, but linear or not, people will still take notice of a great game nowadays, even in a market saturated with linear games. :)
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