Sorry if someone did this and i missed it...
Checkpoints are good things, dont get me wrong. Having your progressed saved up to a point gives a major feeling of relief. The problem, is when games do it wrong; when there are too many checkpoints, or more importantly, too few.
So, on to the Good Idea
This refers to Halo 1. Halo 3 is pretty good also; Halo 2, on the other hand, could be used as an example of Bad Idea. In fact, i would have, if a certain other high profile shooter hadnt come along last year and done it worse....
But back to Halo 1. It was the first example of a brilliant checkpoint system i came across, and is still the best ive seen. In Halo, you get checkpoints before and after every pitched battle, sometimes even half way through. At the time, most games had checkpoints every now and then; sometimes even only one halfway through the level.
Halo's system reduces frustration without making the game too easy. When you die, you wont normally go far back, but you still have to win each fight with what health and equipment you have got. The checkpoints in the middle of a fight tended to be given only in the larger areas, generally after killing a good few enemies and being safe in cover. I feel that bungie did a good job with these; some of the battles were huge and long, particularly if multiple tanks were involved.
The other benefit is that the player can stop playing at nearly any time, since his progress had most likely been saved quite recently. Halo is a game you can jump into and out of very easily, theres no need to push forward through half a level each time you play. This was fantastic when i first started playing Legendary.
Now, to compare with the Bad Idea
Dont get me wrong; I LOVE Call of Duty 4. Its multiplayer is wicked fun, and the single player is one of the best campaigns ive ever experienced.
That campaign is also one of the most frustrating. Since Halo, ive been mostly an fps gamer; so at this point, i like to think im pretty good at 'em. Hence, i play on the hardest difficulty from the start, particularly in a game like CoD 4, which has a similar shooting model to CoD 2.
CoD 4 on Veteran is one of the most difficult and frustrating games i have ever been bloody-minded enough to complete. In the end, ive come to the conclusion that its the checkpoint system to blame, when combined with a number of other (otherwise good) gameplay factors.
Basically, there are too few checkpoints. A not-so-bad example is Halo 2 - with recharging energy shields, you can pop out, take a bit of damage long enough to kill something, and get back to cover. Its still frustrating when you die, but at least you can get pretty far in the battle.
In CoD 4, you cant do that. Enemies are accurate and on veteran, they know that you are the one to go for. Part of the gameplay is that you die quickly - you need to, for realism purposes.
Combine this with few checkpoints, and you have a recipe for angry gamers. You may get quite far, just to be surprised and shot to death by some random guy around a corner.
Two levels that stick out in my mind are the second part of the Sniper level (where you escape to the helicopter), and ironically even worse, the next level where you get pushed up the hill just to find that you need to get back down to the bottom to get to, thats right, another helicopter. The main similarity of these levels is the Spartans vs Persians kind of numerical superiority the enemies have. I swear i must have killed half of russia in that game. But in a game where you can die from one accurate burst, is it really a good idea to throw hundreds of enemies at you at once? I think it could have been, with more checkpoints, or even better, quick-saves.
Eventually, i figured out an interesting part of the checkpoint system - you do get the odd one thrown in seemingly randomly. If you keep getting to a point, eventually you will get a checkpoint there. Im not sure if its because the game recognizes that you're dying often after that point, or whether its based on number of kills, or WHATEVER, but getting that checkpoint became my game-plan for those levels.
Doing the same thing over and over, until i get a checkpoint. Then doing it again, until the next. Not much fun.
Sorry if that was a bit ranty, but i think im making a good point there somewhere.
Anyway, heres a different example of Bad Idea
I wont rant about this because (shock horror!) i havent played much of bioshock. I like the world and atmosphere, but hate the shooting model and gameplay (doesnt feel right to me). But whatever, ive heard enough about the resurrection tank things to know they deserve a place here.
This is the opposite example to CoD 4. Bioshock becomes too easy because its 'checkpoints' (meaning the tank things) are too common, and too powerful. How easy would Halo or CoD 4 be if every time you died, everything you had done still counted?
All of a sudden, death means almost nothing. Yahtzee put it best i think, so go watch his bioshock review again. Go on, you know you want to.
Closing comments :
Checkpoints or Autosaves can really make or break a game. I think that their use depends on the game. They work brilliantly in Halo because its pretty much a run and gun, corridor shooter; you get to a room of enemies, defeat them, and continue to the next. Its easy to put a checkpoint between them.
That wont work in CoD 4. I think it should have had quick-saves as well, as any good pc game has these days. So i guess i say... damn you, consoles! Get some more buttons! Or at least, come on I.W, how hard would a quick-save function have been to include?
As for games like Bioshock... just ignore the vitachambers? Is that what theyre called? I should really go play that game...