Just as a gamemaster in a tabletop game may create artificial rules, boundaries and obstacles to keep his players on the game track that he has designated (a procedure known as Railroading), so too a video game may employ such tactics in order to force the player down a specific path or method toward the goal. And one of the easiest ways to keep a player from wandering off is, quite simply, to give the player nowhere to wander to.
Technically, this trope is the polar opposite of the Quicksand Box; it describes level architecture which forces the player down a singular path. This trope is most common in First- or Third Person Shooters (except, usually, tactical shooters) and platform games, wherein the challenge is generally supposed to be the enemies and/or obstacles, not in figuring out which way to go. It can also crop up in Role Playing Games as a very visual form of Railroading. The trope is forgivable in 2D Platform Games such as Super Mario Bros., which allow only forward progression due entirely to the limitations of the geometry; not everything is a Metroidvania. It only applies in situations where, intuitively, you'd think there might be other areas of a place to explore, but these are not implemented because they are not plot-important.
The most common incarnation is to simply have several rooms chained, each with a single entrance and a single exit, or to have long corridors with no side branches and few if any side rooms. The only options for progress are "forward" or "backward." This applies even when the rooms are tightly packed together and should have (you'd think) some degree of interconnectivity; imagine living in a New Orleans shotgun house, where you have to travel from the front porch into the living room, then through the kitchen, to the dining room, through the spare bedroom, and finally into the den, just to get to the bathroom. Every time you wanted to go to the bathroom. No shortcuts.
Note that these layouts do not necessarily preclude entirely the presence of side rooms or hidey holes. However, these are usually just little culs-de-sac with a weapon, power-up or treasure chest, or maybe a switch to allow continuation down the main path.
This is becoming much more common these days◊, what with the enormous graphical detail of modern level design limiting the number of paths that can be made at the required quality. Also, story is much easier to place in a game that is linear as opposed to one that involves heavy exploration. A popular method for enforcing this type of level architecture these days is by the use of Locked Doors, which adds a bit of verisimilitude by suggesting that, yes, other areas do normally exist in this location, but due to game constraints you won't be going in there; this can still be jarring if you're armed with powerful explosives or weapons designed for breaching doors and still can't get by a flimsy door, and more so if you destroy some such doors during the game but can't do anything to others.
In the 3D shooter genre, games that prominently feature this kind of architecture are sometimes called "Corridor Shooters".
In terms of Sliding Scale of Linearity vs. Openness, most examples of this trope are actually level 2, due to most level 1 games not even providing any freedom of movement to attempt exploration in the first place.
Please keep in mind that this trope is about level architecture, notthe linearity or specificity of objectives.
Railroading is the Super Trope.
Not to be confused with scripted games such as Adventure Games or Action Adventure which use more subtle techniques to keep the player from going Off the Rails of the game's plot. Some of them do have levels that resemble this — Compare The Maze — or a Closed Circle series of rooms; but it's generally frowned upon in Interactive Fiction unless it's essentially a Cut Scene.
See also Broken Bridge, The Law of Conservation of Detail, Space-Filling Path, The One True Sequence, Rail Shooter, Master of Unlocking, and Quicksand Box for when developers go too far in the other direction. Video Games And Fate can be a way to justify this in-universe.
Alternamorphs #1 is a rare literary example. It is set up as a Choose Your Own Adventure type gamebook, but the author doesn't seem to understand the concept, because the story is completely linear and every "wrong" choice results in instant death.
Most of Makeruna! Makendou Z, with the exception of the jungle towards the end (where you could end up going in circles). Only one item pickup in the game, and you can't even revisit old areas. It's even mentioned in the review
In Final Fantasy, beginning with the first game it's traditional to start with a nearly linear path, and either ease up over the course of the game or just dump you into a 'sandbox with a story' after a few hours. Once you get the ship or airship, the world opens up and Sequence Breaking is sometimes possible.
Final Fantasy II is the only one that gives you total freedom of exploration at the start, and even then, accomplishing that is a feat in itself. If you move so much as 5 squares west of the starting city, you'll be fighting level 30 monsters. The game gives you very little indication of where to go next. You'll be told to go to X, but the game won't tell you HOW to get to X.
Final Fantasy X, the first game in the series not to feature an Overworld Not to Scale, had very tube-like pathways, even in places like forests, with strictly controlled camerawork, featured a disturbingly linear path through the vast bulk of the game's landmass. Even villages are corridor-like, and the game features a minimap that literally tells you which way down the one giant path to go to finish the game. The temples you have to stop at are also just rest stops along the predetermined path. There is, however, one notable wide-open field near the end of the game/long corridor... which turns out to have only one entrance and exit again.
This is actually a subversion, given the number of sidequests you actually can do later. Also, considering the plotline, it works. Yuna is supposed to follow her pilgrimage to the letter, so wandering off and exploring isn't really in the cards. Most of the other games haven't the same sense of inevitability (you know, the whole sacrificing your life to give 10 years of peace, because there's no other options). Interestingly, once the group actually resolves to try something different, is when you get your airship and the ability to go to weird places, making this a sort of Fridge Brilliance.
The sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, features the same areas as in the first game, but is broken into separate locations, along with the addition of several alternate side areas and a jump button make it a lot more fun to explore. Furthermore, you start the game with an airship and can explore any area at your leisure.
The bulk of Final Fantasy XIII is this. There are occasional minor branches, but it's usually for treasure. Out of the 13 chapters, Chapter 11 (Gran Pulse) is the only one that does not follow this rule, but ironically, it's more of a Quicksand Box. Shopping is done at save points, and while there are towns, they're no more interactive or open than any other area.
Word of God states that the linearity was a story-writing decision and had nothing to do with fanbase opinion or development issues, but fans tend to think it had more to do with complaints over XII being "too open."
And even if there were no Word of God, it should be pointed that XIII was in production well before XII hit the streets, let alone received any criticism.
Grandia II is so linear that there are times that your compass can point either forward or back, and the game generally only allows you to backtrack to the last town you passed.
The original Video Game/Grandia also gave very few opportunities to backtrack and limited exploration. Ironically, the main characters are explorers. From a narrative standpoint, though, this has the advantage of making the world seem much bigger than is usual for an RPG: exploring the entire world is an impossibility, just like it would be impossible in real life for one person to go everywhere. Thus, things like crossing oceans (which in the typical RPG would be work of a few minutes at most) is a very non-trivial undertaking.
Scenario 1: Start at Point A, then run to Point B while killing everything that gets in your way.
Scenario 2: Stand in one room and finish a Boss Fight.
Surprisingly common in games based on the Star Wars franchise:
Shadows of the Empire was notorious for this; its depiction of Echo Base on Hoth was literally a long hallway leading from the starting point to the ending point, with only a couple of side rooms at the beginning (admittedly, there is one alternate corridor early on, but it quickly loops back in and joins the main path forthwith). And the other levels in that game fared no better.
Knights of the Old Republic averts this, however, even though compared to previous Bioware titles like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights each area is very spartan and compact, there's a single path through each one, and planets (the only major choice the player has) are completely self-contained.
The somewhat dubious on-foot and in-walker sections of the Rogue Squadron sequels feature this - on levels like Jabba's sail barge, it's reasonably forgivable given that they're fairly limited environments. But on the various levels where you're progressing through large facilities or ships (like Hoth Station, or Yavin Base) or planets like Dagobah or the Hoth exterior level, it's a bit more irksome. Part of the walker sections become literal on-rails shooters, too. A few of the ship-based levels are similar.
Mass Effect 2. In Mass Effect 1, sidequests were done in wide-open tank sections where you could explore an implausibly rough square mile of terrain, and occasionally, you'd get out to shoot some guys in the same three buildings on every planet. They've been replaced with linear corridors filled with guys to shoot. Whether or not this is an improvement...
No More Heroes features a long, grey, linear corridor in one of the levels. However, that level and the following boss are both like that just to screw with the player.
According to some Epileptic Trees, the strictly linear gameplay of the game is an actual story theme, representing Gordon's powerlessness as he is forced to take the path the G-Man has planned for him. Also, note the ubiquity of trains and other rail vehicles throughout the series.
According to Valve, they did this because they found that given two (or more) paths, play testers would go down one path, turn around, and then go down the other path(s), presumably to make sure they saw everything. Thus they decided to give the player just one path so that the player could proceed with the story.
Assault on the Control Room: Hallway, bridge, hallway, nondescript circular room, hallway, canyon, hallway, underground room, hallway, canyon, ad nauseum. Complete with the usual Copy And Paste Environments. It doesn't help that it's the longest level. And then, a couple hours later, you have to go through it again. The only difference is you're coming the other direction and now it's full of Flood enemies, quite a few of which have rocket launchers and will not hesitate to fire them in close quarters.
The Library. A series of long, identical, Flood-infested, albeit spacious, hallways.
Halo 3: In the final battle against the Prophet, you have one long hallway to the battle, one long hallway back.
Although it was as chaotic as a long walkway can ever be.
Sacred Icon/Quarantine Zone, especially the vehicle sections, is one big gauntlet, ie sticking around to fight the enemies will just get you killed repeatedly.
Crow's Nest is somewhat this, but has an unusual amount of Backtracking.
In a subversion, Cortana, the Scrappy Level of Halo 3, is somewhat more maze-like, but still has one general path.
The original Super Mario Bros., which prevented the player from being able to ''backtrack''. At most there were the three maze levels, each one a total Guide Dang It, where if you pass the point where the level registers that you took the wrong path (easy to do accidentally), you get forced along it even if you backtrack.
The Angry Video Game Nerd once pointed out in a review that 2D games can actually avert this to a point, mostly by giving the player multiple ways through an obstacle: the SMB screenshot he used as an example allowed the player to take a safer upper platform, or brave the enemies on the ground to be able to hit a ? block. The game he was reviewing (Wayne's World for the NES) showed just how bad the absence of this was, giving the player nothing but flat ground to traverse with some token platforms visibly leading nowhere useful.
Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel were all noticeably more linear in design than Super Mario 64, partly due to the fact that most stars have to be collected in a certain order. This is because there is only one star available per mission, while in Super Mario 64 there can be multiple stars besides the one that comes first. Despite this, the games include some exploration-based levels like Delfino Plaza, Honeyhive Galaxy, and Sea Slide Galaxy. There are also secret stars that are optional and can only be gotten by sidetracking.
Twilight Princess as a whole can fit here. It departs from its predecessors by enforcing linearity with the plot and broken Bridges rather than through implication and obstacles, and making Sequence Breaking nearly impossible.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks literally railroaded you through the overworld, giving you almost no ability to explore anything. Even the sidequests that unlock parts of the map are themselves linear, and the only thing that they allow you to explore are a handful of bonus dungeons (which are again very linear). It's kind of hard to avoid restriction when you're driving a train, but it's still one of the biggest complaints about the game.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword ditches the vast overworlds of other games, compacting them and making them feel more like dungeons. While there's definitely sidepaths, minigames and sidequests, the world is overall a lot more linear, although most levels are comprised of interconnected circles. Much more forgivable than other examples in that this trope was necessary to prevent the game becoming too much of a Quicksand Box because of the greatly increased puzzle and object density, which the focus is moved to.
Most games made by Treasure, to name one entire company, follow the trope.
The demo game that used to come with the RPG ToolkitLampshaded this; doors were noted to be locked, and then commented that it was probably because the programmer was too lazy to make another room.
Dungeon Siege is one of the worst offenders, mainly because the required path is very, very long. The game also has only one Door To Before, meaning that backtracking from the end of the game back to the very beginning could easily take over half an hour real time.
You Are Empty is the epitome of this trope. Whenever it seems like you might have more than one choice (two paths, two corridors, two doors...) expect one of them to be blocked by collapsed walls and ceilings, fences, gates, locked doors and... furniture.
The Medal of Honor series, except for European Assault, Vanguard and Airborne, which occasionally let you pick your way through many of the levels. Mind you, they're still often rather structured.
Call of Duty from Modern Warfare onwards. The original Call of Duty, United Offensive, Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 3 actually averted this. On many missions, objectives could be completed in any order the player desired, and there were often many alternate paths to an objective, each with their own pros and cons.
This actually extends annoyingly into the multiplayer of Modern Warfare. There are many areas that look like they would make for a great alternate route through the map, but as soon as you try to go there yourself you'll find that, at best, there's only one entrance or, at worst, there's more than one and none of them lead anywhere else. This is less of a problem in the multiplayer of later games, which is rather ironic considering Raven Software, the same team behind the later Jedi Knight games above, helps with creating the multiplayer levels.
Inverted by Red Faction Guerrilla. One guy with a sledgehammer note And guns that can dissolve matter laying waste to an entire planet.
Clive Barker's Jericho is perhaps the worst, with monochrome and identical layouts and shallow sidelets that are fruitless to explore. There are no pickups in the game and plot coupons are only delivered on the intended track.
Many levels in the Soldier of Fortune series, including Siberia, Sudan, Colombia, the Hospital, and the entirety of Payback's levels.
Most levels of Doom 3. A few levels, such as Alpha Labs 4, have branching paths.
Kingdom Hearts II has more than a few levels like this or close to it (i.e. not a lot of exploration). The most Egregious examples would probably be The World That Never Was and Disney Castle.
Allegedly done because the original was more in the opposite direction, to the consternation of many players. Arrgh, Deep Jungle!
Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is even moreso of this trope. Since you play as Roxas going on specific missions assigned to you by Saix, it is largely linear and one-goal based. Because of this, in almost all missions, they even block off some of the paths of a world that "are not necessary for the mission." The only extras you really get are going around to find extra Heartless to fill up your Bonus Gauge.
The linearity of Tomb Raider Legend was a frequent complaint amongst both reviewers and fans. While frequently linear the earlier games tended to at least provide a couple of choices of where to go at a given point, whereas all but a couple of Legend's levels were almost a straight line, which drew several complaints and some attempt at averting it in Anniversary and Underworld.
The Crash Bandicoot games make an effort to avert this starting with the second game, however. Not just with branching paths on a few levels (that need to be explored for 100% Completion) and extra-hard side paths but also often forcing the player to defy logic and jump into hazards they normally wouldn't to reach secret levels.
Of course, since the point of the game is using portals to solve puzzles and get past obstacles, a wide-open facility could have turned into a Quicksand Box quite easily because of the difficulty in getting back to other areas.
Wheatley: ''Look at this! No rail to tell us where to go! OH, this is brilliant. We can go where ever we want! Hold on, though, where are we going? Seriously. Hang on, let me just get my bearings. Hm. Just follow the rail actually."
Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is extremely linear in comparison to the rest of the Breath of Fire series, with no sidequests to be had and very limited chances to backtrack. Fridge Brilliance sets in once you remember that 2/3 of your party members will die if you don't reach the surface in time. You do not have time to mess about.
The Conduit is guilty of this in its single-player campaign. It's all the more noticeable because the first two-thirds of the game are set in locations with lots of corridors (office buildings, underground bunkers, etc.). The last few levels of the game offer significantly larger areas, but progression is still very linear.
Averted in Conduit 2; most of the levels are set in exotic outdoor environments such as the Himalayas and the Atlantic Ocean, and multiple paths are provided to reach the end of each stage.
The Xbox game Breakdown had one single path and instead focuses on immersing you into its mindscrew storyline rather than exploration. You get a few dialogue choices from time to time, and get to make a big decision to determine which of the two ending sequences you get to see, but that's the extent of it.
In the Blades Of Avernum community, anything designed by Terror's Martyr. The Avernum series is known for its huge outdoors and nonlinear approach to play... meanwhile, Terror's Martyr designs tiny, tiny outdoor sections, and scripted blocks to your path everywhere, so that you don't wander off the correct order of completing his scenarios.
Descent 3. Gone are the vertigo-inducing maze maps of the first two games, replaced by Rail Shooter-style corridors. The outdoor sections only make it more jarring.
Many sub-levels of Turok 2 are like this, eg most of the Port of Adia. On the other end of the spectrum, some areas can be maze-like (:cough: Level 2 :cough:).
All the Blizzard RTSes are prone to this trope in the single-player campaigns, mainly on "expedition" missions where you are controlling a small group of units without a base. Less common in missions where you have a base to work from, and entirely averted on skirmish maps.
Metroid Fusion is far, far less open-ended than the other games, very near to this level.
Taken even further in Metroid: Other M which which consists mostly of corridors with one entrance and one exit and leaves virtually no room for exploration at all except in the very end, after you have defeated the story mode.
Justified somewhat in that the game is a story being told by the prince and he can't talk about hidden rooms he never found.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West couples a really pretty looking world that you would like to explore with the only path you can take highlighted for the player.
Rayman 2, despite not being completely linear, is a notable example since it was one of the first 3D games that deliberately aimed to recreate the fast-paced, single-direction feel of 2D platformers from earlier times (in contrast with Super Mario 64 and its multitude of clones).
A variant is present in Silent Hill, which the protagonists themselves will usually attempt to justify with "I don't need to go that way" or something similar; however, since the town itself is (at least in 2) a proven Genius Loci, it's possible that the protagonists are being purposely railroaded into going where the town wants them to go, whether they're aware of it or not. You can backtrack to areas you've visited before (minus any plot-important ones, for obvious reasons), but there's usually no point in doing so.
Silent Hill: Downpour blatantly confirms this. When you meet Bobby Ricks he tells you he has a boat out of town but you need to find the key that was taken. Murphy tells him he can hot wire it no problem, and Ricks tells him it won't work because 'they have to play by the town's rules'. Then monsters burst in and abduct Ricks, with him never being seen again, to prove the point.
Tales of Legendia has, for the most part, very linear dungeons. Almost any time there is a fork in the path, one way will lead to a dead end, so there is really only one path to the end of the dungeon. Even the world map tends to have constricted, corridor-like paths instead of allowing more open exploration. The first half of the game especially gives the impression of being ushered through a very pretty tunnel.
The first Xbox-PS3 Ninja Gaiden, while mostly linear, still allows for a bit of exploration and you can return in previously visited areas for hidden items or challenges. Its sequel however, plays this trope totally straight: don't think, just go forward and slaughter everything that crosses your path! Points Of No Return are frequent not only between but also inside the chapters, and exploration elements are kept to the very minimum. Even the puzzles are never more complicated than opening a door with a key that you can find effortlessly. The first half of the last but one chapter consists literally in going through a straight line corridor; the PS3 port Sigma 2 takes it Up to Eleven: not only are the already petty puzzles outright removed, but the doors open by themselves, so combat is pretty much the only thing you have to do.
Several levels in Dawn of War II: Retribution. You notice this very quickly if you add Jump Infantry or teleport infantry to your squads, as they will magically — and for no reason whatsoever — be unable to use their abilities outside the one true path through the level. This gets especially bad during the Exterminatus level, which teases you with multiple alternate paths that all get blown up immediately when you get close to them.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine follows through with linearity on par with the original Super Mario Bros. There are just so many "sawteeth" (the 3D-equivelant of Ratchet Scrolling). Thankfully the levels are designed well enough that you will rarely actually feel constricted; you're still fighting on full-fledged battlefields, not in hallways.
While many dungeons and raids in World of Warcraft have somewhat branched hallways and options on choosing the bosses you fight, others are simply long corridors leading to a final boss in a set procession of other bosses. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the Deadmines, which is really little more than a long hallway with a boat at the end.
While The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's larger world is the polar opposite of this, its dungeons are almost uniformly single-path affairs with only one way to proceed and no meaningful branches,. There are exceptions, but very few (not including Labyrinthian, a dungeon from Arena noted for being very unlinear ).
PN03's level's each have a strictly linear path to the goal, with occasional dead-end rooms.
''Bulletstorm is extremely linear. There are invisible walls everywhere, even on ledges that are only a few centimeters high. Environmental hazards that harm the enemy do not harm you at all. For example, you can knock enemies into bottomless pits, yet you can't fall into them because an invisible wall blocks you.
The Operation Anchorage DLC to Fallout 3 plays out this way, being almost completely linear, in contrast with the main game and other DLC's. Justified in that it is supposed to be a combat simulation which is not about exploring. Similarly, the final core quest, "Take it Back!", is a straightforward gauntlet, and you can't leave once you start it.
Ironically, this is enforced in two Grand Theft Auto games for certain missions.
In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Carl has fly to Liberty City to kill Forelli gangsters at the St. Mark's Bistro. Once Carl wipes out the Forellis, he immediately files back to Las Venturas.
In Grand Theft Auto V, two missions, specifically the Prologue and Bury the Hatchet, take place in Ludendorff, North Yankton. Ludendorff is not intended to be explorable and deviating from the prescribed course during these missions can result in failure.
The games Ringworld and Ringworld II: Revenge of the Patriach surprisingly had this, despite the mind-boggling vastness of the source material. You never really get to explore the Ringworld. Your ship essentially took you directly to the location of your next mission or subquest. So you mostly end up exploring primitive villages and caves that look like they're out of any other adventure game.
Perhaps taken to an extreme in Rockman Xover. You move automatically, only jumping and shooting at enemies, then arrive at a boss (which turns into a turn-based fight that's hard to lose). All for the Mega Man franchise's 25th anniversary.Fans raged.
Strife initially tries to present itself like some kind of proto-Deus Ex FPS/RPG-hybrid, immediately throwing the player into a wide open town and even immediately giving them a choice as to which quest they want to partake in (kill a prisoner in an Order-controlled facility on behalf of La Résistance, or steal a chalice from the same building.) Unfortunately, the former quest is the only "correct" one, and the latter will quickly render the game Unwinnable. This pretty much sets a precedent for the rest of the game, giving the player the illusion of freedom when in reality they have no choice but to perform an exact series of tasks in an exact order, or risk rendering the game Unwinnable, either deliberately or via Script Breaking. There's only one true choice the player can make, and that's pretty much just if they want the good ending or the bad ending.
The very first Legend Of Spyro game is like this; despite being based on an open-ended 3D platforming series, the game became more of a very linear beat-'em-up with a few platforming aspects. It didn't even have a level select to go back to previous levels! Later games in the series were better about this, with the third game having fully explorable open levels more akin to those of the original games.
Among Pinball games, Operation: Thunder is noted for its very linear progression, which requires players to advance through all of its missions in order.
Allegedly Left 4 Dead would've been more open to go along with the AI director giving a different experience every time, but it was decided that people would just optimize for the best route and only do that.