Tell Us Dammit: Who Likes Backtracking?

I was having a discussion with a friend recently and I came to a weird conclusion. Sometimes, in video games, I'm a really big fan of backtracking. I know, crazy, right! I thought I'd explain myself, and then put it to you guys. Who hates backtracking, who doesn't really mind either way and who loves it?

First, my explanation. Take a horror game like the original Dead Space. Plenty prefer the sequel because there was 'less backtracking'. I prefer the first because the backtracking made me learn the environment. It allowed me to feel familiar with it. It allowed me to feel like it was my home in game.

The second game, therefore, which had no backtracking whatsoever, felt more like a shooting gallery. So I enjoyed it less.

That's the kind of thing I'm talking about: familiarity, loving the environment, growing accustomed to it. That can be a great function in a video game's design.

What are your thoughts on backtracking?


    I love backtracking

    In all kinds of games, especially open world stuff

    I guess in that respect it isn't backtracking

    But, if they give you an incentive to go back, instead of still fresh corpses and nothing new then backtracking can be an amazing thing

      I do these days, back inwhen i was a kid i prefered not to that way the next time i played my game, there was new stuff to do.

      With time contraints on my life now, i play and get as much done in a single play through as possible, because i know i wont alway have time for another go.

    I like backtracking if there's new ways I can interact with the environment- a new skill, new enemies, new guns. Otherwise it can just seem like padding.

    I only enjoy backtracking when it is beneficial for learning the surroundings, like you said.

    I'm a big fan of procedural unlocking of new abilities and unlocking new previously unreachable areas. I don't mind backtracking when it adds meaningful content to the game, but I dislike it when it's nothing but padding, just to make the campaign longer.

    Last edited 07/02/13 12:27 pm

      This. Metroidvania / Zelda-style backtracking because you've gained a new traversal ability or whatever and it unlocks previously inaccessible puzzles or content is awesome.

      Backtracking for the sake of backtracking or because the game forgets your progress or something is just busywork and it's annoying.

    I like it when I become familiar with a large area, like the towns in P3/P4, but generally I'm not a fan of backtracking. However, if you backtrack to say a starting town and find it razed to the ground or something else to make the experience different, then I really, really like it. Like the school being blown up at the start of Inazuma Eleven 2.

    It's good if something has changed, e.g. a new path has opened, new abilities let you experience the area differently, different enemies have moved in, time travel, whatever.

    If it's literally just walking back through bits of the level I've already done, then feel free to just cut to a black screen that says "sometime later..." and then move on with the game.

    I'm not a huge fan...

    If I'm going back though, I don't want to have to deal with the same enemies I've already killed.
    Back tracking without permanancy is padding.

    Not really a fan of backtracking unless it's a particularly cool enviroment.

    Legend of Zelda games are a good example of backtracking done right especially with Skyward Sword and how the developers recycled the older areas it was quite the adventure.

    Generally take it case by case but in my experience backtracking is only enjoyable if you have a new reason to go back. Be it through new skills to access new areas or environmental change resulting in new story in an old area.
    Backtracking is a pain when you missed "that one item/chest" and the method of returning to to a location is an arduous walk through old content where all the low level stuff still wants to kill you, navigation still takes forever and when all is said and done, that chest you missed had an insignificant sum of ammo for a weapon you don't use anymore or 5 rupees etc.

    If however the chest contains ammo capacity upgrades, extra armour, large sums of currency (in a game you actually use it) or rare materials for crafting etc. then backtracking is a great way of adding replayability.

    Jet Force Gemini comes to mind as a game that did backtracking well with being able to replay planets with 2 different characters after completing them with the given story character at the time resulting in alternate paths and additional equipment/upgrades to be found. Lots of hidden areas you probably missed the first time around out of complacency and an easy way to tell if you had a reason to go back to an area that you had already done.

    I like the game to be open so I can backtrack to look for secrets or other hidden things at my discretion, but not be forced to criss-cross the map 17 times looking for a red key, then a blue key, then whatever. That feels like padding.

    I guess I don't mind backtracking but what really bugs me is when I try to explore, but certain areas are conspicuously blocked off because I'm supposed to go there later. If I'd known that in advance, I wouldn't have wasted my time, because I can explore here when the game expects me to, not because I'm nosy.

    If only there was a way to know that from the outset. Sometimes because of the frustration of being unsure if I'm supposed to explore or not, I need a linear shooter just to cleanse my palate.

    Like others have said, it totally depends on the game design. Don't mind it in games like Arkham, where the growing arsenal of weaponry and gadgets unlock new areas, etc. I almost never backtrack for optional objectives, though (like Riddler clues).

    I particularly loathe forced backtracking in games that have random encounter battles.

    Edit: I didn't really like even the minor amount of backtracking in Metal Gear Solid
    Hunting for a sniper rifle. Or changing the key colours.

    Last edited 07/02/13 11:38 am


      The Riddler deserves your respect

      Go back now, go back and solve his riddles and collect his trophies


      *Apologies, I really love The Riddler*

      What about the backtracking in MGS2 & 3? I loved doing that to find secrets and stuff. Plus, they changed the guard patrols and stuff so it sort of felt fresh.

      I enjoyed it because I had learnt new ways to avoid soldiers and I felt so much smarter and powerful.

    If its obvious as a cheap way to extend the life of a level in single player games its annoying. I don't really worry about it to much, as some one who is an 'explorer type' I can backtrack a bit even when the game doesn't want me too, "just in case" I missed something.

    If it's done right, I like it. Games like Metroid and Zelda come to mind. Games like Darksiders, Soul Reaver and Arkham Asylum also did it right. Other games, like many RPG's, make backtracking optional. It's not necessary to progress the game, but if you want to you can go back and collect cool stuff or spend time levelling up or what not.

    Other games seem to just use backtracking as padding, to extend the length of the game by a few hours un-necessarily, and I DO mind that. I'm not a huge fan of games that do this.

    The backtracking on the original Dead Space was a bit of both to me. Half the time it seemed good and fit in well...the other half of the time, it just seemed like they were trying to pad out the gameplay. If they halfed the amount of backtracking needed it would have been awesome for me.

    On the other side of the coin, I sometimes get annoyed at 100% linear games too. I'm exploring an area and finding my way around, then I pass some arbitrary point in the level and suddenly a wall collapses behind me or the door I went through just locked itself permanently or the elevator I just spent 10 minutes repairing is broken again after one trip, and I can't go back to see if I missed anything. That's also quite annoying! Especially if autosave kicks in as soon as I enter the new area so I can't even reload my most recent save from before I walked through the door. *glares at games that don't have an option to turn off autosave*

    Last edited 07/02/13 11:49 am

    Don't mind as long as the games form of environmental navigation is fun. E.g Burnout Paradise, Batman, Assassins

    I dont like backtracking when it just serves the purpose to pad out the game. But I really like it when there is a central "hub" that as you play you revist this location. Even say in Mass Effect where you could go back to the Normandy and over time it filled up with different characters ect.

    I like it that way as its a good measure of my progress and i fell proud.

    it depends! :) if it's for UNCHARTED or METAL GEAR SOLID and the back tracking has a purpose (e.g. story related or for trophy hunting) the i do not mind and i'd like back tracking.....

    I liked how The Last Remnant handled it for grinding. When you went back over older levels, new tunnels would all of a sudden appear leading to higher levelled enemies. It kept the game constantly fresh even though you were backtracking.

    Like what most people say in regards to learning the environment, yes. It helps with immersion.

    Especially games that are based on real life counterparts. Like the Yakuza games. Going through their version of Kabukicho-Shinjuku before going through the real thing was amazing. Recognising structures and roads from the game was very cool.

    And vice versa, after coming back from Japan, playing yakuza helped with easing withdrawal symptoms haha.

    I don't really backtrack a lot, but when I want to, I *hate* it when the path behind blocks off. Looking at you, Mass Effect...

    Depends on how well it is done.
    Basically if it doesn't feel like a waste of time to backtrack, then it is backtracking done well.

    You know what I'd really like? The ability to mark a place on my map with "COME BACK HERE". Been playing Darksiders 2 recently, and there's been a lot of times where I'll pass something, think "yeah, this clearly needs something I don't have yet", find the thing, and have absolutely no recollection of where I was when I needed it.

    Like everyone else is saying, there's a right way and a wrong way to do backtracking. I wouldn't say I love it, like it's not something I seek out , but I do enjoy it when it's done the right way. On a similar note, I do prefer open world games that have smaller worlds - they tend to have more variety and every bit of it serves a purpose at some point in the game. Huge worlds might add a sense of scale, but they tend to feel repetitive, lacking in character and fairly wasteful as most of it is just there for its own sake.

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