Instant death in its various forms is a divisive topic in the gaming community. Although titles that employ such mechanics generally do it with restraint in order to highlight specific points of the adventure, their inclusion may create frustration for players who had grown accustomed to more lenient difficulty, or patterned their style according to more common experiences.
This is the most widespread incarnation of instant death in classic game design.
For most of the adventure, the player will lose only a fraction of his health when hit, until he encounters an enemy with the ability to kill him with a single shot or strike.
Scripted Instant Death
In recent years, instant death has also come to designate a type of message sending employed by developers to keep the player on a certain track.
With the advent of tightly scripted games aiming for a cinematic feel, developers have extra incentive to keep the player on a specific path.
The illusion of a cause-effect relation between the player's actions and the scripted animations triggered on his path is harder to maintain if the player is given a lot of leverage in the way he approaches the mission presented to him.
For the game maker, a radical way of avoiding this problem is simply to kill the player character when he veers too far off the path intended for him.
In modern shooters, which make the heaviest use of this mechanic, instant death is often disguised as a barrage of bullets from an unseen, unrealistically skilled enemy that will invariably result in the main character's obliteration, should he cross an invisible line in the level.
Scripted instant death has been criticized for providing developers with an easy way out of level design issues at the expense of the game's logic, as well as well as being unfair to players who favor a more deliberate playstyle.
For example, in Infinity Ward's best selling FPS Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, if the player tries to cross the first bridge encountered in the campaign on foot, Private Joseph Allen falls victim to instant death before receiving the following suggestion: "It would be safer to ride in the convoy".
This seems to imply that proceeding through the level on foot is more dangerous, but not impossible. In reality, any and all attempt to move forward without climbing in a vehicle first will result in the player being sniped by an unseen enemy at the exact same point.
In all likelihood, the goal is just to prevent the player from bypassing the heavily scripted on-rail gunfight that ensues when the convoy enters the city.
Battlefield Bad Company 2, Electronic Arts' self-touted competitor to Modern Warfare 2, also adopted the "scripted instant death" mechanic despite freedom of movement being a series trademark in earlier installments.
One of the PS3's flagship titles, Insomniac's linear shooter Resistance 2, made similar use of the concept.