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I've spent many, many years of my life wasting dudes. Mostly in video games.

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Also often in my imagination while using public transit.

So I've naturally developed some pretty reliable instincts about the best ways to go about this wasting. Every video game is different, but within a genre (here I'm mainly thinking about first-person shooters) there are enough similarities in them that when I'm handed a gun or other wasting implement, I'm already pretty confident how to handle it. You probably are too. We're all fucked up here.

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We all need to take out our public-transit-induced rage somehow.

And some weapons I know just to never touch at all. These are weapons that are so consistently (and surprisingly) ineffective and unreliable that I know to not bother with them. Here's what they are.


To judge by looks alone, flamethrowers are everything. They take fire, mankind's first and best invention, and apply it liberally to aliens and Nazis and other things that need it. Game designers seem to lavish attention on this weapon, devoting all sorts of effort to making bad guys smoke and burn and run around screaming about how much they hate being on fire.

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There'll be more of that where you're going, you damned Nazi alien.

Which is great. When they work right. Which they don't.

In most games, flamethrowers have three big problems. The most obvious is that they have a limited range. Which is a realistic limitation; flamethrowers in real life can't shoot jets of flame indefinitely far. Even in video games, where we rightfully toss realism out the window if an alternative is more fun, their range is still limited for reasons of gameplay balance. Flamethrowers are meant to be a tradeoff between high damage and short range. A compromise that already precludes these from being a primary weapon, considering how useless they are when you stumble upon one of the cavernous rooms that are so popular in alien Nazi lairs.

The second big problem with flamethrowers is that you can't see what the hell is happening. With most guns you can see the results of your dude-wasting efforts instantly. A guy falls down, or explodes, or doesn't, and within a fraction of a second you know whether you need to keep shooting or change to another target or whatever. But because flamethrowers fill half your screen with fire, you have no idea if you're even hitting the guy you're shooting at, or if he's already dead.

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Yeah, you got 'em, hero.

These two problems could potentially be worked out if you practiced a bit with the flamethrower, which brings us to the third problem -- you never get to practice with them. They're almost always introduced midway to late through a game, by which point you're fighting pretty tough dudes who you can't afford to experiment on, not when you already have an arsenal of useful, universal weapons you trust. And flamethrowers always seem to have limited ammo, preventing you from doing the screwing around necessary to get good with them.

Which is why, every time I (and probably you) get one of these supposedly badass instruments of destruction, we say, "Huh, cool," and toss it over our shoulder.


This will be somewhat controversial, because in some games grenades can be quite useful, even mandatory to use at higher levels of difficulty. But that's not always the case; every game seems to have a different take on the damage and blast radius and delay for these things, and in many, many games I've found grenades to be about as deadly as a gently tossed dinner roll. You can throw dozens of these things at bad guys and do nothing more than tell them where you are.

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"Alarm! Die carbs!"

And they used to be so much worse. At least modern games now seem to deploy grenades with dedicated buttons or quick-fire grenade triggers, allowing you to toss one out without switching from your main weapon. Back in the bad old days, we had to select grenades as a separate weapon, making them even less usable. And like the flamethrower, ammunition is typically an issue with these; you just don't get enough of them to figure out their quirks with practice. Their damage potential means that I'm always saving them for something else, until I realize I'm at the end of the game and throw them all in a heap at the feet of the very last dude, only to watch them bounce harmlessly off him.

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At best they just cause Space Hitler to evolve into his final, ultimate form.

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A Partner

This might seem like a cheat, but if being raised by Jean-Claude Van Damme movies taught me anything, the most dangerous weapon of all is Jean-Claude Van Damme. So I'm going to include it. A partner, whether delivered by level design, a power-up, or some other means, is a weapon.

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Though rarely as effective as the platonic ideal.

Having a teammate or other person at your back would seem to double your effectiveness, and, in reality, they can do a lot more than that. A teammate can give you extra eyes and ears, allow you to cover each other with suppressing fire, or concentrate firepower. Teammates don't just provide an additive effect, they provide a multiplicative one; there's a reason every branch of the military trains soldiers, ships, and airplanes to work in groups.

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And not, you know, hand everyone a plane and tell em to "go at 'em."

But holy shit are video game partners complete assholes. They often as not can't shoot -- I'm not sure I've ever seen an AI teammate hit a bad guy. And who was the maniac that thought they should exist in games with stealth mechanics or land mines?

The rest of the time they're running directly in front of your gun, or wasting ammo, or generally doing the exact opposite of helping. It is a very rare game indeed when the best course of action isn't to pretend your teammates aren't there at all and just do everything yourself.


In the real world, mortars are practically a cheat code, allowing one or two soldier teams to rain an incredible amount of destructive firepower down on top of an enemy they can't even see.

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In video games they miss a lot.

The problem is that while indirect fire is a well understood process, it's also a non-trivial one. In order to actually hit a target with something fired on a parabolic arc, a whole lot of math needs to be involved. Real mortar crews use (or memorize) charts like this ...

... to hit what they're aiming at. In a video game, this is rightfully considered boring. The solution, according to basically every game I've ever seen with a mortar, is that you're given the fucking thing and told to aim "up a bit." You might get some fancy on-screen graphics to try to guesstimate the elevation and distance, but it's still mostly a process of trial and error. For a gun that you can shoot only like four times.

Hmm. It seems like a lot of these problems relate to lack of ammunition. Which would imply that the best weapon in a first-person shooter is one which forgoes ammunition entirely.

Oh, wait. No. Those are actually the worst.

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Swords, along with every other first-person melee weapon, suck. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.

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We've seen enough of these wave across the screen
like a windshield wiper to admit this.

First there's the damage or, rather, the lack of it. In the real world, sword blows are one of those things where you don't need that many to be effective. Just a dab will do you. Yes, video games are entitled to toss aside realism for the sake of gameplay. A pistol is a hell of a lot more lethal than most video games depict, but that's fine, because this results in more satisfying gameplay. But this process just feels ridiculous with a sword, smacking a guy in the face a solid dozen times before they even flinch.

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Somehow, a more accurate depiction of melee combat.

And then there's the monotony. While third-person games can do all sorts of rad things with swords, from combos to parries to death blows, none of those ever seem to be present in first-person games. You've got your whack. That's it. If the game is right on the bleeding edge, you might get an overhand whack or shield whack or something like that, none of which really change the monotony of the process. Whack and run away -- that's all you need to know.

I think this is mainly a problem of movement. The motion that we all agree is "natural" feeling in a first-person shooter is of course the farthest thing from it.

That is madness. Now, Quake II is obviously an old game, and animations have certainly gotten a lot smoother since then. But the fundamental movement, with all the super-abrupt sidestepping and backpedaling and hopping, is still present in every modern FPS. If you ever saw someone move like that in real life, you would be morally obligated to set them on fire, because they are a goddamned spider-person.

And it's that movement that makes the "whack and backpedal" move so inescapable in first-person melee combat. More realistic and fun swordplay, where you actually have to parry blows or otherwise stay in range of your opponents, would mean forcing the player to be slower. Players would hate it.

Not the Nazi aliens, though. They probably wouldn't mind.

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"Halt Amerikaner! Stoppen die whacken-und-runnenawayen."

Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and has whacked tons of people and run away. His first novel, Severance, is incredible and available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apex Books. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.

Check out the video game weapons that need to stay out of real life (like anything from Gears Of War) in 8 Fictional Weapons That Are Too Dangerous To Actually Use, and learn why your shotgun isn't going to do much against a horde of zombies in 7 Famous Zombie Movie Weapons (That Would Get You Killed).

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