Brendan Keogh explores the science behind making guns less wussy.
By Brendan Keogh on September 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm
You know what I love? Guns that feel chunky. When I pull that right trigger or click that mouse button, I want each and every bullet fired to feel like a fist attached to a rocket. The simple feel of a weapon in an FPS could make or break the game. Ideally, every single gun should feel like a kick in the chest whenever you fire it. But how does a virtual gun ‘feel’ like anything? Feel is impossible to really pin down (Steve Swink makes a good attempt, though, if you are interested). It’s a combination of a range of things, of mechanics and audiovisuals and physical control. When these three are combined rightly, a gun—an entire shooter—can just feel so good.
This is why console shooters were so bad for so long: the guns just didn’t feel chunky. Once we figured out the two thumbsticks thing, aiming wasn’t a problem anymore (for some of us, at least), but even then so many shooters still felt terrible. If I want a chunky gun that felt like it was firing rocket-propelled fists, most PS2-era shooters felt like I was blowing safety pins out of a drinking straw. There was just no ‘oomph’ to them.
But then Halo came along with some of the chunkiest weapons to ever grace a console. Now, I’m not saying there were never chunky weapons on PC games before this—of course there were.
But the stark contrast between the dreadful-feeling shooters I was playing on my PS2 at the time and the chunkiness of Halo provides a pretty great example of what I am talking about. All of Halo’s weapons felt gloriously chunky, from the weakest little plasma pistol to the mass-destruction of the rocket launcher. These guns didn’t shoot little laser beams or skinny bullets, but massive wads of melting plasma and hot lead that tore chunks out of the world.
Specifically, it was Halo’s standard, default assault rifle that remains the most memorably chunky weapon I have ever handled in a videogame. The ridiculous Xbox controller sat in my hands like a pair of potatoes, already giving the game a tactile bulkiness. Then the gun would fire and fist-sized bullet holes would be torn into the Forerunner buildings and Halo dirt as the controller purred in my hands like a lion. The shape of the crosshair (an area, not a dot) made the power of the gun feel hardly restrained, like it could break its leash at anytime. It was just inaccurate enough to feel insane and just accurate enough to still be powerful. The way the gun would roar and chew through sixty of those bullets in no time. The way I always somehow had SIX HUNDRED more of those bullets remaining so that I could just chew and chew and chew. Halo’s assault rifle wanted to be fired, and it wanted to be fired a lot.
It remains, to this day, one of my favourite weapons to fire in a videogame thanks to this perfect storm of chunkiness. The way it looked, the way it sounded, the way it worked against the world and against the Covenant, the way it felt in my hands through the xbox controller. Sure, it can hardly compare to the earth-shattering cacophonies of its contemporaries in games like Battlefield 3, but for its time it had a meatiness to it that so few guns did back then, especially on consoles. A chunkiness that has hammered its way into my heart.
Pin-blowing guns are far less common now than when Halo came out, but they still pop up time to time. As much as I love Bulletstorm, the assault rifle you are stuck with for the entire game really just does not feel chunky at all. The way you have to aim down the iron sight at that little orange dot, and the way enemies just shrug off bullets just feels the exact opposite of chunky. Though, to be fair, Bulletstorm is trying to tempt you away from shooting your enemies in lieu of finding a more creative way to kill them.
Elsewhere, my beloved Halo assault rifle has been sidelined by that franchise’s evolving focus on more accurate scoped battle-rifles. The assault rifle in the later Halos no longer feels chunky, just unwieldy. It has become the gun you pick up because there is no other choice, not because you just really want to fire it, which is sad because in its hey day, in the first Halo, just sitting back with an Xbox controller and unleashing a clip of the assault rifle was one of the best feeling things in a videogame.
Few games have guns that feel ‘bad’ anymore, but it is still the special game whose gun feels great. You know a shooter the moment you fire that first shot and feel that virtual kick to the stomach—or, sadly, when you don’t. That’s why I love chunky guns so much. You start playing a new shooter, you fire that first, fist-sized bullet, and you just know you are going to enjoy the time you spend with this game.