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Weapons of Mass Destruction (Are Radical)

Rich Cerow

Guns just aren't as cool as they used to be. Or, at least, guns in video games aren't as cool as they used to be. Back in the 2D days you could make laser beams that filled up whole screens, homing missiles flying every which way, AND bombs (that you better save for that fight with a giant turtle at the end of the first level of Contra III: The Alien Wars - why these aliens sent a huge turtle as their first line of defense is beyond me, unless it was because he had a shell. Oh, and turtle power) which wiped all the enemies off-screen. But with the advent of 3D, guns lost a lot of their charm - sure, the double-barrelled shotgun in Doom 2 was pretty badass and gave you a definite sense of power, but for the most part those flashily destructive weapons of yesteryear were gone for good. A bomb in a 3D game would just look like somebody put a filter over the camera and turned everything blue. Which makes me blue. I feel like some sad jazz notes should be playing while I walk around hanging my head as low as it can go when I think about this. Because back in the old video gaming days you were guaranteed at least three cool weapons with every game, mostly because every game always included these three weapons, and also because these weapons had a lot of cultural cache in the 1980s. You could nary walk down a street without passing a firearms shop in the 1980s, hence the rampant street crime that could only be cleaned up by breaking all the rules and doing whatever it takes to make sure the scum is brought to justice. This usually meant that you killed a bunch of criminals on crowded streets without concern for innocent civilians, yet somehow you were kept on the Force (and in the 1980s, the police did not exist - they were only known as "the Force") and merely had to contend with a chief who wanted to tie your hands and not let you do your job. Anyway, you were guaranteed to toast aliens, terrorists, and communists (sometimes alien-communist hybrids, like the Red Faction in Contra) with these three weapons:

Sporting the beret shows he is either a specially trained Uzi-SEAL or really, really likes Operation Wolf.
The Uzi. The uzi was never the best gun in these games - it was exceptionally weak, and not redeemed by the fact that it shot 90,000 bullets a minute in a haphazard spread. Usually it was the second gun you got and it was barely a step up from the default. But in terms of cool, the uzi had it all. If you were a drug dealer, you carried an uzi. The evil CEO who secretly ran the drug trade in this town, he had an uzi in his top desk drawer, for when his "business meetings" didn't go the way he liked. Uzis were small, sleek, and fashionable, the perfect accessory for a night out on the town with your best girl or for hijacking a plane to demand the release of your co-conspirators from the jail cells of the American swine. And we all know kids wanted to be Lebanese (the ultimate terrorist nationality) hijackers someday. Uzis just looked super cool; a tight, compact way to never have to aim a gun at your opponent, and virtually guarantee that someone uninvolved in your conflict will get caught in the crossfire. Plus, it looked awesome atop the Operation Wolf cabinet. Not the best gun, but a solid one that was fun to play with for five minutes just because it made you feel like one of the villains in Commando.

Look out, Communist-rade! Can't you see he's got the bazooka!? Even though Rush N' Attack is a crazy game where if we simply touch the guy he instantly dies, that bazooka will plow through our synchronized line of brown-clad Russian/Irish step dancers.
The Bazooka. Kids are dumb, so technically we should have been calling this the rocket launcher, but hey, we were all big fans of the word Bazooka in the 80s - it's a fun word. Bazooka bubble gum, Bazooka from Gi Joe...I can't think of a third Bazooka, but trust me - the Bazooka Fad was in full swing in the 1980s. And nowhere is this more evident then in video games where, invariably, you'd get the bazooka and then pray for sweet mercy that you didn't die and lose it, as it was ALWAYS easily the best gun in the game, and on those later levels where you got it, dying and being reduced to the default rifle was basically a death sentence all over again. But you got that bazooka, and man, you were a powerhouse. Bosses die in just a couple of well-placed hits to their conspicously-glowing body parts (really, if your big eye was your only weakness, don't you think you'd want to tone down calling attention to it like that?), and the regular enemies became a joke. You'd just walk around and pop dudes who previously were giving you all kinds of grief. Admittedly, the bazooka wasn't as big in 1980s movies as the Uzi, but it usually came in handy when the main character needed to break into an enemy stronghold at the end of the movie to rescue his little girl. And it was always cool to see guys go flying 50 feet in the air when their guard tower was nailed by a rocket. I guess the bazooka would have been too much of an advantage in the fight with the end boss, though, plus it's too big and clunky to really throw down when you're about to finally have your hand-to-hand fight to the death with the guy who killed your wife 15 years ago and you've never gotten over it. But in video games, bazookas were all the rage and the only weapon you'd ever need. Unless you wanted to kill your enemies in particularly gruesome ways, which is why every game came standard with...

When this old you are, have business success you will not.
The Flamethrower. Besides being the funniest weapon referenced in Space Balls, flamethrowers were great for all the little sadist children like me. The bazooka, while deadly and powerful, usually just shot a little ball, with little to no explosive effect due to the limitations of the technology. But flamethrowers, video game designers must have loved flamthrowers, given the lavish attention to detail and unlimited resources they expended on these things. They weren't the most effective weapon, given that they were usually tethered to your character and couldn't kill enemies at the other end of the screen, but they were awesome. Nothing beat a steady stream of flame to completely incinerate anyone who got in your Ikari Warrior's way. Not to mention that the steadiness of it could be deadly - just plant that sucker on a boss's glowing red heart, and he was toast. Sure, the flame thrower didn't get much play outside of the video game world (I think it was more of a Viet Nam thing than a Grenada thing), but that was because you knew it was so cool they couldn't show it in movies. It'd be too gruesome; if Rambo carried a flamethrower instead of his sissy bow and arrows, you'd have melted faces all over the place and they'd have to have rated it 'K' (for "Kids are totally gonna want to see this and will watch it on cable when their parents are out of the house"). And you can't make the big bucks with ratings they had to make up just for your movie because it was so insanely violent, like Robocop, which I believe is not suitable for anybody under the age of 87. But flamethrowers totally smoke the competition in all the Viet Nam-inspired (except this time...we get to win) Nintendo games I was crazy for as a kid. Nothing beatens burning alien hide.

There were lots of other guns that were wildly popular in 1980s video games whose glory we'll never get to relive. How many spread gun imitators followed in Contra's wake? How many iterations of the "machine gun" which was really only the slightest speed upgrade to your standard rifle did we really need? Any I'm forgetting which would be really useful if we needed to stop a communist invasion a la Red Dawn? Let me know on our message board, or zip an e-mail to rich@xtremewailing.com, and we can trade high school quarterbacking stats to see who gets to lead this ragtag group of misfits.


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