I've spent months kicking this "Best" around. Considering all types of space lasers and sniper weapons and over-powered pistols. But no matter how many other weapons I consider, I always keep coming back to an antique Second World War battle rifle.
The M1 Garand.
This post originally appeared in May 2015.
It might not be the most obvious choice for Best Video Game Gun, but hear me out.
Unlike a lot of the other obvious favourites for a title like this, the M1 — which has featured in over a dozen blockbuster video games — was a real historical weapon, not the product of some video game studio's imagination. So in theory it should be boring, with a set of limitations that make it nowhere near as cool as something like a pulse rifle or rail gun.
Yet it's exactly those limitations that make this such a unique, versatile and strategic video game killing machine.
Developed in the 1920s, and entering service with the US Army in 1936, the M1 was the backbone of American infantry forces in the Second World War. Unlike other rifles of the time, which were bolt-action and required manual reloading after each shot, the semi-automatic M1 could fire eight rounds uninterrupted, after which you'd hear the rifle's trademark "ping" as the empty clip was automatically ejected.
It was rugged, it was accurate and it could put a lot more fire onto the battlefield than standard German or Japanese rifles could. This made it one of the most beloved (and important) rifles of the modern military era.
Note: the exact characteristics of the weapon obviously vary from title to title, but there are a handful of "truths" that seem to apply to depictions of the Garand across video games.
The M1's representation in video games is just as memorable. It's the quintessential battle rifle: deadly in the hands of the patient at mid/long range (thanks to its accuracy and .30 cal rounds), but also capable of filling close, confined spaces (like a room full of virtual Nazis) with lead in a pinch.
All of which makes the Garand an excellent weapon. But it's a quirk of the M1's clip that really sets it apart.
See, the Garand featured what's called an en bloc clip (pictured above), which basically means the bullets and clip came as a package deal. The shooter fires all eight rounds, and when the clip is empty, it's ejected automatically.
In the real world it's possible to pop the clip back out manually (though it's not common, since loose rounds can't easily be re-inserted into a clip), but most games take a far simpler and stricter line: in titles like Call of Duty and Medal of Honour, you just can't reload halfway through a clip. You need to fire all eight rounds before the gun reloads itself.
In real life, this wasn't that big a deal. But in video games, where every other gun on earth (and in space) can magically rescue the bullets in an unspent clip when you swap in a new one, returning them to your stash, the use of the M1 requires strategy.
Standard practice in a first-person shooter is to reload before and/or after every engagement, so that you know you've got a full clip ready when the bullets start flying. With the Garand, this is impossible! You'd have to fire all the remaining rounds in a clip into the dirt just to reload a fresh one, and if you did that you'd be out of ammo in no time.
Which sounds like a pain! But the power and versatility of the M1 is such that the adjustments you have to make to your playstyle are more than worth it. The Garand forces you, more than any other weapon in video games, to fight smart. To plan ahead and to really get to know the weaknesses of this rifle, so that you can make the most of its strengths.
If you're entering a room and you've only got three rounds left, you can't go in guns blazing. You need to consider your approach and be ready ahead of time to switch to a secondary weapon. If you're in the middle of a firefight and you've just reloaded, you only have eight rounds to keep track of, so you're able to actually count them as you pop them off, without needing to even look at your HUD. This informs your targeting, your movement, everything.
This is what I love most about the Garand. There are plenty of guns that rival it for stopping power, or range, or ease of use, but they don't saddle that twitch-finger power with a need for planning. It's the thinking man's rifle.
Or, you know, maybe I just love that "ping"...