Probing The Inaccuracies: Modern Infantry Combat, Part 2

Dual-Wielded Pistols – The Sole Preserve of Action Stars and Blithering Morons: I suppose, if I shut off a small section of my brain, that I could just about make out the reason why the dual-wielding of pistols is so common within the action genre. With the limited knowledge of firearms that most people acquire over their lifetimes, it would be easy to suppose that if a single pistol allowed you a certain amount of firepower, a second pistol would allow for twice that firepower. There are significant failings with this reasoning, though. Even in the circumstance where you’re putting twice the number of rounds downrange, which isn’t always the case, there’s little reason to do so when you can’t put the bullets on target.

Firing one pistol effectively takes a lot of training, more than a rifle or sub-machine gun. A pistol has a short barrel, and apart from a few select models, lacks a stock to brace the gun against a shoulder. To “brace” a pistol, one must therefore use an awkward grip to hold the gun in two hands, and all of the aforementioned factors contribute to the low effective range of a pistol. In the hands of a trained soldier in a good stance, pistols are only expected to be accurate within 30 to 50 metres, compared to double that for a braced sub-machine gun, and in excess of 300 metres for a rifle.

The ammunition of pistols doesn’t help much either. The 9x19mm Parabellum rounds that are standard in NATO countries have a low muzzle velocity, which leads to low armour penetration and a considerably lower kinetic energy than rifle rounds. The low kinetic energy in turn leads to low momentum, a curved trajectory and a short point-blank range versus a more suitable military weapon. Therefore, a pistol is carried primarily by officers, rear-echelon personnel and special forces units as a backup weapon, one that is typically used only when more effective weapons cannot be found, and one that is difficult to use on its own. As the truism goes: “A pistol is a weapon you use to fight your way to your rifle.”

If one pistol is difficult to use effectively past very short ranges, adding another pistol to the picture leaves you with two weapons that can’t be used effectively, with an atrocious effective range, utterly useless on the battlefield and even mostly useless in close quarters. When using two pistols in tandem, one cannot brace either pistol, leaving each hand susceptible to muscular tremors. While single-handed pistol stances were common during most of history, this had more to do with their use as a cavalry weapon, where it was useful to have a hand free for the reins. When pistols became a military backup weapon after the Second World War, it didn’t take long for the two-handed Weaver stance to be formalised. It has since been joined by the isoceles stance, a more natural two-handed pistol stance.

Another problem caused by dual-wielding is the inability to get a proper sight picture through either of the pistols’ sights. This means that one has little in the way of knowledge whether they’re actually pointing the barrel at the target or something a metre or two to either side. This, even at very close ranges, can lead to a significant miss, and more hazardously, shooting something – or someone – completely apart from your target. Not a good plan.

I did mention that dual-wielding doesn’t always lead to twice the rounds going downrange, and this is more significant the larger the rounds being fired are. Even light rounds like the 9mm Parabellum produce enough recoil to shake the guns wildly off target, which means that you constantly have to coordinate your movements to make sure that the pistol is on target. Coordinating movements for a single pistol isn’t too bad; doing it effectively for two pistols is extremely difficult. Trying to multitask with guns is a bad idea at the best of times, but even more so when you’re actually slowing yourself down because you’re trying to do something grossly inappropriate.

Just about the only thing that dual-wielding seems to offer as an advantage is double the ammunition, but even that advantage comes with a massive disadvantage. Once you’ve emptied the pistols of their ammunition, you’re going to have to reload, and reloading of two guns takes more than double the time of loading a single pistol. Without a hand free, you’re going to be fumbling around with the ammunition, trying to find a place to put one of your guns while you’re loading the other one. You could put it in your holster, but then, you’ve got to take it out again when you’re done. You could also put it under your arm, but that’s an incredibly uncomfortable and limiting place to put it, and essentially makes any gun without an empty magazine rather a dangerous prospect to be dealing with. If you wanted extra ammunition, wouldn’t it be a far more sensible idea to deal with a single machine-pistol or sub-machine gun?

The inaccuracy of showing people using two pistols at once tends to be limited to the more absurd movies, to be fair, but it has shown up at times in computer games in which they don’t belong. Counter-Strike comes to mind; there’s no rational reason that a terrorist would use two pistols, and while the game does introduce limitations on the dual-wielded pistols in the game, their presence is still very much incongruous. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an even more egregious offender, with not only dual-wielded pistols, but dual-wielded Desert Eagles and shotguns, all in a game series which trades off its ostensible realism.

Unfortunately, I seem to be fighting a losing war against a sea of fans of utter absurdities and inefficient combat techniques. Never mind that a soldier staring down the barrel of an assault rifle, a sub-machine gun or a combat shotgun is far more imposing than a man holding two pistols in a method that can be proven in seconds to be inefficient. All I can say is that I’m waiting for a movie where somebody goes into a slow-motion jump with two pistols in his hands, and is promptly and unspectacularly taken care of with a single shot from an uninterested soldier with an assault rifle.

That’ll teach you lot to admire dual-wielding so much.


A Brief Comment on RPG Elements in Contemporary First-Person Shooters

Author’s Note: Just a piece of Blatant Filler™ this week. This is an interesting topic, and I may expand on it later when I have a bit more to say on it.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare not only represented a significant change in its series, from superficially realistic Second World War action to modern-day urban warfare with the same veneer of realism, but also worked its way into the multiplayer market with faster-paced action than the predecessors in the series. One of the big features which Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare brought to the fray was an experience-based progression system which allowed customisation of class traits and weapons, along with the unlocking of weapons and perks as kills were made and specific goals were achieved.

It was undoubtedly not the first game in the first-person shooter genre to do something like this, but it certainly popularised this as an element of multiplayer play. With a large demographic of casual and occasional enthusiast gamers along with the more traditional first-person shooter audience, the following titles in the Call of Duty series have progressed along the same lines in multiplayer, even with the brief return to the Second World War setting with Call of Duty 5: World At War.

I’m not an avid online gamer, nor am I a particularly accomplished one, but I have a bit of online first-person shooter experience ranging back about eight years, starting with Quake II and progressing through some of the more popular multiplayer games of the period. As such, I’m in two minds on the subject. There’s certainly more longevity with an RPG-like progression system in a multiplayer game, and Call of Duty‘s achievement system does encourage the use of weapons beyond the comfort zone of the player. That said, almost all RPG-style systems, whether they are in the role-playing genre themselves or allied to a different style of gameplay entirely, are imbalanced in some respect.

From my perspective, the main imbalance in the Call of Duty games comes as a result of the perk system. While weapons aren’t entirely balanced, and have at some points been gamebreakers (I’m looking at the Model 1887 shotguns here!), there is sufficient flexibility in the weapon choices even for a novice to overcome these problems. The perk system, on the other hand, has had a clear gap between some of the perks for a long time. This was most clear in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare with the Martyrdom perk, which violated what should be one of the unwritten rules of multiplayer first-person shooter mechanics: Do not reward a player for being outclassed. Martyrdom, which chucked down a live grenade next to the corpse of the player who chose the perk, completely broke this rule with a game mechanic which was lethally effective in small maps and even moderately effective in larger maps.

After making a return in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, irritating everybody once again, this perk was thankfully removed from Call of Duty: Black Ops. However, not everything is right with the perk system in the most recent instalment of the series. The Pro perks, improved versions of the perks with no balancing disadvantages, give an edge to more experienced players at the cost of neophytes, with no cost to the Pro players except the time and effort required to complete the challenges required to receive the Pro perks. I don’t mind more experienced players having more flexibility when they’re choosing perks, but I’d prefer the clear gap between the neophytes and the experienced players in a first-person shooter to be a consequence more of skill rather than unbalanced game mechanics.

I have complaints about the Call of Duty system of multiplayer progression, but at least they’re taking their influence from more traditional RPG mechanics. Team Fortress 2 seems more content to take influence from a different set of RPGs – the MMO sort. How else could you explain the huge set of revenue-enhancing devices, the purely cosmetic set of hats which the game has acquired and the item crafting and trading mechanics? OK, to Valve’s credit, they haven’t made it a necessity to use the unlockable weapons to play the game competitively, which is a good thing. I vowed when the first set of unlockable weapons were released that I would never use any of the unlockables in the game, and it still irritates me that a huge set of achievements are locked unless you use them.

Yes, OK, it’s good to see that Valve is still supporting its games and what not. I’d just rather they put those people to work on Half-Life 2: Episode 3. Cliffhanger ending? Remember?