Fun Gun Awards: The Needler from Halo

needler 3

An award for video game guns that aren’t necessarily good or effective at killing, but which are creative, unique, and lots of fun to use. These guns might suck, but I want to learn to use them effectively because they’re so enjoyable.

The needler became my favorite weapon in Halo almost immediately. It is unique and fun and quintessentially a video game weapon. It just wouldn’t be as interesting in any context other than a game.

It’s visual design, first of all, is great and exemplifies visual weapon design in games. You’ve got this strange, beetle shell casing, which makes it look fundamentally different from any other weapon, Covenant or human. When you reloaded the needler, you kind of shake it, and the needles spring out from the top, which kind of made it feel like a living creature, like it’s raising its hackles.

Then, to make it stand out even more, it’s got glass(?) needles, the gun’s ammunition, sticking right out the top like a field of obelisks. Only a video game designer would think of that. No one else would think to have a gun’s own ammunition physically located on the outside of the gun; not a film director, not a writer, not a painter, not a manufacturer of real guns. And then the needles shrink as you shoot the gun! You actually see the ammunition get used up! That tangible, visual communication is quintessentially “video game”, and it is just one of the aspects of the weapon that makes it fun and memorable.

neeldes heat seeking

Now, it’s usefulness at killing things is a little more shaky. Against humans in multiplayer, it’s practically useless. Against bots in single player, it usually works really well. Stupendously well. And whenever you do get to use the needler effectively it is one of the most satisfying kills., because your enemies erupt in an enormous pink explosive cloud, their limbs flung about their riven torso, launched into the air like from a catapult. And that’s only if you shoot them with the minimum needles necessary to trigger an explosion. If you shoot them with a full clip, then there are multiple explosions in a row, each one jerking your enemy’s lifeless corpse in a new direction in mid air, and igniting any grenades that are lying on the ground as well.

Just seeing that is fun and sometimes funny. Actually being the cause of that is enormously satisfying.

happy needler Keyes

Even if you don’t shoot enough needles to trigger the explosion, each needle will shatter individually, each one causing your opponent confusion because he receives damage at a different point in time than when he was shot, unlike every other gun in Halo.

The delayed effect of the needles is part of what makes it fun and interesting to use. There is a moment when your opponent is dead. It’s a certainty. But he’s still walking around for a few more seconds, glowing pink needles piercing his flesh, and he doesn’t realize that his death has been written in stone. Those few seconds give you such a feeling of power over your opponent. Even if he kills you first, it still feels satisfying to know he cannot do anything to avoid the death you’ve inflicted on him.

Oh yeah, and the needles are heat seeking, which is just ridiculous and fun.

Of course, as with many unique and fun weapons, the needler’s uniqueness also makes it impractical against any human opponent with a brain.

The needles are heat seeking, but slow, and can easily be avoided, or can easily be lead to strike obstacles. Long range or out in the open they’re practically useless. And because there is a delay between when they hit and when they do damage, often your opponent can kill you before the needles explode, resulting, essentially, in a tie.

But, I kind of like that. The impracticality of the needler forces me to play Halo differently than I would with any other weapon. It forces me to alter my perception of the game space, and encourages me to make conscious choices about how I play the game, rather than playing on homicidal instinct.

needlers and ammo

For example, I became relatively good at using the needler, in select situations, in Halo’s multiplayer map, Battlecreek. There were two buildings and outside of these, the needler was worthless. But, there are these underground hallways in Battlecreek, and there the needler ruled. The halls aren’t wide enough for opponents to dodge the needles and even if you don’t aim correctly, the needles will glance of the walls and still hit the enemy. Also, the hallways are so short that by the time your opponent sees you, you’ve already unloaded half a clip of needles at them. It was almost always a sure kill.

While I lurked in the hallways, people would just avoid going down because it was such a pain to deal with me. I was like some vengeful wraith that haunted those catacombs. I didn’t win any of those games, but I had tons of fun. I actually started laughing with each kill to the point that when I taunted a friend to come attack me, he said, “No way I’m going down into your giggle palace!”

A more general example of how the needler alters perception of play: one of the only good ways to use the needler is when someone’s back is turned to you. Normally, if a person is moving away from you it’s hard to catch up to melee them, and your plasma grenade accuracy might be off. If you shoot him with any other weapon then the opponent can turn around and fire back, or find some cover and let his shields recharge. But the needler is perfect for this situation. Your opponent never realizes that he’s being shot so he never reacts. By the time he realizes what has happened it’s too late and you’ve reloaded the needler and are moving on.

When I played I would often keep an eye out for opportunities to get behind opponents, while with any other weapon you just confront players head on. I would constantly be modifying the way I moved through the combat space in order to create situations that favored the needler. The geography of the map functioned differently. It was harder to play like this, and I never won, but it was enormous fun and the satisfaction of even one needler kill was always worth it.

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