It’s been said that humanity has put more effort into warfare than anything else, and that does make some sense. We’ve created a wide array of tools for turning others into chunky salsa, and that creative destruction has filtered through into video games. The world of gaming has been host to some of the most creative items in any fiction.  While a lot of these are purely fantasy with no chance of actually existing – most of the later weapons in Saints Row IV come to mind – a few of the most insane weapons are ones with at least some resemblance to real life. Let’s look at five of the craziest weapons that actual people have used, in particular order.

The Cow Launcher

South Park has had a slew of games, but only recently has it gotten games that truly seem like the series.  The original game, simply called South Park, was a FPS on PS1, PC and N64, which is how I played it. The game isn’t very good, nor does it perfectly nail the show but a lot of the trademark humor shines through. The weapons are a standout as they are truly South Park, including an alien weapon that makes enemies dance like the pilot episode. The one I’m looking at, however, is the almighty Cow Launcher.

Cow Launcher vs Fart Grenade. Yup, it’s South Park alright.

The Cow Launcher does exactly what it sounds like. It’s a bazooka that’s ammunition are bovine in origin, and is devastating. It features a lock on capability and when locked onto an enemy you launch said cow at them. The cow homes in on them, and lands butthole first. Your enemy is not only hurt by a giant animal falling on them but they can’t see because they’re face to face with the cow’s intestinal tract.  It’s one of the most powerful weapons in the game, and is so satisfying to use.

But what about real life? While there isn’t a bazooka that launches a cow asshole-first at one – yet – history is rife with animals as ammunition. One of the first ship to ship weapons in classical warfare was simply baskets full of venomous snakes that were chunked onto enemy ships, which then meant sailors had a bunch of very unhappy danger noodles coming after them.  However, the ammo that I’m looking at is a tactic favored by the Mongols which was launching dead animals out of catapults.

You twist the rope to build up force, put ammo in the cup, then pull a level and watch it fly like a coked up Superman.

While the idea sounds like “Crazy Awesome” incarnate, it actually represents a milestone in biological warfare.  Not only was it economical as they Mongols just found dead animals and flung them from whatever siege weapons they had available at high speeds, but it could easily introduce epidemics into besieged cities.  By using a rotting animal carcass you get the damage of a heavy object crashing into buildings, but the rotted flesh could easily contimate the city which would make the siege that much quicker.  They very rarely used live animals, as a live animal was a large amount of food for your troops that wasn’t going to go bad till after you killed it, so they saved that for later.

Beyond that, there’s the psychological aspect. Imagine you’re a village in a town under siege. You’ve been battling starvation, death and the ominous threat outside your city walls when you decide to look up at a sound you just heard. You then see the corpse of a beast of burden heading directly at your face, just in time to get splatted by what is almost literally a donkey punch.  Not only did you bite it in a way all too reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote, but your fellow townspeople have their water supply poisoned by donkey gunk.

And if you were wondering, yes they did use human bodies as well, but not always dead ones. A common tactic was to take captured enemy civilians, crowd them into a catapult and fling them back into town. Not only was this devastating both physically and morally, but it was a great way to respond when your enemy demanded their people back.

Railguns

Oh, yes.  Whether called railguns, coil guns, Gauss cannons or similar they are a staple of science fiction. A railgun works by using a series of magnets to accelerate a projectile to very high speeds, and does so without a muzzle flash.  Even better, a large railgun can be used to accelerate a projectile to relativistic speeds – i.e. close to the speed of light – which makes them even more devastating as the mass of an object increases as it approaches light speed.

One of gaming’s most popular memes is the classic quote from Mass Effect 2. A sergeant berates two privates for not paying attention while firing a capital ship’s large rail gun as the 10kg slug is accelerated so close to lightspeed that each impact is approximately the same amount of force as the nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima. However, with no friction or air drag any shot that doesn’t hit the target keeps going until it hits something, and who knows what that might be, good or bad. As the sergeant himself famously says “Sir Issac Newton is still the deadliest son of a bitch in space!”

I came here to be a deadly son of a bitch and eat apples…and I’m almost out of apples.

Interestingly, railguns are the most common weapon in Mass Effect. Every weapon uses small bits of metal sheared from a large block and propelled by magnetic fields but this is made easier by the use of mass effect fields to lower the mass of the projectile.  The computer inside the weapon actually calculates how big of a piece is needed to make an impact that the class of weapon – shotgun, rifle, pistol – would make and shears the appropriate size sliver. It’s used to explain the unlimited ammo of the first game in one of the most brilliant science based trope justifications in gaming.

Of course,  Mass Effect is far from the only gaming franchise to use railguns. The Metal Gear Solid series lets Metal Gear Rex sport one that launches nukes as a way around treaties, and later games let you have access to man-portable railguns.  For some reason only a certain type of ammunition works, instead of any small magnetic metal piece, but at least Kojima used something with real science instead of A Wizard Nanomachines did it.

What about real life? Awesomely, the US Navy has began full scale tests of a railgun system designed to destroy enemy missiles that has a side effect of looking completely badass. See for yourself:

While far from man-portable, or even truck-portable, this weapon could be mounted on large warships to patrol waters around the country. With the current dick measuring contest saber rattling between North Korea and the US it’s a perfect system to act as a public answer to any concern about North Korea’s missile capability.

That, and the ability to shoot projectiles at over 4000 mph is so awesome our enemies will piss their pants from the pure epic badassery shown before them…hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Powered Armor

Unlike it’s in-name-only movie adaptation the novel Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein featured a future military that all wore powered armor that just about established the concept in Western media. Powered armor or powered exoskeletons or just plain power armor became ubiquitous in military science fiction as time went on. As video games became a media of their own it was only natural that scifi games would feature some iconic powered armor.

For my money the power armor in gaming is the series of armors found in the Fallout series.  Instantly granting much higher strength, damage reduction and radiation resistance any suit of power armor will make you walking death against the various tribals, raiders and dickhead Legionaries you may come across. Originally designed by the prewar US military to allow soldiers to easily carry heavy weaponry, enhancements were made later on to power armor to make them even deadlier. For even more fun Fallout 4 allows the player to edit and craft upon power armor frames to make a suit that fits their play style.  The only enemy you should fear while in power armor is the Deathclaw, the OP bastards who get to ignore damage reduction but we’ll have something to take care of them later on.

Collect them all!

I will be honest and admit that the most iconic suit of powered armor in gaming has to be Master Chief’s MJOLNIR suit from the Halo series.  A fusion powered suit that makes a user so strong they can flip over vehicles like they’re Hot Wheels while ripping off mounted turrets to carry around like a demented cross between Ted Nugent and Rambo has become what many gamers think of when they think “powered armor.” One catch: the suit is so powerful the government had to genetically modify supersoldiers to even wear it as it’s too much for normal humans. Bummer.

However, if you want to try a suit you shouldn’t despair. Powered exoskeletons have went from fiction to prototype.  The US military has been actively developing the TALOS: Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit which would incorporate armor and a powered system to lighten both armor and equipment loads for the soldier. They’ve been actively testing the Human Universal Load Carrier which helps a soldier carry an additional 90 lbs of kit without burden.   Private companies have also been developing exoskeletons for military use, such as Raytheon’s awesome XOS suit and this kickass number by Revision.

Don’t want to be in the military but want to play Iron Man? Two consumer level devices currently exist. ReWalk, which is a exoskeleton designed to assist the handicapped in regaining normal functions, and HAL or Hybrid Assisted Limb which is a tethered exoskeleton mostly used in Japan to help nursing home personnel carry the elderly. Scarily, the company that makes HAL is called Cyberdyne which bodes poorly.  No, I’m not making that up. Various other products are being developed, and a cursory Youtube search will find you numerous people building their own. Crazy awesome, indeed.

As cool as this is, the first powered exoskeleton wasn’t tested this decade, or even this century. The General Electric company tested their Hardiman system back in 1965. Don’t believe me? Here’s production images from GE themselves.

Just don’t try to scratch your balls while wearing it.

Nuclear Bazookas

While “bazooka” only applies to certain weapons, the phrase here certainly means you know what I’m talking about.  Man portable nuclear missile launchers. They’re like having a second dick but one where “mushroom stamp” means making a mile high cloud of destruction, radiation and death.

We return to the Fallout series once again with their legendary Fat Man. A large, heavy bazooka that fires ammunition literally called mini nukes, this is the most devastating weapon you can find in game besides the solar death ray from New Vegas. It’s so devastating that using it on an enemy too close will splatter you just like them. Power armor obviously helps, and I have to assume that the suits are heavily leaded due to how much radiation they can absorb. Amusingly, this follows the Starship Troopers mold as the troopers in the book are taught to take atomic explosions on their armor from their mini nukes.  Even better, if you’re getting destroyed by those nasty deathclaws turn them into glowing goop by nuking the ever loving shit out of them. As if a normal man-portable nuke launcher wasn’t dangerous enough, in Fallout 3 you can get an experimental version that acts as a nuclear missile shotgun.  Let that sink in.

For when you absolutely, positively must kill everything within a square mile.

This is actually a popular trope. The infamous Redeemer of Unreal Tournament is a one-shot nuke launcher that is legendary for its damage. Just remember, DON’T use this for rocket jumping. Metal Gear Solid 3 continues being the only good one by featuring a US military project called the Davy Crockett that was a small nuclear mortar. They fire it from a fleeing helicopter which allows them to dodge the slightly painful nuclear explosion.

But come on, nobody would make one of those in real life, right? NOPE.

The Davy Crockett actually exists. It’s literally a recoilless gun usually on a tripod that fired a “tactical” nuclear bomb.  If it wasn’t on a tripod they intended it to be fired from a moving Jeep so that you avoid the freaking nuclear explosion behind you.  The weapon wasn’t accurate and it was assumed that using it meant whoever fired it was screwed like a goat.  There were less than 5 tests, and only 2100 units were made. Interestingly, West German official Franz Josef Strauss wanted the West German military to be issued them en mass so that when Ivan came calling he’d meet a line of nuclear death from hundreds of nuclear powered Germans. That idea should terrify anyone.

This was not the only portable nuclear weapon. There also was a nuclear artillery weapon that could be towed by vehicles, the M65 Atomic Annie.  These were obviously much more powerful than the Crockett, as they fired 15 kiloton weapons as opposed to the “paltry” 10-20 tons of TNT that a Davy Crockett could whip up. These were not only tested successfully, but actually worked exactly as intended. Considering that this 280mm cannon had a range of about 20 miles this meant it could fired without deep frying its crew. Thankfully, they were never used in combat. However,  both Davy Crocketts and Atomic Annie units still exist, though decommissioned and disarmed, and can be viewed in a handful of museums in the US.

War may never change, but weapons do. Throughout the long history of military science there have existed insane weapons that came sometimes from desperate necessity all the way up to depraved insanity. While game developers don’t have to worry about real world logistics or even physics, it’s amazing how some of the craziest weapons not only aren’t fiction but sometimes were even actually used. This is far from a complete list, and we may be revisiting this topic in the future. I hope you enjoyed it, and learned something. See you next time.