In the frequently violent world of videogames, the gun reigns supreme. But sometimes, when you’re backed into a (virtual) corner and the ammo’s run dry, you’ve no choice but to resort to the nearest blunt instrument that comes to hand. Whether it’s a crowbar or a well-placed snooker cue, there are times when an improvised weapon will simply have to do.
Here, then, is our top ten list of gaming’s most unlikely melee weapons…
Splatterhouse – plank of wood
Proof that extreme videogame violence isn’t purely a 21st century phenomenon, side-scrolling brawlers didn’t come much more gory in the late 80s than Namco’s horror epic Splatterhouse.
Starring a burly, strutting character wearing a Jason Voorhees hockey mask, Splatterhouse asked nothing more of impressionable players than to cut a swathe through an army of grotesque creatures with meat cleavers, shotguns and chainsaws.
For pure, gross-out comedy, however, look no further than the game’s singularly effective plank of wood. Take a swing at a zombie, and it splatters up against the wall in a shower of icky green ooze.
Weird Dreams – electric eel
An adventure game influenced by the surrealistic work of Salvador Dalí and Terry Gilliam, Weird Dreams was one of the most wilfully bizarre games of the late-80s. A regular feature on Saturday morning TV show, Motormouth, the game placed its pyjama-clad protagonist, Steve, in a series of apparently disconnected dream landscapes, including a fairground where candyfloss is collected from a giant spinning drum, and a country garden patrolled by a football with teeth and a steak knife-wielding school girl.
Weird Dreams reached its mind-boggling zenith, however, in a sequence where Steve employs the power of an electric eel to dispatch a giant, malevolent wasp. Very, very odd.
EarthBound – frying pan
Oddball RPG EarthBound (known as Mother 2 in Japan) is one of the most amusing, original games of its type, and was sadly overlooked on its western release in the mid-90s, despite excellent reviews. Memorable for its quirky take on a frequently staid genre, EarthBound was filled with character and humour.
In it, weapons such as baseball bats and yo-yos were more common than swords and axes, while character Paula specialised, in a somewhat sexist fashion, in wielding a wide variety of frying pans.
Half-Life – crowbar
Perhaps one of gaming’s most famous and recognisable blunt instruments, action scientist Gordon Freeman’s employment of a trusty crowbar in the early stages of Valve’s seminal Half-Life has been emulated in numerous first-person shooters since.
The very epitome of the improvised videogame weapon, Gordon could use the crowbar as a handy defence against hopping headcrabs when out of ammo, as well as for smashing his way into crates and shattering padlocks.
Ubiquitous and versatile, the crowbar was Freeman’s Swiss army knife.
Silent Hill – kitchen knife
One of those games that I can only play for very short lengths of time before I have to turn it off and play Bubble Bobble or something, Silent Hill was among the most scary games available for the original PlayStation.
Protagonist Harry Mason hunts the foggy, sinister town of Silent Hill in search of his daughter, employing all manner of improvised weapons in the process. Seldom giving players the security blanket of a powerful firearm (and the guns you do find are often slow to reload), Silent Hill instead provided players with objects such as gasoline cans, hammers and lengths of pipe with which to defend themselves.
For truly memorable videogame shocks, look no further than an early scene that saw Harry fighting off packs of skinless, canine Groaners. Rarely has a game provided you with such a feeble, every-man protagonist, or such a terrifyingly ineffective weapon.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – golf club
Presenting the player with an open-world environment pregnant with possibilities, San Andreas also featured a massive and varied arsenal of weaponry. While the combat shotgun, M4 assault rifle and Vulcan mini gun represented the most rewarding of these, there were, nevertheless, a huge array of melee weapons to fall back on when ammo was in short supply.
One of the least effective weapons in the game frequently provided the most amusement. Head to a golf course, and you’ll inevitably find a few clubs lying around, absolutely perfect for terrorising the area’s rich men in bad trousers.
Manhunt – plastic bag
Rockstar’s unrelentingly grim stalk-and-kill brawler is still a grim experience even today, and its early stages revelled in providing the player with as many nasty ways to despatch enemies as possible.
Hulking death row convict James Earl Cash could murder his prey with pieces of glass, wire and assorted blunt instruments, with each stealthy kill triggering a gleefully nasty execution cutscene. It was the plastic bag, however, that represented arguably the most troubling weapon in the game, and the sight of Cash quietly slipping the item over a goon’s head and suffocating them to death was horribly memorable.
Manhunt could be viewed as an intelligent commentary on videogame violence, constantly probing at how far a player will push the protagonist’s onscreen crimes. Alternatively, it could be seen as a calculated attempt at generating sales through controversy.
Whatever your opinion, there’s no doubt that Manhunt is one of the most savage mainstream videogames ever released.
Dead Rising – massive teddy bear
Brilliantly channelling the slyly humorous spirit of George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, Capcom’s Dead Rising provided a veritable playground of exotic, bizarre and downright hilarious weapons with which to kill its plague of flesh-eating zombies.
Varying wildly in terms of effectiveness, it was possible to despatch the walking dead with tennis rackets, shop dummies, frying pans, bags of flour and dozens more objects besides.
For sheer comedy value, however, look no further than the huge stuffed bears lurking in the game’s toy shops and theme park. You probably won’t survive for very long, but you’ll undoubtedly hit the ground with a smile on your face.
Fallout 3 – rolling pin
Bethesda’s excellent action RPG may generate a palpably oppressive post-apocalyptic atmosphere, but that didn’t stop the developer adding in a few amusing melee weapons to provide the odd moment of light relief.
More commonly associated with the genteel art of bakery, the humble rolling pin was one of the game’s rarest weapons, and could only be found in very specific locations on the map. And while it doesn’t inflict much damage, there’s a certain amount of amusement to be gained from wading futilely into a group of heavily armed opponents, pine rolling pin in hand.
Left 4 Dead 2 – electric guitar
Capcom’s similarly zombie infested Dead Rising boasts a larger roster of improvised weapons, but Valve’s co-op shooter Left 4 Dead 2 offered a few amusing blunt instruments of its own. One of the most effective of these (other than the majestic chainsaw) is the electric guitar, which will take down most common infected zombies with one swing, resulting in a screen covered in gore and, if you’re lucky, a decapitated member of the walking dead sinking senselessly to its knees.
Use it against the vast and terrifying Tank variety of infected, meanwhile, and death is almost guaranteed. Taking one of those monsters down requires an exhausting twenty swings of your trusty six-stringed axe.
Add your own suggestions in the comments…!