If you are a first-person shooter fan, there is a definite chance you were playing the original Halo for the Xbox back in 2001 — who wasn’t? I’m talking local network, split screen carnage. How many hours were spent in the Blood Gulch running Spartans over in Warthogs? Answer: endless. Well… what about a bit further into the future to 2007 with the third-person sci-fi classic Mass Effect? Just how many times did you replay that game? So the Mako wasn’t as popular as the Warthog, but even bad experiences are memorable… right?
Well fortunately, I’m not comparing land vehicles in this article. I’m looking at perhaps the most popular and most frequent sidearm in any shooter — the pistol. We are familiar with the shooter’s cliché model of weapon gaining by now. You start with some sort of melee / pistol and move up the chain to bigger and more powerful weapons. Sure, this isn’t the model for every shooter, but I’d say it’s the case more often than not.
Then there are those cases where the first weapon you get is surprisingly one of the best. In the shooter / science-fiction genre, two games come to mind which had remarkably powerful pistols. The pistols in the original Halo and the original Mass Effect are at the forefront of my mind. Which of the OP pistols reign supreme though? Let’s take a closer look at each.
Let’s begin with the M6D pistol in Halo. While the assault rifle might be what Master Chief is wielding in nearly every picture, any true Halo player knows the pistol was where it was at. Honestly, what couldn’t this thing do? It’s the first gun you get, it had a large clip, it could be fired fast, and it was deadly accurate from close to far range. If you had good aiming, this early weapon was devastating to anything that you put in your sights.
Where this bad boy shined was in multiplayer. Three head shots could take down a fully shielded player. Combine this with rapid firing and no recoil — you got yourself probably the best all-purpose weapon. Sure, the sniper-rifle had more zoom and did more damage, but it only really shined at range. Plus, the pistol was the best counter sniper weapon. While getting shot, making successful snipes was nearly impossible. Even at far range, you could probably kill a non-mobile sniper easier with the pistol than with the sniper rifle.
Yea, a well-placed rocket can destroy your opponent at any range, but they are slow traveling and quite easy to side step. The pistol’s greatest weakness was taking down opponents in vehicles. It was still doable though. The shotgun followed by a melee combo was the best at taking down close range opponents, but the pistol was all around better at everything else in the game. No weapon should be this powerful and have that much versatility — period.
Jumping ship now (Pelicans to the Normandy), Mass Effect had perhaps the most surprisingly powerful pistol ever. Unlike Halo, Mass Effect rocked a class system which allowed certain classes access to different weapons. With that said, every class could use the pistol — it is the basic weapon. Since the engineer and adapt relied on their tech or biotic powers, a weapon was only secondary; or so you thought.
With sniper rifles, shotguns, and assault riffles, it makes sense that the pistol would excel at short and mid combat but still just be a sidearm to the larger and more predominant weapons. Wrong. In the original Mass Effect, you had weapon skills. When your Shepard would level, you could put points into your skills, thus making them better (standard RPG jargon). Since every Shepard class could use the pistol, every class has a pistol skill (minus the sentinel since it was part of the class feature).
The pistol skill has a unique ability called “Marksman.” There were also three levels of this unique skill: Marksman, Advanced Marksman, and Master Marksman. By the time you have Master Marksman, your pistols are doing 20% more damage and have 30% more accuracy. The ability itself increased accuracy by 60% (pretty close to 100% total), increasing firing rate to 2 shots per second, and reduced heat on your pistol by 50%. So essentially, this skill turned your pistol into a highly accurate machine gun. Master Marksman also lasts for 16 seconds and only has a 45 second cooldown.
So if you are an adept or engineer and only have the pistol as an option, it’s a pretty damn good option. The Marksman ability combined with your abilities makes you lethal. If you are a soldier or infiltrator and have the pistol as just a sidearm… that’s an amazing sidearm. A common strategy would be to use the Marksman ability, then while it’s on cooldown, use your larger weapons. In this scenario, it seems like the pistol is actually the primary weapon and the assault riffle is the sidearm. Surprise!
Well there you have it. Both games share in the fact that their pistols are rapid fire, highly accurate, are offered to everyone, and have long sustainability. Sure there are other guns in these games, but are there really? I played as both an adept and an engineer in Mass Effect, and I spent endless hours playing Halo multiplayer — I got my fill of pistol time in. While both pistols are grossly overpowered, the fact that Halo had a multiplayer allowed me to feel both the frustration and dominance of the pistol against living people. This was the deciding factor for me for which pistol was better. What do you think though?
I doubt it was a coincidence that in the sequels to each of these games that the pistol was significantly less powerful. Go figure.