I don’t expect a lot out of the first gun a shooter sticks in my hand. It needs to have the power to take down the game’s early enemies quickly, because later in the game, the starting weapon is only going to be a fallback—that gun you switch to when you’re dangerously low on ammo or just want to flex on a couple weaklings. A great starting gun needs to feel right when you pull the trigger for the first time, but should never overshadow the rest of the arsenal.
I recently played through Ion Fury, which starts you with a magnum Dirty Harry would be jealous of. Ion Fury’s revolver manages to stay relevant for the whole game with crunchy headshots and the ability to target a bunch of enemies, then shoot them all in rapid succession by fanning the hammer. That move makes you feel like a badass gunslinger. But the pistol doesn’t pack the punch to take down tougher enemies. That’s how it should be.
Other first-person shooters have forgettable starting weapons, and usually that’s okay. In Doom, the pistol is just context for how much you should appreciate the shotgun. But then there are the bad starting weapons. These guns are so bad, so limp, that your first impression of the game is instantly soured. You expect a roar and get a squeak. Did it… did it even shoot? You might as well be holding a pile of rotting garbage.
There are some truly terrible shooters out there we’ve never played, and they doubtless contain some truly terrible starting weapons. But from the games we have played, here are the guns that stood out to us as the greatest disappointments.
Far Cry New Dawn: Rusty 1911
Chris: I get it. It’s the post-post-apocalypse, it’s almost 20 years after Far Cry 5, you’re scrounging for any weapon you can find so you’re not bound to pick up a spotless, shiny Desert Eagle at the start of the game. But this pistol is ancient, with only 8 rounds in the mag and an annoying slow reload time, especially compared to its Far Cry 5 counterpart. It does decent damage against low level enemies with headshots, but this is mostly a trash gun to make every other weapon look good. It’s meant to be discarded as soon as you find something better, and just about everything is better.
Or… you could keep it and upgrade it. Like this player who had the historic patience to upgrade it 1,000 times (that’s not an exaggeration), taking it from a creaky 80 damage to a ridiculous 3,570.
Fallout 4: Pipe Gun
Morgan: The worst part of any Bethesda Fallout game is the junk that you’re forced to shoot until you find the good stuff. The beginning of Fallout 4 sticks the player with the pipe gun, a rusty hunk of tubing that sounds like it’s going to fall apart every time you shoot it. It’s a piece of crap that I ditched as soon as I could, but at least it serves as an introduction to weapon modding.
Chris: And yet I’d take a Fallout 4 pipe gun over a Fallout 76 pipe bolt action pistol any day of the week and twice on Fasnacht Day. It’s ugly, made of wood, fires a single shot before having to be re-cocked, and it degrades quickly. I always seem to have 15 of these on me and never use them because harsh language feels like a better weapon.
Doom 2016 pistol
James: In the opening moments of Doom, you follow up crushing a demon’s skull with your bare hands by blowing kisses at them with a peashooter. The starting pistol’s shots barely register. Sometimes you’ll catch a flicker of light that implies something flew from the barrel and made contact with a demon, but the nearly parodic ‘pew-pew’ and stapler gun recoil don’t do much to sell the illusion. The alt-fire shot pulls you in tight for some jarring ADS, your movement slows, and after an eternity of charging a slightly bigger pew pops out. It sucks and I’m mad now. It sucks so much that Doom Eternal’s pistol was scrapped, proof that it is a better game.
Quake 2 blaster
Jody: It makes a tiv-tiv noise like a child imitating a laser gun. It fires glowing projectiles that show off Quake 2’s lighting but make it feel like you’re shooting a flare gun, and the piddling damage backs that up. It’s always slightly off the crosshair, down and to the right. The blaster sucks and I hate it.
The only thing the blaster has going for it is infinite ammo, which encourages you to use it when you could be shooting something fun like the railgun or the super shotgun. Instead, you click on a turret 20 times or more with that damn blaster, hating every moment.
In Wolfenstein and Doom every weapon felt like it was designed to be a pleasure, even the fallback pistol. But in Quake 2 the blaster, and that sad coughing machine gun, were like holding an armful of blah.
Tyler: It is the embodiment of “pew pew.” One thing I do like is that Strogg go down hard regardless of what they’re hit with. Watching one land on his back because he got beaned in the forehead with the world’s weakest firework is pretty funny.
Shaun: Oh, the Heretic starter weapon is a staff? In the ‘90s I thought it was a piece of magical amber, held in the palms of the player-character’s theoretical hands, capable of killing things. Not a bad thing on paper, except it can’t even one-shot puny gargoyles. I guess the puny gargoyles are Heretic’s version of Doom’s zombiemans—which themselves take three pistol bullets to fell—but this is supposed to be a magical staff, you know?
Heretic’s weapon lineup comprises fantasy takes on Doom’s arsenal—the crossbow is the shotgun, the Dragon Claw is the gatling gun—but the Doom pistol’s ineffectiveness has its place and feels vaguely feasible. I guess it would take three bullets to kill a zombieman. But when trying to inhabit Heretic’s fantasy, it’s hard to imagine a magical elf circle-strafing a mere fireball-throwing bat. That’s not even to mention the sound of the staff: it doesn’t sound magical, it just sounds like a shit gun.
Wes: That little red sparkle it does on-hit is so sad. Am I a wizard, or a kid with a box of damp firecrackers?
William Shatner’s TekWar stunner
Wes: I don’t know why I felt the need to single out TekWar, a completely forgettable shooter from that bizarre late-90s period where anything could be an FPS, including Shatner’s other sci-fi series that probably hoodwinked a few fans who misread the title as “TrekWar.” Nobody cares about this game now, and I doubt many people had high expectations for it then. But just get a lot of how absolutely awful its starting pistol is. Its animation is so simplistic, just a slight upward tilt, that it feels like a kid pantomiming a shooting motion with their hand. The sound effect is garbled and bland, like someone picked the most basic sample possible from a sound library, shrugged, and moved on. It doesn’t help that everything else in TekWar is hideously grey and animates like a bad simulation of an actually fun videogame.
Damn, maybe that was the whole point of TekWar to begin with. Scathing commentary, Shatner.
Halo CE pistol (because it’s too good)
Nat: Every gun in Halo: Combat Evolved has its place. From the lowly shield-draining Plasma Pistol to devastating (but limited) power weapons like the Sniper Rifle and Rocket Launcher, you should always be thinking about what tools are best for the job at hand. Except, you’re not, because the bloody pistol is always the right choice. From the moment Captain Keyes hands Master Chief his first M6D Magnum, you’ll never find anything more reliable than this laser-accurate head clicker. It even comes with a scope, for crying out loud.
Is the Halo pistol bad? Not by a long shot, no. But in making the rest of the game’s arsenal utterly obsolete, this pesky sidearm well and truly earns itself a place on this list.
Wes: This pistol has plagued the Halo community discourse for 20 years. Every pistol in every Halo game since has ignited arguments about the weapon sandbox balance and why Halo 1’s pistol was better. Bungie built an object of great power, but at a terrible cost.
Super 3D Noah’s Ark slingshot
Wes: Look at this absolute abomination. I’ll admit that I love the absurdity of using the Wolfenstein 3D engine to make a Bible game, and Super 3D Noah’s Ark is a funnier name than anything I’ll come up with in my life. But that can’t excuse this game taking id Software’s technology and using it to make the dinkiest weapon of all time. Noah walks around with a slingshot, putting animals to sleep by shooting them with food. Except the projectile isn’t animated, so you can’t actually see the pellet you’re firing make contact. The cord wobbles back and forth without being pulled back, like a ghost is using it as a jump rope. Is Noah using some Old Testament power to make the slingshot fire with his mind?
I guess that would actually be pretty badass, but the fact remains that this game completely fails to capture the satisfying thing about a slingshot—pulling back the cord, releasing, and watching a rock go flying under your own power. And the sproing! sound it makes? What an embarrassment. A complete and total failure.
Honorable mention: Kingpin: Life of Crime’s lead pipe
The rest of this list is dedicated to firearms of one sort or another, but here’s a special mention from art director John Strike.
John: I do love me a 90s shooter. The first level of this classic swear-a-thon is one of the hardest in the game, all because you’ve got nothing but a lead pipe to protect your dignity. You’ve been beaten up and left to perish in a back alley, and you find the pipe behind a trash bin. Although you can pretty much instantly use it to murder a homeless person, steal a dollar from him and use the dollar to purchase a crowbar, both are equally useless on this level.
Getting a firearm will rely on sneaking past two goons when someone in the soccer game they’re listening to makes a score. They run to the radio, you sneak past them into a warehouse, steal a condenser coil, then sneak back out and trade the coil for a pistol. Or at least that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Sneaking past almost never works because of some over-active event triggers, so you soon find yourself waving the lead pipe at flying shotgun blasts and profanity. And dying. Set to hard, this small map took me dozens of attempts.