There is no more iconic, trusted, or reassuring weapon in video games than the shotgun. The simplicity of the single-shot reload, the raw power of the shot, the cathartic kick-back as recoil and exploding head meet in a dizzying dance of devastation... It's a delight that never wears thin.
But while (almost) all video game shotguns are great, not all are created equal. When you've fired enough of them, you realise that they're an eclectic and nuanced bunch, each bringing its own quirks, charms and idiosyncrasies to the killing floor. Every one is a beautiful little snowflake of explosive havok, and deserves to be appreciated on its own terms. As such, I felt the need to write a detailed tribute to 16 of my favourites. So I have. I've tried not to get too romantic, but you know what it's like with shotguns.
The Doom shotgun
The quintessential FPS shotgun, Doom's original pump-action monster was a game-changer in regards to the sensory joys of firing a video game gun. It's the sheer tactility that makes it special. Augmented by the technical limitations of the time rather than hampered, the rough-edged roar of its triumphant boom is the sound effect that the word "visceral" was made for. But it's the precise, metallic "cli-click" accompanying that reload animation that makes this thing such a never-ending joy to unload.
The Doom II Super Shotgun
Just when you thought the art of expelling tiny metal pellets into demonic rump couldn't be bettered, iD played another blinder with Doom 2's double-barreled beast. Lacking the clean precision feel of the original shotty, it more than made up for that with sheer, blunt-force trauma. Altogether a meatier experience, the bassier "WHUMP" of its firing sound, alongside its immense close-range damage and deliciously detailed reloading sequence give it a sense of manly, hands-on empowerment rarely bettered.
The Duke Nukem 3D shotgun
Although lacking the sense of sophisticated enemy perforation enjoyed by Doom's pump-action shotty, Duke's stubbier, less sleek counterpart nevertheless recognised that visceral tactility is key to the fun of any FPS shotgun. Making up for its less impressive countenance with a deafening boom more akin to explosion than gunshot, the meaty reloading yank of its side-lever was the full-stop at the end of every shot, making each fired shell a complete statement of badassery in itself.
Hitman: Bloody Money's SPAS-12
Although a fairly unremarkable shotgun in and of itself, Agent 47's shell shooter is worthy of note because of its effect on its victims. A joy of the mid-2000s' trend of ragdoll animation, a correctly-angled shot from Hitman's SPAS would send enemies weightlessly spiraling through the air, nigh-guaranteed to land in an undignified heap against, or sprawled across, any level furniture in the vicinity. Although you'd almost never use it if playing stealthily, it was a satisfyingly cathartic reminder that although 47 is a staunchly professional and discrete killer, when allowed to let rip he has just as much brute-force power as the best of them.
Soldier of Fortune's B-42 Berserker
Rarely has a shotgun been so aptly named. A fast-firing, quick-reloading, semi-automatic monster, Soldier of Fortune's shotty of choice is a rampaging bull of a thing. In fact "battle" is quite the wrong word. Get in the zone with the B-42, and the results are much more akin to driving a train through an abattoir. Much like Hitman's SPAS-12, the Berseker is as much notable for its effect as its basic design. Released in 2000, SoF's main (and at the time amazing) selling point was the ability to blow any body part off any enemy at will. A quick rampage with the B-42, and you'd see heads and forearms flying like confetti. Truly the most decadent video game shotgun ever seen at the time.
The Contra series' Spread Gun
Look, it counts, okay? Yes, it might fire roughly 3000 rounds a minute, and yes, its "pellets" might be the size of a football and glow red like the devil's own nuts, but I'm still counting this thing as a shotgun. After all, the original Japanese release of Contra set the game in 2633, and anything is possible with future technology.
Ratchet & Clank's Sonic Eruptor
Okay, so it doesn't actually fire shotgun shells. In fact it doesn't technically fire anything. But spiritually, the Sonic Eruptor--appearing in the PS3's A Crack in Time-- is very much part of the shotgun family. It's a chunky, two-handed weapon, it fires in a spread, and it kicks like a mule at close-range. So what if its ammo is frog burps? It's a shotgun, and I love it.
Syndicate's pump-action shotgun
Lacking the showboating bells and whistles of many of the guns on this list, the shotgun in the original Syndicate is all the more satisfying for its subdued nature. The soft, muffled "Thump" of its discharge, accentuated beautifully by the almost imperceptible "Click" of its reload, makes it a subtle but rewarding weapon of choice for any sleek, cyborg future-spy.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's Winchester 1887
It's important to note at this point that I'm listing these shotguns based on the satisfaction of being on the trigger side rather than the barrel end. Of course, the Winchester 1887 was so over-powered at first that Infinity Ward had to release two separate patches to fix it, such a black-hearted harbinger of death was it when wielded akimbo. But good Lord, is it fun to fire. Combining the stopping power of a stampeding elephant with an elegant, lever-action reload that evoking an altogether more gentlemanly age, it's an absolute beaut of a shotgun. And it's the T-800's shotty of choice in Terminator 2. I dare you to argue against it.
Halo 4's M45D
Rarely has a video game shotgun been so businesslike in its offense yet so undeniably cool in its countenance. Just look at the thing. The perfect blend of militaristic heft and slinky, sci-fi sensuality, the brutal slam of its firing sound nevertheless maintains the realistic mechanical vibe of modern fire-arms. A delightfully old-school slap in the mouth amid all those primary-coloured lasers.
Halo 4's Scattershot
In contrast, the M45D's Forerunner counterpart is the dazzling, showy, Mardi Gras float of the shotgun world. Oozing sexy, pseudo-organic design and firing shards--none of your pedestrian pellets here, thanks--of lethal gold, it appears to effuse molten sunlight from its barrel when in use. And when those shots start rebounding around the room like lethal glowworms, the effect is like fighting through a shimmering disco of death.
Modern Warfare 2's SPAS-12
Possibly the most ruthless action-bastard of a gun on this list, Modern Warfare 2's variant of the SPAS is tuned perfectly for savagely effective run-and-gun carnage. Quick to fire, and with devastating range for a shotgun, its nimble efficiency of function is mirrored delightfully in its "gun-feel". The understated thump and light metallic chime of its shots are followed by a delicately mechanical reload noise and butter-smooth cocking animation. All of this makes MW2's SPAS-12 the slinky but unpretentious weapon of choice for efficient shooters with a lot on their hands.
Gears of War 3's Sawed-off
If CoD's SPAS is the unassuming, efficient, well-kempt businesman of the group, Gears of War 3's sawed-off is the drunken, bellowing, wild-bearded redneck. Equally loved and loathed for its stupendous power at close range, it doesn't so much feel like a fire-arm when used, but more like an instant vapourisation field affecting a 180 degree radius. Rough, unsubtle, and utterly devoid of any finesse, it's understandably reviled by its victims. But if you've ever successfully used it on someone, and you tell me that you still 100% hate it as a weapon, then frankly I don't trust you as a person. You're either lying or insane.
The Quake 3 Arena shotgun
Eschewing the showmanship of Doom's shotguns in favour of fast-flowing effectiveness, iD's follow-up firearm is nonetheless a natural descendant of its pixelated parents. Combining the Super Shotgun's double-barreled ferocity with the original's elegance, Quake 3's shotgun is an enjoyably chunky, meaty little staff of death. Its shots echo forth an ominously deep explosive rumble, while the lightly-toned rattle of its chamber refilling adds the dash of refinement that a quick, precise game like Quake demands.
Resident Evil 4's shotgun trinity
Resident Evil 4's shotgun selection is possibly the best example of understated refinement on this list. The initial starting model is the most elegant of the lot, unleashing its shots with a precise whip-crack, and detonating a short-range cloud of death at once vague enough for crowd control and accurate enough for clinical executions. The beautifully-named Riot Gun adds a bit more snap to proceedings, while the Striker is a fat, drum-loading monstrosity whose satisfying heft gives way to the kind of clout upon firing that makes one feel as if armed with a small, handheld tank.
Representing the decadent heights of the shotgun's evolution to date, Bulletstorm's quad-barreled beauty is a huge but highly maneuverable creation. Aiming it feels for all the world like poking the enemy with the outstretched hand of a four-fingered fiend from the depths of Satan's pit, while firing it delivers a reassuringly solid recoil, like being lightly stamped in the chest by a small horse. Oh, and if you charge it up, it will melt the flesh and bones of anything put in front of it. It's not impossible that it actually was forged in the bowels of Hell.
Triggered any memories?
So there's my current best-of list. But how about yours? Have I missed any that you're particularly fond of? I'm bound to have. So put your tributes in the comments.