Video games require a lot of suspension of disbelief, more so than movies or books. And thats totally fine. Were in no rush to trade in balletic aerial throwdowns atop fighter jets, sword battles with dragons, or the punching of gods in the face. This is not an article in support of the dull mundanities of the real world. That said, there are plenty of times when things in videogameland dont even make sense within their own fiction. And if games have taught me anything, its that the best way to find out whether something works is by trying to blow it up and seeing how well it holds together.
So, here are eight devices that, when you really think about them, are about as incongruous as a window box on a submarine. That have less point than a nail with a head at both ends. That fall apart faster than ACME flatpack furniture. I wouldnt change most of them for the world, you understand, but poking holes, and a little fun, wont do these games much harm. Shall we?
No, not for the reason youd think. If I can buy into the TARDIS, I can live with unspecified technology capable of shrinking a monster the size of an office block into a tiny sphere. What just doesnt scan is how this tool of the monster hunting trade ever got out of R&D. Every trainer knows that even the puniest Pokemon can bust out of a ball before its been weakened, with a tiny capture rate based on blind luck. Oh sure, maybe the very first Pokeball thrower got lucky before he was pecked to death by a rabid Pidgeotto, but remember that they were lobbing a hollowed-out Apricorn, not even one of Silph Cos weaksauce starter models. Its unlikely.
So what do you use to weaken Pokemon to get them inside Pokeballs? Why, Pokemon, of course. In Pokeballs. Which got there how? Its the chicken and the egg all over again, except the egg is a white-and-red gacha capsule and the chicken can shoot lightning from its cheeks. People bang on about how Pokeballs are a dark, prison-like concept, but theyre a sunshiny picnic compared to thoughts of early trainers in the long grass toting baseball bats covered in Rattata blood from all the, ahem, weakening theyve been doing. Brrr.
The Halo array
Oh no! The Flood are infesting everything in sight. However shall we stop them? Why, by building a bunch of gigantic death-rings in space, slaughtering every thinking being in the galaxy so the Flood starve to death, and then starting over. Obviously. But you know what, mass extinction of all life just seems so callous and wasteful, so lets also use those death rings to study Flood specimens, where they wont suffer any harm when we murderise all the other, not galaxy-threatening, sentient life. What could possibly go wrong?
Not only is this the worst plan in history - like trying to put out a forest fire while coating all your fire engines in napalm - but even the Forerunners didnt totally buy into it, building a master ring to rule them all (OK, it has petals too) outside of the galaxy, where they could take key species to survive the whole inconvenience of extinction. Its great defenses are anonymity and distance, so what do the geniuses at the Forerunner council cook up? Thats right, a portal that takes you straight there. At which point, you might as well paint Guys, we totally left the keys in the ignition in case you needed a climactic battle over the fate of the universe. Hugs! on the side of thing and have done, no?
The boulder trap
From: Lego Indiana Jones
OK, its hardly TT Games fault, but this iconic cinematic moment makes even less sense when subject to the clumsy fingers of players. And thats from a base level of making no sense whatsoever. If youre designing an elaborate mechanism to protect a priceless golden idol, by all means throw in pressure plates and poison arrows and spike traps before any light-fingered rogues can lift the thing off its pedestal. I dont envy you the cleaning bill, or the smell, but objective achieved. Far less sensible is placing a trap trigger after the thief is making off with your precious statue. I'm pretty sure having to climb down into a spike pit to retrieve an idol is the dreaded fast-food chain career of the pre-industrial world.
The boulder trap, however, doesnt just risk damage to the idol. It ensures it. Assuming it even works. What really is the plan here? To give successful thieves a bonus cardiac workout? And is that worth rolling your nice, soft, golden cave-candy into a spectacularly ugly plate? Imagine having to explain that one to the gods. Gulp.
From: Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Forget the three-in-one grenades that ensure exactly 66.66 per cent of each one is wasted. Forget the sound suppression charge that stops enemies from being alerted to your presence by creating a highly noticeable absence of sound. Nope, Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfares least plausible technology is these magnetic gloves. Because why? Why do men wearing Exo suits that can rocket jump them into the air suddenly need to haul themselves up very specifically constructed buildings? You know, ones made of sheet metal, not the much more common stone or brick. Are they... CLONG! Are they for...CLONG! Aretheyforstealth? CLONG! Nope, theyre clearly not for fricking stealth purposes either.
Look, I get there hasnt been a decent Spider-man game in bloody ages. And kudos, really, for trying. But if rubber-faced Kevin Spacey wants to turn this whole Atlas thing into an earner, he might want to can the mag gloves and look into supplying grappling hooks. I mean, even the Sentinel Task Force seems to have worked that one out, and its not like they were particularly smart when it came to shutting down a certain, obviously evil private military company leader before he went rogue...
Isaac Clarkes spinal vital signs
From: Dead Space
Isaac Clarke is many things. Engineer. Man of action. Handy with a Plasma Cutter. Delusional. Paranoid. But Mr Fantastic he is not, and its therefore a bit of a stretch (if youll pardon the pun; please do, it was awful) to see why RIG suits only put their wearers health read-out on the spine, where everyone but the occupant can see it. Developer Visceral knows this. Thats why a little searching in Chapter 7 will turn up a poster emblazoned Watch each others back! Safety begins with teamwork. Cute, but it explains so very little.
Theres something incredibly disturbing about a society that's totally comfortable with indiscriminately broadcasting the exact, current welfare of its individual citizens, and something almost sadistic about putting critical information, such as the amount of stasis power you have left, so tantalisingly out of reach. Still, while as a feat of industrial design the RIG is something of an own goal, Isaac is an engineer. A couple of well-placed bathroom mirrors and a few bolts, and he can start soiling himself just as much as we do when that comforting cyan spinal column starts changing colour faster than an LED mood light.
The Morph Ball
Samuss Power Suit is a thing of wonder. Arm cannon, Grapple Beam, missiles this thing has the works. It also has the curious ability to do, er, something to its user that prevents them needing a swift trip to A&E and a wheelchair for life when it wraps up them up into a ball. Another cheeky nod from the developers here: in Metroid Prime, theres a lore entry about the Space Pirates attempting to reverse-engineer the Morph Ball. Lets just say it didnt end well for the mangled test subjects.
Still, the real question is not how it doesnt kill Samus, but why its part of her arsenal at all. What use does an incredibly weaponised suit of powered armour have for the ability to roll through tunnels, when you have enough firepower on your wrist to clear out a planet? You seriously couldn't make the hole a little wider with a little click-click, boom-boom? Or, you know, crawl, with a far lower profile than a thigh-high ball could possibly offer. Real-life spleunkers manage to wriggle through tiny gaps with air tanks on their backs, so the obviously limber Samus shouldnt have too much trouble getting through, even with those shoulder pads. Yes, the Morph Ball can jump (how can it jump?), and drop bombs, and is very cool, but with everything else the Power Suit can do, it's just over-engineering on a grand well, one-thirds scale.
From: BioShock Infinite
Ah, the friendly skies. So peaceful. So serene. So pant-wettingly terrifying when youre 30,000 ft above the ground, suspended only by a thinnish rail and an open, sharp-enough-to-cut-a-face-apart blender attached to a wooden brace. Even assuming that everyone in the world of Columbia has downed a vigor capable of giving them the grip strength of a silverback gorilla (I imagine the bottle would be an Art Deco clenched fist with ice on the knuckles), its a terribly unsafe way to travel. What if you sneeze, or theres standstill traffic on the rail? Theres no way to switch arms when one grows tired. And while the Hook itself may be magnetised to ensure a good lock, sweaty hands seem like an awfully obvious point of failure.
Fictionally, of course, the first rail riders are daredevils, not proles. But when you start giving these things out at public fairs, youve got to question exactly who is going to want to go shopping, say, with a Sky-Hook taking up an entire arm? Its not like you could carry anything home without drastically increasing your chances of becoming a human pancake in the very near future.
The Spencer Mansions armour trap
From: Resident Evil
Look, I love the Resident Evil REmake, but the Spencer Mansions security system is properly bonkers. And of all the mad ways to protect Umbrellas questionable research, none is quite as insane as the fun little set-up George Trevor creates for the armour Key. You see, the thing about the armour trap is that its a two-parter. Part one is far-fetched enough, involving summoning an undead dog with a whistle, then removing its collar. Assuming all the Umbrella employees handle this like Jill or Chris, the company would be getting through a whole lot of hounds a year just to enter some old rooms.
Still, in a roundabout way, this eventually gives you a fragile imitation of the required key, which if the intern doesnt accidentally try it in a lock and break it forever, leaving ol' Spencer in quite a bind can then be used to deactivate the second part of the trap. Part two means removing the real key from a pedestal, activating a whirligig bladed suit of armour on rails, and then plopping the fake in place to reset the deadly knight before it turns the workie kid you sent to do this into salami. The flaw in this master plan, bar the easily ruined imitation? Any patient thief could take the imitation to their local key cutters and bypass the possibility of inglorious dicing. Maybe stick to key cards next time?
A mother of an invention
Time to remove my fingers from the light socket of the universe and go and find a good comb. But Im certain that cant be all the video game gizmos that unravel faster than a Bubsy game. Call out the ones youve noticed in the comments below. Between us, Im sure we can turn up more madcap gadgets than even Q could store in a lab.
And while you're musing upon that, why not check out some of our related, bad-science features for inspiration? May I recommend The most ludicrously impractical RPG weapons (opens in new tab), and then perhaps a metalworker's opinion on gaming's 19 most impractical swords (opens in new tab)?