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What's better: throwing knives or active reload?

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Last time, you decided that mixed dual-wielding is better than VR support. Good. Very good. It's always nice when objective science produces the correct result. Well done you. This year, I ask you to decide between a cool (and sometimes practical) form of violence and a fun risk/reward element. What's better: throwing knives or active reload?

Throwing knives

Within the established conventions of video game make-believe violence, you broadly understand how different weapons work. A big revolver or axe is slow but deadly, a shotgun punches people out windows at short range but can't even penetrate a t-shirt past four metres, and so on. Throwing knives are a bit different.

In some games, throwing knives work the same as in mimed playground wars: they'll plunge deep into your forehead and kill you so instantly and absolutely that no one even hears your body fall. I adore these throwing knives. They are invaluable stealth tools and they can be impractical ways to stunt on people with improbable murder. I only wish these video game versions followed playground rules and made the thwoi-oi-oing noise of a diving board as they wedge in your skull. Call Of Duty games have been especially good at offering such knives, and I do always enjoy seeing clips of people hurling knives near-vertical to thwump someone clear across the map. Great knives. A joy to master the throwing arc of such great knives.

Other games offer throwing knives which work about as well as if I myself actually tried to throw a knife: whether it hits or not (it probably won't), it's unlikely to do much more than make someone shout "What the hell are you doing!" and come over to scold me. These blunt, irritating objects are still fun. Pulling enemies from their patrol routes and position is a handy tool. These do knives still have the style of throwing knives, the weapon of the coolest action movie heroes and villains. And stunting on an enemy by pelting them with such rubbish knives is even more outrageous. Oh, and I like when rubbish throwing knives have the faintest trickle of poison, very slowly killing the poor fool who's come to shout "What the hell are you doing!" while I try to stay out of reach until its vile work is done.

I only wish more games let me retrieve my thrown knives from my victims' corpses (or, more likely, from the ground behind them). Thank you to the few which do. The rest of you, buck your ideas up.

A Nazi reels back with a throwing knife in their forehead in a Wolfenstein: The Old Blood screenshot.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood demonstrates the classic forehead knife

Active reload

Sometimes, a small part of a game will spread like wildfire throughout the medium after inspiring other developers, to the point that it's largely forgotten who did it first. And sometimes, though this idea might be something many games could borrow, in people's minds its so wholly linked to one game or series that it's a bit weird to see it elsewhere. I like the 'active reload' system in the Gears Of War games, and I'd like to see more of it.

For folks unfamiliar with big dads crouch-running between waist-high concrete blocks, I'll explain. Gears Of War guns have an optional teeny timing minigame in the reload process, offering handy bonuses if you nail it but a penalty for failure. A meter by the weapon's icon tracks reload progress, with a marker passing through two small zone as it moves across the bar. Hit reload again while the meter is the bigger of the zones and it'll complete the reload quicker. If you hit that second reload during the smaller zone, you'll both finish the reload early and get a small buff, such as extra damage or faster firerate. But if you fumble an attempted active reload, missing both zones, it'll reload slower than if you did nothing.

My favourite video game weapons have rhythms, rather than just spitting a steady stream of murder. The boom-boom-click-shloomp-clunk of firing and reloading a double-barreled shotgun. The click-krrrk-plunk of nocking an arrow and firing a bow. The long pauses of a giant revolver. The vulnerable wind-up of a big hammer. Weapons with timings my fingers grow to remember, a physicality felt in my own body. Active reload adds that even to a plain old automatic rifle (well, a plain old auto rifle with a chainsaw attached). I dig it. The risk/reward of bungling it is a nice calculated gamble too: do I have the muscle memory or attention to pull this off right now in this hectic battle?

Some non-Gears games have joined in. Star Wars Battlefront 2 uses active reload for its overheating guns, offering the opportunity for a fairly easy faster venting or nailing a later, trickier timing that'll let you temporarily fire without any heat buildup. Dungeon-crawling shooter Enter The Gungeon has an item (Cog of Battle, wink wink) which adds active reload to your weapons, boosting damage and accuracy while cutting reload time if you nail it. And yeah, a couple other shooters too. Not enough for me. More, please.

Watch on YouTube

But which is better?

This is a tricky one! I adore that thwoi-oi-oinging knife in the forehead, and I adore throwing knives as stealth options. But throwing knives can disappoint and be boring and rubbish. Active reload, maybe, I think I always like? But do I like that more than I like the high points of the best throwing knives? I can't decide. You need to settle this, reader dear.

Pick your winner, vote in the poll below, and make your case in the comments to convince others. We'll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.

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About the Author
Alice O'Connor avatar

Alice O'Connor

Former Associate Editor

After ten years at RPS, Alice returned to the sea.
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