These days, guns and action games go together like spoons and Nutella. And yet when it comes right down to it, there is a video game weapon that outclasses the gun in most every respect: The bow and arrow.
I don't think I'd go so far as to argue that the last generation of gaming was defined by the bow and arrow, but I'll certainly offer that it was my favorite way to take down digital bad guys. There's just something cool about the instrument itself. The bow wears its mechanics on its sleeve, a simple tool writ large. It is an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.
(Okay, really it's a more primitive weapon for a more primitive age, but whatever. Also! Interesting reading: This thread from reader senselocke about proper bow technique, and how rarely people use bows correctly in games and movies.)
In honor of Last-Gen Heroes, I'm bumping up an article I wrote back in March in which I ranked the bows from five major recent games. Since we're going generation-wide, this would be a good place to say that both the Torque Bow from Gears of War and the bow from Wii Sports Resort deserve praise, though they were a little too old for the purview of the original article.
Since March, we've also gotten at least one new video game bow and arrow: The excellent, trusty bow from The Last of Us. So, an addendum to the existing list:
How it works: Hold down L1 and your character will raise the bow and prepare to fire. Press R1 to release an arrow.
How you cancel a shot: Release L1.
How you aim: The game draws an arcing line for you, which traces the trajectory of your arrow. It feels awkward at first, but eventually starts to make sense—arrows don't really go in a line, they move in an arc, restrained by gravity. It gives the game's arrows a lift distinct from other games.
One hit? One kill, though clickers require a headshot, and bloaters… well, you probably don't want to take on a bloater with a bow and arrow.
Better than a gun? It really is, in the right circumstance. Many of the game's enemies, particularly human hunters, can be picked off one by one with the bow and arrow. It's not great once the action heats up, but if you're getting your creep on, the bow is easily the most lethal weapon in the game.
Greatest Moment: [SPOILERS] Winter, in its entirety. First, Ellie stalks a deer in the woods in a rare moment of peace. It's a sharp, deliberate juxtaposition to the chaos that preceded it, and a lovely bit of player manipulation. We don't even know if Joel is alive! And now we have to patiently hunt a deer? Argh! Later on, however, Ellie is chased by a group of David's hunters into a cabin resort on a frozen lake. The subsequent game of cat and mouse, with Ellie taking down a dozen heavily armed men with her bow, was easily one of the high points of the entire game for me. [END SPOILERS]
Fakest thing you can do: TLOU's bow generally felt pretty realistic; the only thing that felt fake was how consistent it was at killing enemies. Sure, a guy had just taken an arrow to the arm. But he didn't even cry out? But okay, yeah, okay. Video games.
John Rambo says: "Don't push it. Don't push it or I'll give you a war you won't believe."
Overall Opinion: I didn't initially love the bow and arrow in The Last of Us, but it grew on me. At first, I thought it was inferior to bows like the ones in Far Cry 3 and Tomb Raider. But the more I used it, the more I came to appreciate the way it's designed. Aiming is simple, and the arc of the arrow feels organic and makes successful shots feel somehow more satisfying than other bows. And on the harder difficulty settings, it becomes indispensable—I was constantly checking Joel's backpack, aware of precisely how many arrows I had left. That number informed how prepared I felt to take on a given situation. In the final ranking, I'd put it right alongside Far Cry 3, though Lara Croft's iconic Tomb Raider bow slightly outdoes it in terms of utility.