To celebrate this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (or CES 2011 if you’re into the whole brevity thing), we decided to compile a list of some of our favorite in-game gadgets. Conventional weaponry can be great for annihilating swarms of enemies, but it’s those more intimate and intricately designed tools and devices that bring a special type of joy to a game and keep us coming back for more. This is by no means a definitive list, so feel free to share your picks in the comments section below. For now though, here are nine of our favorite gaming gadgets.
Half-Life 2 - Gravity Gun
Gordon Freeman, the bespectacled protagonist of Valve’s critically acclaimed Half-Life series, is perfectly capable of dispensing with those pesky Combine punks with a crowbar and his MIT degree placard, but even a stud like him can’t resist the awesome charms of the zero-point energy field manipulator, aka the Gravity Gun. The first moment that orange glowing, claw-headed wonder’s motorcycle-ish handle fell into our hands, our gaming lives changed forever. Dismembering headcrab-topped zombies with saw blades or, eventually, tossing Combine soldiers around the Citadel like marionettes might have made Sir Isaac Newton roll over in his grave, but I imagine he’d be smiling as he did it.
Just Cause 2 - Grapple Hook/Parachute
Forget “gaming gadgets.” The grapple hook/parachute combination in Just Cause 2 stands as one of the greatest engineering concepts ever conceived. Traversing the majority of the game’s expansive open-world simply by propelling yourself along with these two devices is something every gamer should experience. I mean, you can pull yourself from a tropical beach to a snowcapped mountain range without ever touching a vehicle. Attention scientists and environmentalists: the green technology of the future has arrived! GO! GO! GO!
Fallout – Pip-Boy
Several versions of this handy, dandy device have appeared across various Fallout titles, but chances are, the first iteration that comes to mind for most gamers these days is Fallout 3’s Pip-Boy 3000. This wrist-based computer might not be able to run apps or let you watch YouTube videos, but the built-in Geiger counter, inventory/quest manager, GPS, and injury assessment/Stimpak administering function more than make up for it. Plus, it glows it in the dark! It’s a shame civilization as we know it had to be wiped out to bring about its creation, but that seems like an acceptable loss for something this rad. Am I right?
Assassin’s Creed - Hidden Blade
No weapon has better symbolized its carrier like the hidden blade in Assassin’s Creed. Whether you’re swiftly and silently disposing of foes by sneaking up on them from behind, or pouncing on them from a rooftop and puncturing their jugular as they crush to the ground beneath you, the hidden blade ensures each kill is gracious, merciful, and wickedly satisfying. Anyone who played the original Assassin's Creed has to remember the first time they put Altair's blade through the back of some poor guard then calmly strolled away as the guard's stumbled for a second then collapsed. The blade appears in all AC titles, but it became twice as fun when Leonardo Da Vinci added a second one in Assassin's Creed II. And as you’d expect, double hidden blades = double the fun.
Disney Epic Mickey – Paintbrush
Aiming might have been more of an issue than we would have liked, but the ability to paint and/or thin environments, enemies, and objects in Disney Epic Mickey is a joyous and wonderfully design mechanic. Turn enemies into friends (or “thinning” them), color in gears to solve platforming puzzles, erase sections of walls to expose hidden rooms and items; there’s virtually no limit to the versatility of Mickey’s magic brush. It would have been appreciated if he could have painted in slightly less wonky camera controls, but the mouse has personality, and personality goes a long way.
Portal – Portal Gun
Even if it did borrow the anti-gravity aspect of Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun, the temporal manipulation capabilities of the “gun” in Portal give this gadget an identity entirely its own. The concept seems simple enough: shoot a blue portal on one wall, fire an orange portal on another wall, and enjoy your own personally localized wormhole. But as anyone who has played the game knows (and considering what Valve has in store for Portal 2), this simple mechanic takes on whole new dimensions. Portal turned our concepts of orientation and propulsion inside out, and we couldn’t be more grateful. The cake might be a lie, but the brilliance of the Portal gun is anything but.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – Energy Board (aka Cloud)
Ever since we first set eyes on Marty McFly clumsily riding his Mattel hoverboard around the town square in Back to the Future: Part II, we’ve been dreaming of a world in which gravity-defying skateboards are as commonplace as … well, regular skateboards. So it’s no surprise that when we witnessed Monkey, the brawny half of the star duo of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, summon not only a hoverboard, but a hoverboard made of nothing but energy, we nearly collided with a manure truck. With a simple motion towards the ground (aided by some super advanced technology that I’m just going to assume is Satan-based), Monkey can generate a pulsing blue energy board capable of carrying him across any terrain, including water (ala Biff’s Pit Bull board), and when he jumps, the board sticks right with him, allowing him to clear large gaps with ease. Free will is a small price to pay for the chance to own one of these suckers. Strap on the slave headband, and give me my energy board!
Splinter Cell – Sticky Cam
Secret agent Sam Fisher takes a lot of cues from James Bond, especially in the gadgets department, and while Fisher has enjoyed a plethora of valuable and awesome items over the years, the most invaluable of them all has to be the stickycam. Similar to the hidden blades in Assassin’s Creed, this projectile camera represents everything the Splinter Cell franchise is about: stealth, surveillance, and deception. Like AC's hidden blades, the sticky cam has become a staple of the Splinter Cell series, and has received several modifications between its first appearance in the original Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and its latest iteration in Splinter Cell: Conviction. Not only can the stickycam let you scope out far away locations for enemies and security systems, but it can also be used to lure nearby enemies via a noise function. You can then either use that distraction to sneak past the distracted guards or, if you’d rather not take a chance, either gas the enemies or blow them up. The last choice isn’t very stealthy, but it sure is fun. And really, isn’t that the most important thing?
Bulletstorm – Energy Leash
It will be a little over a month before we’ll have a definitive judgment on People Can Fly’s upcoming kill-celebrating Bulletstorm, but while there are many aspects of the over-the-top action that have us excited, one mechanic has us particularly thrilled to pop this title in our disc trays: the energy leash. With a flick of the wrist, this badass beam lets you grab objects and enemies from afar and then either yank them forward, giving you the opportunity to unleash holy hell upon them as they arc helplessly towards you, or slam them into the ground to create a devastating shockwave that will then catapult nearby enemies into the air for some good old-fashioned multi-baddie slaying. Um, yes please.
Those are what we'd keep handy in our action packed Jack Sack, but what about you? What are some of your favorite gaming gadgets?