In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Wes explains why the lightning rifle is his favorite weapon in Nuclear Throne.
Nuclear Throne turns me into a nervous wreck. When I’m playing Vlambeer’s manic bullet-hell-meets-roguelike, I have only two modes of being: confident, almost bored authority, and sheer nervous terror. When my nerves hit, there’s only one thing that makes me feel like I’ve got half a chance in hell of surviving: the lighting rifle.
It took me hours of playtime to even see a lightning rifle, because it’s one of Nuclear Throne’s more powerful, later-stage weapons. I’m getting better at the game. My first couple hours, I barely made it out of the desert, the game’s first few stages, where most enemies stand around in a dazed stupor and stare at you dumbly for five seconds before firing off a couple shots. I wasn’t very good. Two or three bullets are enough to kill you in Nuclear Throne, so I was constantly on edge. Nervous. Clumsy. I died fast, and I died often.
Now that I have about 10 hours logged (I had a couple weekends of doing a run, dying, angrily quitting the game, and then relaunching it five minutes later), the desert doesn’t scare me anymore. I'm like a tiny mutant Fremen born for the sand. I breeze through it, confident that I can take anything it throws at me. The desert is just a place to collect as much radiation as possible (the XP pickup that allow Nuclear Throne’s characters to mutate and gain new powers). I breeze through the desert, tenaciously crawl my way through the sewers and scrapyard, and arrive in the crystal cave. And then Nuclear Throne starts to scare the shit out of me.
The crystal cave is full of fast-crawling spider enemies that will walk all over you and take off a chunk of health on contact. The real threat, though, are the laser crystals, which can blast you with a killer hit from really far away. A couple times they’ve killed me without even being on screen. They make me panic. And the robotic enemies in the next area, the frozen city, are even worse.
They're wolves! Made out of metal! Jesus. They fly across the screen at terrifying speeds. Usually right into my face. I don’t last very long.
Unless I have a lighting rifle. The lightning rifle is, by far, my favorite weapon in Nuclear Throne. It does heavy damage—enough to kill most tough enemies in a couple shots—and it arcs lightning in a long trail that can hit multiple enemies at once. Explosive weapons like the grenade and rocket launcher may do more damage, but they only make me more nervous: I’m constantly afraid of blowing myself up with them. Shotguns can bounce shells around corners and hit a wider spread of enemies, but they often use more ammo per shot and don't have the same range.
Nuclear Throne's lightning rifle is the rare weapon in gaming that balances precision with fast-paced sloppiness. I have to aim carefully to squarely land my shots on fast-moving enemies, but the arc also offers an opportunity to catch a couple enemies at once, or snare an enemy in my oscillating beam that I didn't quite aim at perfectly. With Nuclear Throne's automatic weapons, I'm just firing haphazardly in all directions as quickly as I can. The lightning rifle makes me slow down and aim, but without the hit-or-die accuracy necessitated by other weapons like the crossbow.
If I don’t get the lighting rifle in the crystal cave or the next area, the frozen city, I usually die quickly. Even the other lightning weapons don’t do it for me in quite the same way. The lightning shotgun makes me more nervous, because I have to get too close to enemies for my liking. With the rifle, I’m still terrified of Nuclear Throne’s later enemies, but I know that I can stay far away from them, nervously pop around a corner, let fly a trail of arcing blue electricity—ZAP—and then run away.
I always feel a cool wave of relief wash over me as soon as I pick up the weapon. It’s so damage efficient, I’m not even worried about running out of ammo. And man, it just feels so good to blast two killer robots to scrap with a single shot. ZAP.
In a game where death comes as easily as it does in Nuclear Throne, I love having a weapon like the lightning rifle to serve as a life raft. I don’t know if it’s overpowered, or if it just perfectly suits my playstyle, but it gives me a fighting chance at making it to the Throne without psyching myself into a stupid death. It's not the flashiest or most powerful weapon in Nuclear Throne, but in a game full of crazy guns, it's the one that feels utterly reliable.
There is one thing about the lightning rifle that makes me nervous, though: I like it so much, I’m afraid Vlambeer’s going to nerf it.