LMGs have always been a misunderstood and under-appreciated weapon genre in first-person shooters. Whereas mechanically they fill an obvious role in the sniper rifle>assault rifle>machine gun progression tree, in practice they’re often left off the list entirely or locked into specialist roles due to lack of developer support.

Mechanically, LMGs focuses on spewing huge magazines of high-damage bullets very inaccurately. In theory its wielder assumes a suppressive fire role, ensuring that somebody is still firing while all the more-accurate teammates are reloading. Unfortunately its often the case that devs shoulder the LMG with a whole host of downsides; I can only assume because they think that on its own this ability would be overpowered. Some popular ones are a blanket movement speed penalty and an inability to use iron sights. In games with money values (Counter-Strike), weight values (Fallout:New Vegas), weapon rarities (Just Cause 2) or other extraneous balancing factors, the LMG almost always gets heavily penalized in every single category.

Caption: In Left 4 Dead 2 you're not even allowed to refill it! Apparently Valve could only handle LMGs for 150 bullets. Picture from Marik78's Steam guide.
In Left 4 Dead 2 you’re not even allowed to refill it! Apparently Valve could only handle LMGs for 150 bullets. Picture from Marik78’s Steam guide.

I don’t know why devs feel the need to do this. All it does it stop everyone from using the poor things. After all, they’re the polar opposite of the sniper rifle, specializing in spraying a wide cone of bullets that shreds close-range opponents, but you’re relying on pure luck (and sheer quantity of bullets) to hit anything far away. They also have (justifiably) painfully long reloads to compensate for reloading half as often as everyone else. Comparing that to the lethality of a single sniper bullet or the ultra-versatility of the assault rifle, those downsides should be enough.

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Payday:The Heist is an example of a game that does LMGs right. The Brenner 21 separates itself from the assault rifles in its magazine size and reload speed, and guess what? That’s why people use it. The insane aggressive power tapers itself because the wielder is forced to pace himself, understanding that every bullet takes him closer to that dreadfully long reload process. I wish more games would recognize this and leave it at that. Payday 2 certainly didn’t; its LMGs have every downside listed in this article, in addition to being DLC-exclusive so most people couldn’t play with it if they wanted to.

I love the LMG playstyle, and if devs would meet me halfway I’d happily use it in all my favorite games. It’s truly not unbalanced in the scheme of things, especially if the game’s okay with sniper rifles. Just let the poor gun do its thing.

Team Fortress 2: Brotherhood of Arms would have wielded a light machine gun. Considering it was remaking the ultra-mobile Team Fortress Classic, I would have loved to see how Valve treated him.
The heavy in Team Fortress 2: Brotherhood of Arms would have wielded a light machine gun. Considering the game was modeled from the ultra-mobile Team Fortress Classic, I would have loved to see how Valve treated him.

This article is part of my “On Shooters” series, where I compare multiple games by focusing on a specific game mechanic or developer objective. To read the rest, click here!

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