Dual wield

In gaming, to dual wield is to hold a weapon in each hand. Dual wield may be called akimbo. This most commonly refers to matched pairs of handguns (many first person shooters have such weapons as "Berettas akimbo" or "pistols akimbo") but can refer to any other weapon that can be held in one hand such as machine pistols (for example "akimbo MAC-10s") and even melee weapons (e.g. katanas or lightsabers), although this is more common in role-playing games, where it is usually termed dual wielding. The term is largely slang now and has little to no consistency with the original meaning.

Historical development

In real life

Historically, the use of two guns at once, one in each hand, originated in the American Old West, where revolvers holding only six rounds of ammunition were the highest capacity handguns available and reloading was a slow, cartridge-by-cartridge process. Being single action weapons, they needed to be cocked for each shot, so the rate of fire was also low, and while a shooter could fan his gun, this expended all his shots even faster and made him even more inaccurate than normal. Use of two guns was therefore a reasonable compromise, as this allowed one gun to be cocked as the other is being fired, in practical terms doubling the rate of fire and the available number of bullets.

There is some evidence that gunfighters of the Old West did not actually shoot two-handed. They would draw and fire with their strong hand, and when they had emptied the first gun, they drew the second gun with their weak hand and passed it over to their strong hand. In modern firearms terminology this is often called a "New York Reload" after the practice of New York Police Department officers carrying second (and even third) guns as backup.

A possible example of actual use of two guns firing at the same time is "Macedonian Shooting", practiced by Russian special forces. This also evolved as a method of increasing rate of fire, more in order to force the enemy to take cover than to try to accurately hit them, and was generally practiced by NKVD officers issued a pair of revolvers. However, the invention of smaller, cheaper submachineguns around the 1950s rendered the tactic largely obsolete and it fell into relative obscurity.

With modern shooting techniques, there is very little value to two-handed shooting. Using modern high-capacity firearms, a shooter can fire more shots with greater accuracy using a single gun in a two-handed grip than two guns with one-handed grips. At best, the technique is only effective at extremely close ranges of five to ten feet. Among the majority of professional firearms instructors, this practice is dismissed as ineffective to the point of being laughable.

Integration into media

Most famously, Hong Kong action cinema, most notably films directed by John Woo, is known for use of twin pistols to contribute to a more balletic and stylized form of gun combat - referred as gun fu - than contemporary Western films, and it is from this source that modern US action films have integrated akimbo guns as a stylistic institution. The use of this tactic was initially a rarity in Western films, as up till then it was thought to look cumbersome. The use of akimbo became more acceptable and achieved somewhat of a cult status after much influence from Hong Kong action cinema.

Naturally, action films have been a major influence on action gaming. Rise of the Triad and Marathon, both released on December 21, 1994, were the earliest first-person shooters to integrate akimbo pistols. In Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.², this tactic has been developed further, now allowing the player to wield two different weapons at once, firing each one independently.


There is some confusion over the origin of this usage of the word akimbo. Technically, it is inaccurate, since the word literally refers to a stance where a person stands with their elbows bent and their hands on their hips - not a posture well suited to shooting. While this does bear some similarity with the classic posture of cowboys firing their twin revolvers from the hip, in games this posture is almost never reflected, with almost all game characters firing twin guns at shoulder level, straight-armed. Counter-Strike is a notable exception, in that the player models are seen externally to fire akimbo Berettas from the hip, but appear to be firing from shoulder level from the first-person perspective. Also interesting is that there is no consensus on whether the word should precede or follow the name of the object it describes: "akimbo pistols" is generally just as acceptable in usage as "pistols akimbo".

The book Hong Kong Action Cinema (ISBN 0-87951-663-1) by Bey Logan suggests the word originated in Hong Kong action movies and eventually migrated to the gaming lexicon.

Also worthy of consideration is the possibility that the phrase predates both of these and refers instead to Cowboy action shooting techniques.


In practical terms akimbo guns have a number of advantages:

  • an easy and practical upgrade using weapons salvaged from the surroundings;
  • an entirely analogue rate of fire allowing any speed from single shots to virtually submachinegun rates of fire;
  • a doubling of available ammunition before reloading is necessary (see below);
  • the ability to target two enemies at once;
  • the ability to shoot in two directions at once;
  • the ability to use two weapon types at once.

However, akimbo weapons in games also cause a number of unique problems in terms of interface and control, which usually limit their representation of these characteristics when implemented in-game. Unlike any other weapon in games, both hands are independently used at once, but the control setup of most games allows either a single fire key or a fire key plus an alternate fire key, usually operated by the same finger. The earliest implementations of akimbo weapons in games, such as Rise of the Triad and Blood simply fired both weapons sequentially when the fire key was pressed. Before long, it became more common to have each press of the fire key fire each gun alternately, as in F.E.A.R. and Counter-Strike. An expansion for Aliens vs. Predator allowed two pistols to be used both alternately for a higher rate of fire and both at once for more damage.

Some games, such as the early Marathon, Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.², and The Specialists mod, have gone on to implement a system of independent triggers for each gun, in order to allow the player to use them as necessary, firing simultaneously or alternately as they wish. However this can be somewhat counterintuitive for PC gamers, usually playing with the mouse in one hand for aiming and firing and the keyboard in the other hand to control movement. Use of the left and right mouse buttons as left and right triggers is the usual solution, but this is done exclusively by the mouse hand and usually assigns the left mouse button, usually used for primary fire of weapons held in the right hand, to the left gun and the right button to the right gun. This therefore can feel a little odd, and often results in the left gun being prematurely empty. Hence PC games rarely implement a form of akimbo that actually contributes to game play. A notable exception occurs in Hellgate: London, where one can wield two weapons with different properties (for example a focus item with damage per second and a pistol with damage per hit) and fire them whenever they want to.

Modern console games can escape this to a certain extent by using the shoulder buttons as analogous to left and right triggers. While PC games, especially first person shooter games, rely on the mouse for manual aiming of both guns together, console games usually compensate for the difficulty of quickly and precisely aiming with the analogue stick by employing a lock-on or auto-aim function, thus making possible a practical method of targeting and firing at more than one enemy at once, but this remains uncommon. Nocturne, BloodRayne, Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.² and Devil May Cry are among the few to implement it. First-person shooter games have yet to establish a practical method of implementing two-directional aiming.

Lately a western themed PC game Call of Juarez used a good example to two-directional aiming. In Call of Juarez the protagonist triggers a slow-motion mode which cause two different crosshairs to scan horizontally from far sides to the center of the screen. You shoot for each pistol when crosshairs pass on enemies. With this automated aiming it is possible to do an independent global aiming. Combined with global aiming and horizontal aiming it is possible to make a "clean shot" for each enemy on the screen without using the classic auto-aim.

Coding limitations can also harm the implementation of akimbo guns in games. In some games such as Action Half-Life and F.E.A.R. are logical in their implementation: a player picks up a pistol, which functions perfectly well independently, then he or she picks up another one and can use both at once; later, the player can discard them both, having run out of ammunition and must appropriate two more for further akimbo. This approach is usually used by more realistic games. However, some games, for example Counter-Strike or Return to Castle Wolfenstein treat akimbo guns as a single weapon; the player must always carry, use and discard them both at once, and cannot use other weapons akimbo. Other games such as Unreal Tournament have a faux-akimbo system, in that a player always has one of the starting weapons, can pick up another and use both at once, but is then unable to drop either; this is significant in multiplayer, as it becomes harder to acquire akimbo weapons if they are not easily looted from bodies of foes. Games of this sort are usually more arcade-style in play.

Reloading issues

Reloading while holding one gun in each hand is significantly more complex than reloading a single weapon. Earlier games made no attempt to represent reloading at all, rendering it a moot point, and more arcade-style games still do not. GoldenEye 007, for example, did not feature reloading animations for either single or akimbo guns; the weapons were simply lowered off the bottom of the screen, out of sight, a clicking sound effect was heard, and the weapons were raised into view again, refilled, with the implication being that reloading had occurred off screen. Every weapon, from the handguns to the grenade launcher, took exactly the same amount of time to reload. GoldenEye's successor Perfect Dark featured full reloading animations when a single weapon was held, but for akimbo reloading it retained the simplified technique used for all reloads in GoldenEye.

However, more and more games are released with onscreen akimbo reloading animations; nowadays it is de rigueur. For example, in Counter-Strike, one of the first games to show the full process of reloading akimbo guns onscreen, the first-person player model is shown inserting new magazines one at a time in the akimbo Berettas with a flamboyant spinning motion reminiscent of Western gunslingers. In Counter-Strike: Source, however, the animation was revised to simply having both guns ejecting the spent magazines simultaneously, then each gun being reloaded. The akimbo Colt 1911s in The Specialists are reloaded by ejecting the magazines of both guns, then putting one in the same hand as the other and inserting two magazines into the guns at once using the free hand, a technique inspired, like the guns themselves, by the film Face/Off. Other options shown in games are to reload by gripping new magazines between thumb and middle finger while still holding the gun, then pushing them into the opposite gun with the side of the grip, or holding each gun in turn in the armpit, freeing the hand to insert a new magazine. The Needler, a biomechanical gun that can be akimbo-wielded in Halo 2, reloads using a somewhat uncertain procedure, with onscreen animations showing the protagonist shaking the gun and crystalline spines on the weapon lengthening. Another form of reloading, shown in the game Killer7, consists of quickly inserting new magazines using knees and feet, as demonstrated by the character Con Smith. In another reloading method, shown in the movie Legacy of Rage, one character has extra magazines attached to his belt and when he needed to reload he just brought his guns down on the magazines. In the movie Appleseed: Ex Machina, Briareos has magazines attached to his forearms, so he only has to cross his arms to reload.

In the game series Devil May Cry reloading is sometimes an elaborate affair. During one cutscene, Lady (using conventional pistols) performs unorthodox reloads by throwing several magazines into the air and slotting them in as they fall. A cutscene in the 4th Game depicts the main protagonist, Nero, reloading, although this is the only time it is shown and has no problem reloading in gameplay. Dante is a special case as his pistols Ebony and Ivory are specially made and never have to be reloaded. Weapons like the shotgun do have to be reloaded but most other weapons like the rocket launcher (Kalina Ann) only have time delays between shots but are never shown as reloading.

In the first film adaptation of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft used a specialized gunbelt which had magazines extended forward at waist level, allowing her to reload both automatic pistols at once by simply pushing the guns behind her; the device then slid two new magazines into place. Equilibrium has a similar mechanism: the protagonist ejected both magazines then pointed the pistols downwards; the device mounted on his arm immediately pushing new magazines into the weapons. On another occasion, he threw two magazines before the battle which stood upright, enabling him to reload by simply pushing both weapons to ground level.

See also


External links

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