It’s expensive. Too heavy. And almost entirely
impractical. The Desert Eagle isn’t a very good handgun
– but nonetheless it is remarkably popular: it features in hundreds of movies, television
shows and video games. So how did such an unwieldy weapon become
so iconic? Why is the Deagle a trademark of many first person shooters? And is bigger
always better? The Desert Eagle was designed as a semi-automatic
rival to large-frame, high calibre revolvers: a gas-operated pistol able to feed from interchangeable
magazines and with superior capacity to a typical 6-round cylinder. Design started in 1979 at American co Magnum
Research, Inc. – with the first finished pistols produced in 1982 by Israeli weapons manufacturer
IMI. The latest iteration – the Mark XIX – emerged
in 1995, and like some kind of fashion accessory, even comes with a number of choices as far
as finish is concerned. Amongst them, the most demure is plain Black:
others include three chromed options of various lustres; nickel either satin or bright; and
gold both 24 karat and in a more durable Titanium variant; and if either gold finish isn’t suitably
ostentatious – then there’s always the tiger stripes. There are also more practical options, such
as the choice of either a 6-inch or 10-inch barrel: and your calibre preference, either
.357 Magnum, .44 Magnum or .50 Action Express. The latter cartridge was designed specifically
for high-calibre semi-automatic pistols, and indeed the Desert Eagle was the first handgun
chambered for it: a performance jump from the already mighty .44 Magnum round, and right
on the cusp of calibres deemed legal. The .50 cal chambering set the pistol above
most other magnum options, which in turn has led to it finding popularity in action films
since the 1980s – supplanting Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum as the most powerful handgun in
the world. For almost as long as video games have existed,
they have been influenced by cinema. While the firearms in early games were often
made generic through lack of resolution, as the number of polygons possible to push on-screen
grew, weapons were able to be rendered in ever greater detail – giving rise to games
with realistically rendered arsenals. However, due to concerns over the use of trademarks,
the real-steel Desert Eagle’s name hasn’t always matched its in-game appellation. Sometimes it’s known by generic terms that
allude to its higher calibre – the ‘magnum pistol’, ‘heavy handgun’ or ‘.50 AE’ offering
a clue as to the handgun’s power. Sometimes the name is a mite more imaginative:
and while the ‘Silver Talon’ in Soldier of Fortune, ‘Desert Ranger’ in Tomb Raider, or
Counter-Strike’s Night Hawk .50 cal’ might not be instantly recognisable by name, the
imposing sillhouette of the Deagle is unmistakeable. Counter-Strike in 1999 was one of the earliest
realistic depictions of the gun: the game was originally a mod for Half-Life, and eventually
graduated to a full retail release. The weapon’s digital rendition mirrors the
real steel’s power: while magazine capacity was limited, its high damage and one-shot
headshot potential more than made up for any shortcoming. The game graciously overlooks the weapon’s
impracticality for combat use, with the firearm eventually becoming a fast favourite for use
in tandem with a primary weapon. The powerful pistol returned in Counter-Strike:
Source, and once again more recently in Global Offensive – each time filling a similar high-powered
backup role. Stylish, powerful and capable of skillfull
headshot kills – the Counter-Strike depiction is a definitive one: with the game enjoying
huge popularity over its lifespan, particularly in a world before Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. In the opening scenes of COD4 the Desert Eagle
is very prominent: as a deposed president, you’re bundled into a car, given a none-too
gentle buttstroke, frogmarched to a pillory – and then, after some posturing – shot in
the head by the golden high-calibre pistol. It’s fatal punctuation for a coup d’etat:
a show of force in public execution – and that’s what the Desert Eagle is all about:
exhibition. A vulgar display of power. It’s a compelling moment, and the Desert Eagle
is the totem of such potential: setting the story in motion in an explosive fashion. It’s not until the very end of the campaign
that the pistol makes a return: this time as a grim portent of doom, executing a squadmate
and moving towards your position with similar intent – only diverted by a timely distraction
and some quick-thinking by Price. The later instalments weren’t afraid to see
the Desert Eagle’s reprise in its pivotal role: Modern Warfare 2 sees the pistol crop
up in a few instances, notably in the hands of Brazilian arms dealer Rojas’ assistant
in the first of the favela missions. Modern Warfare 3 sees even more liberal use
of the high-calibre option: protagonist Yuri uses it as his default sidearm – and you find
yourself staring down its barrel in one pivotal scene with Price. The iconic weapon reappears at the climax
of MW3’s campaign, too – with Makarov mirroring the down-the-barrel viewpoint with Price,
and then subsequently executing poor Yuri after his heroic intervention. It seems like every do-or-die moment in the
Modern Warfare series simply must include the weapon – but I suppose if you’re going
to threaten the player with a gun to the face, there are few weapons with as imposing a profile
as a .50 calibre Desert Eagle. Between its depiction in cinema and video
games, the Desert Eagle has established quite a reputation: and when it comes to imposing
presence and high-calibre action, there are few hand-held weapons that can compare. Its one-upmanship in power and capacity over
magnum revolvers – and a commanding on-screen presence – have cemented its place in popular
culture. Its cinematic influence bled into video games,
where its virtual representation reflects the real steel weapon – and the lust for power
of those who wield it. Unrestrained exhibition. Terrifying potency. And who cares about practicality when you’ve
got a golden gun that shoots giant bullets? Thank you very much for watching, and until
next time – farewell.