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Shooting the Swarm

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Gonna need way more dakka to survive this...
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You are faced with a rather horrifying foe: not one big enemy, but rather a large swarm of enemies. What do you do? Do you run away? Do you pick up a weapon that can torch all the bastards at once?

Your choice, the wrong one at that: For some reason you decide to pick up a gun and start blasting at the swarm hoping to kill some members, but there's little to no success in doing so. Worse case scenario? You're dead. But if you have a weapon capable of dealing Splash Damage, then you may have a fighting chance.

People when in a situation like this will choose to try and do this for whatever reason, whether it's from an irrational fight or flight response or something else entirely, its just one example of a poor choice at its finest.

However, there is a chance that The Swarm has a type of Synchronization where if one member dies, usually a matriarch, the rest of the swarm will die

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Putting it in trope terms, this is the Zerg Rush overcoming More Dakka.

Borders on Too Dumb to Live and may result from Did Not Think This Through. Subtrope of Quantity vs. Quality. Compare Shooting Superman.


Played Straight Examples:

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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ant-Man: When Ant-Man and his swarm of flying ants attack Dr. Darren Cross and his henchmen, who are about to escape in a helicopter, Cross grabs a gun and fires at the approaching swarm. He only manages to hit a few ants, including Anthony, the ant that Ant-Man was riding.
  • In Holmes & Watson, the Trigger Happy Dr. Watson attempts to shoot a swarm of killer bees with his revolver; to no effect, obviously.
  • The Matrix Revolutions: During the battle of Zion, the human defenders in A.P.U. mechas led by Captain Mifune all concentrate fire on the hole the Machines just opened in the city's celling with the giant drill. While the first swarms of Sentinels get utterly shredded, more and more of them manage to get through the fire barrage and the mechas have to reload, leading to the forces of Zion being rapidly overwhelmed. Mifune keeps shooting (and shouting) at the swarms through and through no matter how hopeless the situation gets, until they eventually lacerate him to death.
  • The Mummy Trilogy:
    • When a horde of flesh-eating scarab beetles are chasing the heroes in The Mummy, O'Connell first resorts to hurling his torch at them, then emptying a shotgun at the mass of insects. Each blast sends a fountain of dead bugs flying, but doesn't even slow the swarm down. Just legging it is a far more practical solution.
    • Subverted in The Mummy Returns. When Imhotep's followers, led by Anck-su-namun and Hafez, uncover the titular character and encounter the flesh-eating scarab horde, several of the guards use flamethrowers to burn them back, and to far greater effect.
  • Piranha 3DD: The sheriffs do this to the swarm of piranha to no effect.
  • Resident Evil: Extinction: The travelling survivors try this on the murder of crows that attack them. It doesn't work so they pull out a flamethrower and even that's ineffective until Alice controls the flame with her telekinesis to kill them all.
  • In Starship Troopers, the Roughnecks are firing at a massive Zerg Rush of Space Bugs. When Lt. Racszak sees just how many bugs there are, he gives a stoic Oh, Crap! look and calls for an evacuation. Few make it out, including Racszak.
  • In Star Trek Beyond, the Enterprise comes under attack by a swarm of small ships led by Krall, which Captain Kirk attempts and fails miserably to destroy with phasers and photon torpedoes. There are too many targets for Enterprise's Frickin' Laser Beams, and the swarm simply evades the torpedoes (because Hollywood thinks missiles need a direct hit to detonate). Starbase Yorktown attempts the same tactics when Krall attacks the station in the third act, to equally little success. Ultimately, Enterprise and Yorktown are able to destroy the swarm by jamming the drones' communications by spamming the radio frequency with the Beastie Boys, causing the drones to crash into each other and explode.

    Literature 
  • The Dark Elf Trilogy has Alton and Masoj get a swarm of poisonous spiders unleashed upon them when meddling in some forbidden magic. Masoj tries to shoot one off Alton's shoulder with his crossbow. Alton, in desperation, uses a fireball instead.
  • The Warhammer 40,000: Dark Imperium novel The Devastation of Baal is essentially this trope spread out over a whole book: the Blood Angels, their successor chapters, the Imperial Navy, and a few million Imperial Guardsmen Shoot the Swarm for days and weeks and months... and the Tyranids barely slow down. It's only when the Indomitus Crusade shows up with superior firepower and fresh troops that the tide turns.
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    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Swarm fighting rules go all the way back to Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition, which states that swarms of small creatures are immune to physical attacks except some specific exceptions. Splash Damage and area-effect spells are much more efficient.
  • An explicit game mechanic in Star Finder, only weapons which deal splash damage can injure swarm-type enemies.
  • Traveller Classic, Double Adventure 4 Marooned. When in a jungle hex, the Player Characters can encounter a swarm of hungry insects much like army ants, each weighing .1 gram. If the Player Characters are foolish enough to try to kill them with their rifles, they will be eaten alive.
  • A larger scale example of this trope appears whenever the Tyranids of Warhammer 40,000 show up. Their "swarms" can be the size of nebulae in orbit and small countries on the ground, and shooting them is often the only tactic the Imperium has available to them. Problem is, most times the 'Nids will have more bodies than the Imperials will have bullets.
  • Can show up in Warhammer, when confronted by Swarm Units, such as Jungle Swarm or Tomb Swarm. You can try to fire your bows or muskets into the mass of it, but using magic or fire or simply hurling an expendable unit into its path is far more effective.

    Video Games 
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Link will occasionally be attacked by a swarm of Keese. Each of them goes down in one hit, but it takes multiple kills (or hitting one of them with the stasis rune) to get them to cut their losses and leave.
  • Mass Effect:
    • In Mass Effect 2, The Collectors use a swarm of genetically-modified insects called a Seeker Swarm to detect, attack, debuff and paralyze their targets. Particularly living specimens from populations they wish to take alive. As a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation, these swarms are shown to be nigh-impossible to fight back against with firearms or melee weapons—which is why they can so easily render entire colonies defenseless in short order. It's a major plot point that Commander Shepard and their crew have to use upgraded personal shields and barriers to keep the swarms at bay (and even then, there's a segment in the finale where the Collectors use massive quantities of the swarm and it takes an uber-powerful telekinetic to keep them all at bay, instantly killing the player or a member of the crew if it fails). Played straight when Ashley Williams or Kaidan Alenko try to shoot an oncoming Collector swarm on Horizon during a cutscene, even though the latter had a much better option in his biotics.
    • In the Multiplayer portion of Mass Effect 3, the Collectors utilize the swarms again and a cluster of them can be shot by the player and destroyed. If not, the swarm will overwhelm the player and disable their shields/barriers and all cooldown abilities for a short time.
  • In Metroid: Other M, Samus and the investigating Galactic Federation soldiers encounter a huge monster made out of individual bugs and start shooting at it with guns. It doesn't work until they start using freeze guns and Samus' missiles to destroy them and the bug's leader/eye.
  • Pokémon: Horde battles, where one Pokemon from your team fights five low-level enemy Pokemon at once, are a downplayed example. The majority of Pokemon attacks only target one enemy at a time, and while the level difference between a horde's members and your Pokemon will likely be enough to one-shot any enemy with even a moderately powerful attack, this strategy will still require at least five full turns to end the battle — and, as each horde member attacks if able between each of the player's turns, this allows the individually weak horde members to whittle down your Pokemon's health as it takes them out one by one. Handling horde battles with some modicum of efficiency often requires moves that will affect every member of the horde at once, like Surf, Earthquake and Blizzard.
  • Heather references this trope in Silent Hill 3, if you're playing on Normal or higher riddle difficulty, when she encounters a swarm of insects blocking a hallway. Indeed, attempting to deal with them in a brute-force manner, even with the Unlimited Submachine Gun, will not work. You have to find a different way to deal with the insects.
    "There's got to be a way. I can't very well stab them one by one..."
  • In Time Crisis, the game introduces a new kind of enemy: Terror Bites, a swarm of killer creepy-crawlies of various kinds. While the crawling scarab-like swarm can be shot easily with the SMG, the swarm of flying insects need to be shot with the shotgun or you'll have a hard time shooting them.
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has drone swarms that you can try to shoot down, but you are encouraged to use an EMP pulse to disable them instead. The first mission features a friendly Humongous Mecha tank trying to fend off one such swarm with machine guns. If you don't take down the drones quickly enough, the tank is destroyed.

     Western Animation 
  • In Spiderman And His Amazing Friends, when the cartoon's version of Swarm (a sentient swarm of bees mutated by a meteorite) appears, a farmer tries to chase him off by throwing a pitchfork at him, which naturally just passes straight through.
  • Exaggerated in The Simpsons episode "Marge in Chains", where Chief Wiggum fires his gun at a cloud of air that's spreading disease.
  • The pilot of Clarence has a police officer trying to fend off a swarm of bees with his handgun.

Averted Examples:

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is usually automatically averted in trading card games where the character is a literal swarm, an example being Swarm of Locusts from Yu-Gi-Oh!, which can be destroyed just like any other monster in the game.
  • When Swarm type enemies were nerfed in 5th Edition D&D, they were changed so they simply take half damage from physical attacks and full damage from elemental effects regardless of whether or not the elemental effect targets a single creature or an area. So shooting a swarm with Magic Missile or Ray of Frost is now a perfectly valid option.

    Video Games 
  • Commando 2: You face enemy bug swarms in the fourth level that you can kill with firearms, and for some reason carry ammunition, food and treasure despite being too small to carry any of it, let alone hide it from view.
  • Averted with the Scrin Buzzers from Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. They are a swarm of buzzing blades that can rip apart any infantry but they still function as a single unit and die to just about any guns.
  • Diablo II: This actually works against Swarm monsters like Black Swarm and its stronger variants like Hell Swarm if you shoot them with arrows or throwing weapons. Also the same thing about them being too small to carry objects or hide them as said for Commando.
  • Similarly, in Fallout 4's Nuka World DLC, you have flying ant swarms as a single enemy.

    Real Life 
  • Passenger pigeons, before their extinction, where known to fly in flocks so vast and thick that one passing overhead could obscure the sun for the better part of a day. As such, people hunting them would simply aim their guns into the flock and shoot. with the pigeons flying as thick as they were, each shot was usually enough to send up to a half a dozen at once falling out of the sky.
  • Punt guns were large shotguns bolted to a small boat called a "punt". Hunters who row out to a flock of ducks or other waterfowl, startle them and then fire the gun at the whole flock.

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