Whatever Happened To The XM8?
The chequered history of game developers’ favourite firearm
Not a game developer on Earth noticed or cared when the US Military cancelled its XM8 program back in 2005. It was a gun designed for the future and the future-obsessed games industry was already set on using it everywhere.
The Heckler and Koch XM8 made its videogame debut in Ghost Recon 2 as the M8, the dropped ‘X’ implying the entire US military had adopted the rifle by the time of the game’s futuristic 2011 North Korean coup. In the real world plans were afoot to replace the M4 carbine with the XM8 as early as the summer of 2005 so when Ghost Recon 2 was released in 2004 the idea of soldiers taking to the battlefield with M8s seemed more likely than the North Korean coup and the hostile North Korean army they spend the game being fired at.
Thirty XM8 prototypes were tested in the autumn of 2003 and a further two hundred were delivered for testing in the autumn of 2004. The initial thirty were put through the ringer during the winter and spring of that year in desert, tropical, and arctic environments where they drained their batteries too quickly, burned fingers on their handguards, and proved heavier than anticipated. In the early days Heckler and Koch had weighed the XM8 at a slim 2.6kg, but by January of 2005 the new handguard and improved battery had fattened the rifle up to 3.4kg.
Plans were in place to buy seven thousand XM8s for a large-scale test in 2005 but the twenty-six million dollar funding was denied by congress. Meanwhile, arms manufacturers were demanding a shot at making their own M4 replacement and in November of 2004 – the same month Ghost Recon 2 shipped – the US Army reopened bidding for their 5.56mm Modular Weapon System Family contract. Eight months later in Jul of 2005, the Army suspended the program to “review the requirements” of the M4 and M16 replacements.
But hey, nobody told anyone working on Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter about the project’s cancellation because GRAW shipped in March 2006 with the XM8 in the hands of the Ghosts and other US soldiers under the ‘M8′ name. It was the gun’s fourth appearance in a Clancy title, after cropping up the hands of some Korean soldiers in 2005′s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory and in the Ghosts’ hands for Ghost Recon expansion Summit Strike. It completed the Clancy triple with an appearance in Rainbow Six Vegas and appeared again in the GRAW and Vegas sequels, always under the ‘M8′ name. It even made it into the tiny hands of Endwar’s diddy Ghosts, making 2010′s Splinter Cell Conviction the first current-generation Clancy game to notice the XM8 had been scrapped, just six years too late.
The XM8 gets top billing in Crysis and Crysis 2 under the ‘SCAR’ name, pops up in Battlefield Bad Company and Bad Company 2 where it’s identified as a prototype, and – of course – appears in Metal Gear Solid 4 alongside just about every gun built since the invention of gunpowder.
The XM8 has lived three times longer as a pretend weapon in video games than it did in the hands of servicemen as a working prototype, perhaps because it’s one of the only feasible futureguns which actually looks like a gun from the future. The MR-C – also featured in GRAW – never made it past mock-ups, the FN F2000 looks like it ate all the pies, and the SCAR-L and SCAR-H have more right-angles and jagged edges than a Saturn game. In contrast, the XM8 actually worked for a while there, is all sleek curves and composite materials, and is capable of sharing parts with any other gun from the XM8 family; it bloody transforms.
Continuity fetishists can assume the Clancy games exist in a parallel universe where the XM8 didn’t burn everyone’s fingers. Call it the J.J. Abrams Defence and have fun.