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"Steel isn't strong, boy... Flesssh is stronger."
Thulsa Doom, Conan the Barbarian

In certain kinds of games, it is inexplicably easier to destroy something made of armored steel, like a tank, than to destroy an ostensibly flesh and blood character (often a boss of some sort), even without specialized weaponry. Compare Invulnerable Knuckles, Made of Iron. You know this trope is active when the best way to defend a structure is for a character to stand in front of it and take the damage as a meat-shield. This can lead to comic relief when someone starts smashing and smashing but the person either feels no pain or feels tons of pain but no respite.

There may be a (tiny) grain of Truth in Television here: living beings regenerate, albeit slowly, but steel is incapable of regenerating all by itself. Not yet, at least.

Not to be confused with Thulsa Doom's philosophy in Conan the Barbarian. Usually a case of Gameplay and Story Segregation. The Chunky Salsa Rule is a reaction to this. Played straight with Mecha-Mooks, but almost always averted with Mechanical Monsters.

Examples of Strong Flesh Weak Steel include:

Video Games

  • The most obvious example are games like Haze or Dark Sector which feature armoured vehicles with fixed hitpoints but a player character with regenerating hitpoints. While the tank can only take a tank's worth of damage, ever, you're still safely moving along after taking enough hits to destroy Brazil.
  • In the game Hidden & Dangerous, an enemy soldier could keep fighting even after taking two high-powered rifle rounds to the throat, only dying after the third hit. A Tiger tank could be destroyed with a single hand grenade.
  • The Command and Conquer series of Real Time Strategy games are notorious for specializing anti-armor infantry to the point that they can't kill a single approaching infantryman with a rifle, even though they may fire off dozens of RPGs trying to. And it's not even that they can't hit the target (though the rules.ini file uses that as a Hand Wave for why); it just doesn't do any major damage if it's not a tank.
    • Tanks have the same problem - they can run over infantry with expected results, but if they can't manage that they're going to be taken down even by riflemen while their big tank cannons are doing next to no damage in return.
    • In Red Alert 3, the Tankbusters' energy weapon is "calibrated to leave only light burns on flesh", reportedly for security purposes. But strangely, that doesn't make it able to blast through an Allied Peacekeeper's bulletproof shield...
  • Averted in The Godfather: The Game, as pretty much a departure of nearly every game of its type. No matter how powerful the boss, how much armor they have, how powerful their weapons are, or how much dramatic fanfare they get when they appear, a shot to head will still be a shot to the head. Of course, the danger lies in having mobs of enemies to fight against.
    • Similar things can be said about the first Deus Ex, where there are several amusing ways to turn The Dragon into an Anticlimax Boss because, even if he has heavy augmentations, he is still human, so you can snipe him, fire a rocket or toss a grenade at him or simply cut him in the head with your Nanosword and he's done for.
  • Warcraft III has different armor and attack classes. The armor classes are Unarmored, Light, Medium, Heavy, Fortified, and Hero; the attack classes are Normal, Piercing, Siege, Magic, Hero, and Chaos. Each attack class is usually effective only against certain defense classes and has reduced efficiency against others. For instance, Siege attacks are effective against buildings and unarmored units, but hardly useful against units with medium armor and heroes. Interestingly, some units with the "unarmored" armor type still have armor rating for balance reasons.
    • This was done to mitigate of a problem in the two earlier titles, where building could be taken out by archers as efficiently as siege catapults.
    • And most of the mechanical units in the game are, indeed, more fragile than biological units. Demolishers, Glaive Throwers, Meat Wagons, Obsidian Statues and Flying Machines are all fragile, easily killed units. Mechanical units' only real advantage is that they cannot be targeted by most offensive spells, although that also means that most healing spells don't benefit them. And although they can be repaired by workers(at a cost), they don't naturally heal over time like biological units do.
      • This has actually carried over into World of Warcraft. The battlegrounds Strand of the Ancients and Isle of Conquest, and the outdoor BG Wintergrasp all included or relied upon the use of several of the above vehicles to achieve certain objectives, the problem was that while player HP and power increased over the course of the Wrath of the Lich King xpac they were introduced, the vehicles themselves' power and Hp remained static and constant. By the end of the Wo LK xpac, several of these vehicles were so far behind in terms of health - particularly the Glaives, which had about 35,000 health (about as much as a player) but utterly lacked any of the PCs defensive options or stats - they could be literally two-shot by any well-geared player. This made these B Gs rather frustrating, particularly if you were relying on those Glaives, as even with a strong and vigilant escort force, both available Glaives could be obliterated by a single Rogue or Feral Druid attacking from stealth. The current xpac, Cataclysm, has significantly buffed all these vehicles' damage and health to the point where a single player can no longer easily wipe out a Demolisher in under ten seconds, but it remains to be seen whether increasing PC power will bring us back to where we were at the end of Wo TLK.
  • Something like the above two examples tends to crop up in pretty much all Real Time Strategy games for balance reasons, but Total Annihilation and its Spiritual Successor Supreme Commander neatly avert this trope by making specialised weapons effective even though they do the same amount of damage to all targets. For example, anti-air missiles do very low damage to anything, making them pretty useless against ground forces, but are the only things fast enough to hit planes (which have very few hit points); meanwhile anti-armor rockets are good against big tanks because they do huge damage, but are too slow-firing to be of use against small, faster units.
    • The anti-air missiles used in Total Annihilation were fairly overpowered however. Even doing low damage to anything not an aircraft, they had both a high fire rate, long range, and tracking abilities, which meant they could be used en masse as not inconsiderable defensive line.
  • Fairly evident in the Time Crisis series, when dealing with bosses. Most enemies go down in one or two shots, despite many wearing body armour. Several, wearing heavy armour, can take longer. Tanks and Vehicles can be blown up with several rounds of ammo. Meanwhile, some bosses (notably the second Level boss in Game 2, the first level boss in Game 3, and the second level boss in Game 4) often don't wear anything beyond a simple shirt or tank top. Despite this, they can take hundreds upon hundreds of shots to kill, and can endure grenade rounds to the face. The second level boss in Game 4 is particularly aggravating, since even after emptying nearly all your machine gun and shotgun ammo into him, it takes a punch to finally knock him out. And he still taunts you with information on the Big Bad's plan before passing out.
  • A variation on this theme may be the tendency of early racing games to have a car plowing into the spectating crowd being the equivalent of it crashing into a tree or solid mountain wall.
  • The first person shooter game Command and Conquer: Renegade has a very complicated system of armours and weapons. It's not perfect, though. The game has Made of Iron bosses, but helipads you can destroy with a pistol.
    • In essence all buildings have a control panel inside of them. Attacking this panel will destroy the building much faster then shooting at the building itself, a C4 or two will take it out of commission altogether.
  • Team Fortress 2. A Heavy has more HP than a fully upgraded machine gun and rocket spewing sentry gun. In fact, the best way to defend a particular location IS to have a Heavy rely on a dispenser for health and ammo, the sentry for additional firepower and protect both structures with his body when necessary.
    • Heck, a flesh and blood character can be healed with a sandwich, a medical kit, a dispenser, and the Medic's weapon which may or may not make them healthy as much as just restore lost health. How do you heal a Sentry? Smack it with a wrench faster than the other team can shoot at it.
      • On the other hand, a sentry can't be taken out with a headshot (and don't incur additional damage from critical hits in general).
      • Also a sentry will always be where you place is and doesn't quit or get bored. Not mention it is an aimbot and is the perfect counter and perhaps only true counter for decent scouts, who could normally avoid or even kill a heavy.
    • On a more literal note, the Heavy can equip spiked brass knuckles and they do less damage than his own fists, yet somehow let him punch faster.
  • The Star Wars RTS Empire at War abuses this trope to the fullest with its heroes classes (based on major and minor characters in the movie) - in particular the Jedi and Sith characters which can indeed be used as meat shields. AT-ATs can mow over enemy vehicles but are practically useless against enemy infantry unless they deploy their own, and Star Destroyers without TIE Fighter escort are pretty much fodder for any Y-Wings around.
    • It should be noted that in the series proper fighters are a severe threat to capital ships (to the point were the Empire manufactured vessels designed specifically to kill fighters) and AT-ATs generally are useless against infantry due to their piss-poor range of fire, but as this isn't represented in the game itself this still qualifies.
  • In STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, it's possible to destroy the motorized Armored Personnel Carriers being used by the Big Bad to defend Chernobyl by stabbing them once with a knife.
    • It goes further than that; any human enemy, no matter how well armored, goes down in one stab with the knife. An arena match actually forces you to kill a Powered Armored stalker in this fashion.
    • Inversely, not all mutants can't be killed in one hit with the knife. Since they have high damaging melee attacks, it's better just to shoot them, but the blood suckers will die from 1 stab of the knife while they can take a full Assault rifle mag to kill and the fact that they are mostly invisible and use claws to attack you makes the knife a good weapon to choose.
    • All this happens because the knife does a crapload of damage against EVERYTHING. It's because of bugs like these that there aren't more vehicles.
  • In Crysis, enemy Nanosuit soldiers can survive multiple rocket launcher shots to the face, whereas enemy helicopters and tanks explode after 2 or 3 rockets. The North Korean General himself can shrug off several rocket launcher shots before dying (although you're not supposed to have a rocket launcher when you fight him).
    • With that said, he can be killed with one well-thrown barrel. Thank god for physics kills.
  • The old game, Airborne Ranger had a realistic weapons system, where a LAW rocket pretty much meant death for anything you shot it at. The limiter was simple space/weight logistics. Your guy only had enough room in his pack for two or three rockets, at the cost of more practical equipment.
  • Mostly justified in Bioshock, where the Little Sisters, girls all around the age of four or five, are invulnerable to attacks that kill genetically altered adults, combat bots, and the massively armored Big Daddies. This is due to the sea slug which the game is based around, which seems to live symbiotically within the Little Sisters, automatically repairing any and all damage to the girls. However, one would still think a direct hit from a grenade launcher would make them explode in a shower of Ludicrous Gibs...
  • In Warhammer 40000 tanks can be destroyed by one shot from a weapon with high enough strength to penetrate the armour, while monstrous creatures usually take at least 4 shots, as they have several Wounds and are usually tough enough to not be instakilled by normal weapons. Same applies for any multi-Wound model that has immune to instant death rule.
    • Furthermore, any glancing or penetrating hits will at least keep the tank from shooting, whereas multi-wound infantry and monstrous creature units can take repeated damaging hits with no effect until they lose their last wound and experience a Critical Existence Failure.
  • The original Soldier of Fortune had 1 character, the final boss, who could survive inhuman amounts of bullets, handwaved by the fact he was wearing a full-body suit of metal armor.
    • In Soldier of Fortune: Payback, every couple of levels ended in a boss fight against a rival soldier who could soak 2 or 3 clips of assault rifle fire before croaking (none of said bosses are even wearing body armor, and include a chick in a tank top and a guy in a business suit). Particularly Egregious were the final 2 bosses, who took 2 to 3 clips of assault rifle fire to kill, while being able to kill you with 1 or 2 shots.
  • In Deus Ex Invisible War, during the final battle on Liberty Island, the Knight Templar Saman (leader of the Templars, natch, and the character closest to being the game's Big Bad), an unaugmented, bog-standard human, can survive about as much damage as his minions, who are wearing heavy Powered Armor suits.
  • In Halo 2 on Legendary difficulty, a sniper shot to any part of your armored super-soldier body would kill you. Your marine allies with their much less advanced armor could survive multiple shots.
  • Fighting games often abuse this trope as well. Sektor, Smoke, and Cyrax in Mortal Kombat are no more durable than other characters, despite the fact that they are cyborgs. Similarly, the various Jacks from Tekken, though they are very hard-hitting, take about as much damage from a punch as any other character.
    • Even worse in Mortal Kombat is Stryker, who can pull out a handgun which still only does about as much damage as hitting someone.
    • Stryker also has grenades, but any opponent can easily eat 5 or 6 of those in a round without dying.
  • There's an ability named Strong Flesh Weak Steel in Dawn of War II. It lets a Space Marine Force Commander stun vehicles for over 5 seconds. Though, while armed with a Power Fist, so it kinda works.
    • The game series is otherwise an excellent showcase of this trope. All weapons have a set damage value against different armour types (that ultimately makes the visible damage values moot), and antitank weapons tend to do little, if any, damage to things that are not tanks. The crowning example is the Eldar Fire Dragon (a high-tier antitank infantry unit with a fusion gun), whose damage per second against infantry is measured in single digits; less than most factions' scout units.
    • This is mostly in the original Dawn Of War game and its expansions; by Do W 2, you'll see weapons doing about what you'd expect (lascannons making unarmored infantry explode into a fine, red mist, for instance) but make up for it in rate of fire; lascannons and plasma cannons will only fire once every two to three seconds and are useless against hordes, while heavy bolters actually do less damage per shot than normal ones but tend to fire about 3 or 4 times as fast depending on the individual weapon's modifiers.
  • See: Mother 3, where a tank can be disposed of by hitting it but a tree may well murder you (when it explodes).
  • In Pokémon, the fleshy Fighting type is strong against the Rock and Steel type. Steel does normal damage against Fighting, though.
  • In X-COM: UFO Defense, veteran soldiers are far more powerful and harder to kill than tanks, because soldiers gain experience and tanks don't.
  • Prototype, Supersoldiers are sort of this trope, they can take 5+ hits from an Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher, while M1 Abrams Tanks take 1 or 2 to destroy. However, unlike Tanks, Supersoldiers are vulnerable to small arms fire. For the most part, this trope is all justified though, as all strong flesh targets have superpowers. Non powered flesh creatures die easier than tanks and such.
  • Sniper Wolf in Metal Gear Solid takes as much damage from a sniper rifle bullet to the big toe as she takes from being hit flush in the chest with a remote-controlled missile. And in the sequel, a Stinger missile inflicts the same damage on a Harrier jet as on Vamp, who is not only unarmored but shirtless.
  • Starcraft. Zerg Ultralisks are significantly harder to kill than Terran Siege Tanks. However, Tanks are available earlier and have huge long-ranged cannons on top.
  • With the exception of the Final Boss, the Gargantua is by far the most powerful enemy in Half-Life, more resilient than even the tanks and helicopters and completely immune to the player's weaponry except for explosives. Sort-of-kind-of justified in that it's massive, heavily armored and maybe engineered specifically for combat by the invading aliens. The Antlion Guard in Half-Life 2 however has no justification for being able to laugh off multiple explosions to the face.
  • Taken to absurd extreme in Wolfschanze - a rather poorly made WW 2 FPS from the same makers of Mortyr 2093-1944 - in which you can take off a Tank by kicking it enough times. One Polish magazine that reviewed it dubbed the game "a Chuck Norris simulator" after the fact.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy and its stage destructibility. Lunar rock formations, the core of the planet, ancient shrines to an elder god, a laboratory dedicated to profaning everything good in the world, and the castle of the shrieking damned versus some mortal schmuck who, sixteen times out of twenty-two, isn't even wearing metal armor? Malevolent Architecture doesn't stand a snowball's chance.
  • Always true to some extent in Dungeons and Dragons thanks to Hit Points, but it's particularly notable in 4th Edition. According to the DMG, a Large iron statue should have about 120 hit points, a total easily achievable by the time a character leaves Heroic levels, and lower than a Solo goblin. A statue that's actually fighting back (an Iron Golem), however, has Hit Points of almost 400.
  • Used to ridiculous levels in the Wild Arms series - characters will trade dozens of bullets, usually hitting, but in the next cutscene, the loser will be kneeling or knocked out instead of the intended profuse bleeding and eventual death.
  • Fallout tactics: Due to the game's damage calculation engine, you cause more damage with your bare hands than with steel brass knuckles.
    • Especially if the character in question is a Supermutant. One of the critical hit phrases is "Torn in half like a phone book."
  • In World of Warcraft this trope comes into play with the Vrykul, giants of living stone and iron that are killed in large numbers by fleshy beings. One of their generals (and one who actually is tougher than any player, if only because he's a boss) has a This Cannot Be! reaction to a lethal encounter with this trope.

  General Bjarngrim: How can it be...? Flesh is not...stronger!


  Motherfucker suplexed a train!

  • In the Assassin's Creed games, the plate-armoured knight and Brute Elite Mooks are not much more resilient than their less-armoured allies against unarmed combat.
  • At the beginning of Mass Effect, the Mako mechanized infantry vehicle is pretty durable and has good weaponry compared to Shepard and her crew. As you approach the game's level cap, however, you'll find that it's easier (and nets you more XP) to drive to the battlefield, hop out of the Mako, and engage enemies on foot.
  • Inverted by Zerthimon's Scripture of Steel, which tells of the prophet's encounter with a corpse whose head had been bisected by an axe, leading him to the realization that while the Illithids know flesh, they do not know steel...
  • Streets of Rage makes heavy use of this. In addition to being able to smash in iron drums with a simple punch from the very first game, the second game introduces robotic enemies (although they at least have a lot of hit points). The third game takes this even farther by introducing a lot more robotic enemies as well as a scene where you need to fight off a bulldozer! While the bulldozer cannot be defeated, landing enough shots on it will force it to back off for a few seconds.

Non-Video Games


  • In Dragon Ball, a bullet to Goku's head makes him say "Ouch!", and an axe to the head gives him a headache - shattering the axe. He blocks rocket-propelled grenades with his arms, jumps through steel-lined floors head-first, destroys the Terminator with a ki blast, and dispatches wave after wave of tanks and helicopters like its nothing.
    • Averted with super-suits and the mechanical androids, but those stop working and the villains are forced to hire more muscle. In Dragonball Z, Dr. Gero finally learns from previous mistakes and actually starts making his death machines out of flesh instead of steel.

Comic Books

  • The Punisher. One of Ma Gnucci's son is noted as wearing kevlar, so chest shots won't work. It still takes many shots to the head to bring him down.
  • Superman. He can stop a bullet with his eye, and the bullet would break from the impact.

Fan Fiction

  • While this trope shows up a few times in Transformers media, fanfiction takes it Up to Eleven. If you ask the fan writers, particularly those who write human focused Transformers Prime fics, Cybertronians are built out of rusted out tin and organics are invincible.

Live-Action TV

  • In the Series 10 finale of Doctor Who, the Twelfth Doctor triggers the fuel rods of the deck of a starship to blow up the Cybermen. The deck is then reduced to charred rubble, and the Cybermen blackened lumps of metal. While it does ultimately kill Twelve, he was already dying and only has a few cuts on his forehead from the explosion.

Real Life

  • Real Life: Bonesaws. Even though it stands to reason that a mechanical circular blade can easily tear flesh, it is designed to be unable to penetrate through tough tissue, yet it can saw through bones or plaster with ease. Don't let the Medic tell you otherwise.
    • Of course, they are not circular saws. Bonesaws use a rapid back and forth movement small enough to not tear soft tissue, but which rapidly saws through hard materials like bone. In the same way a glass blade would shatter on impact with, say, a rock, while a steel blade would only get a dent.