July 25, 2012 in For Your Amusement
Posted by Edwin Evans-Thirlwell at OXM UK:
Taking Halo back, one decimal point at a time
You know that bit in every sports or martial arts saga ever made, when the hero takes a pummelling at the hands of his own immaturity or hubris? The bit where he proves himself unworthy not just of his foe, but of himself, a broken ruin on the canvas? Well that was the week before last in Halo, for me. And this week gone? This week gone was supposed to be that other bit in every sports or martial arts saga, when the hero learns some tough truths, claws back his dignity and rises from the ashes to jump-kick his former conquerer square in the macho glands. It wasn’t. I’m still terrible at Halo, though I think it’s fair to say that I’m now vastly better informed of just how terrible I am.
If you recall, the purpose of this blog series is to render myself worthy of Halo 4′s boulder-crushing awesomeness in November. Thanks to sympathetic OXM readers and unsympathetic colleagues, we now have some clear objectives. Clearer objectives, anyway. One, I’m going to build a map in Forge World and use it to utterly humiliate my aforesaid colleagues – a heinous marriage of the most unfair elements the game’s editing suite can muster. It’s going to be like D-Day, only without the underlying note of whimsy. And two? I’m going to turn this here pathetic Halo: Reach K/D ratio into something I won’t feel embarrassed about when they carve it into my gravestone. Last Monday, the figure stood at an abject 0.6. At the time of writing, it’s soared to the giddy heights of 0.61, like a Warthog tipped by the echo of a passing fart. So there’s improvement, then. At this rate, I expect to hit battle-readiness for Halo 4 sometime during or after the release of Halo 6.
I had a few observations to make about where Halo: Reach differs from other shooters last week. With your kind permission, I’d like to qualify them a tad before we plough on with the tale of how I fared in certain, carefully selected competitive modes. Firstly, the one about the weapon drops exerting a Magneto-like power over the fortunes of war. This is still true – a man with a sniper rifle can royally wreck everybody’s mojo on a vertical map, like Spire – but there are caveats. Heavy weapons take a bit of skill. You can’t, as I discovered, just swipe that Covenant grenade launcher thing, swan down a side tunnel on Delta and bounce bundles of kaboom around till everybody’s a smear of Spartan chutney, because if you rush in wielding a gun which fires timed projectiles, any opposing player with a measure of sense is going to scurry under your shells and uppercut your face off.
And as showy as the special guns can be, their usefulness pales before the apocalyptic all-purpose appeal of the Designated Marksman Rifle, which is often the starting gun. Pace your shots to match the blooming and dwindling of the aim reticle, swerve gently from side to side as you fire and always aim for the head, and nine times out of ten you’ll comfortably nobble a player like me, who understands all these things in theory but can’t persuade his thumbs to do the honours.
I’m not much shop with grenades, either, though again I’m starting to see what’s necessary. Prior to this, I thought of the standard issue UNSC grenade as an amusing means of moving dead bodies and other loose furniture around, a sort of futuristic Jack in the Box filled with corpses. Only now do I understand their cleverness and, in particular, how they “integrate” with overshields. Getting a grip on the uses and abuses of grenades in Halo is like unlocking a new class in an RPG, so drastic is the gear-shift involved.
You start by deploying them defensively, hurling one desperately at the feet of an attacker like an offering to the Gods. Then, you come to understand that they’re a quick way to strip somebody’s shields and loosen them up for a headshot or melee kill. Digesting this, you begin to appreciate the importance of timing, angle and situation-reading – has that player seen me yet? Is she going to be running in the same direction two seconds from now? If I toss a little surprise her way from the platform below, will it sail past into the corridor or ricochet back into her face? And once you’re on top of the foregoing, you realise that other people are thinking the same things and that you can, therefore, manipulate them – chipping a grenade one way so they run another, advancing and backpedalling so people panic and waste theirs.
Goodness – I sound like I know what I’m talking about, don’t I? Here’s proof to the contrary.
What poisonous honey you dripped into my ears last Monday, readers. What treacherous tonic of assurances and promises. Multi Team should get you back up to speed, you said. The smaller team sizes will teach you how to cooperate, you said. It’s objective-based, so you don’t have to worry so much about getting killed, you said. But what if there’s only one objective, lads – a nice exposed mat of glistening energy slap-bang in the middle of an intersection, right at the bottom of the map? I got so upset playing Crazy King that I chased down one of my own guys by accident, prompting a rumble of “betrayer” and the conviction that Cthulhu and all his horrors had been unleashed in pursuit of my arse. There wouldn’t have been much of an arse left for Cthulhu to pick at, had he bothered to show. First contribution to the glorious K/D revolution? A quite spectacular -19.
Next up was Head Hunter, so my arse had a bit of time to dust itself off, have a cry and administer some Savlon. If you’re new to Head Hunter, every player drops a Skull when killed. Other players then collect the skulls and carry them to a delivery point to score points. Getting hold of the goods isn’t a problem, providing you’re the third or fourth man to arrive at every big firefight. Lo, a veritable meadow of skulls, swaying in the breeze of dispersing aftershocks! But once you’ve scooped the haul, you’ll have a stiff run to the drop-off. Carriers are marked on HUDs, see, along with the number of skulls they’re carrying. A confident player might take advantage of this, luring the pack into an ambush, but I am not confident player, and that’s why I spent the whole match loitering cautiously near delivery points in hopes some passerby might trip over and die of their own accord. Result: a slightly more respectable -6.
I threw caution to the winds at this point and fired up a bout of Slayer on Boardwalk. Besides further lacerating my pride, this demonstrated the ambient range Halo’s map types are capable of. The teams were larger, but where Head Hunter and Crazy King had been a frenzy of motion, an eerie silence prevailed across this large, airy, spotless map. As I stood and shivered, a team mate waddled out of an archway and advanced, very slowly, on one of the central ramps. I caught his eye, then trundled with equal care up the left flank. He advanced. I advanced. He advanced. I advanced. A far-off groan of artillery. Then, something massive and green exploded through a shrubbery on wings of fire and proceeded to hammer purple crystals right through the top of my head. The K/D balance for this one slips my mind, but it was probably the worst yet.
The next K/D ratio slips my mind, too, and that’s a shame because I think I might have managed level peggings – zero hauls for zero falls. Admittedly, that’s probably the happy consequence of teaming up with a pair of proud but forgiving Halo pros. It might also have something to do with the way Oddball works. The longer you hold the ball in question (there’s more than one), the more points your team accrues. You can’t shoot or use Armor Abilities while you’re holding it, but you’re not entirely defenceless – a single brush of that ball is enough to jellify human flesh.
We managed to swipe two towards the end of the match, and very sensibly closeted ourselves in a briefing chamber on Sword Base. Two players tucked into corners with our ill-gotten goods, poised to rush out and bag cheap kills; the other armed with an energy sword, hurtling from entrance to entrance like a rogue lawnmower. The final team tally: a hair short of first place. It was a moment of triumph which stayed with me through many ensuing defeats, giving me reason to weather the pain. But then I got to grips with Big Team Battle, and the self-loathing took hold once more.
Big Team Battle
Two Flag Capture The Flag on Abridged – a fine time and place for some terrifying craziness. First, the obligatory and reassuringly Battlefield-ish rush for vehicles. I leapt into a Warthog turret behind a fellow blue and he took off like a scalded panther, assisted by a nearby mancannon, which punted the vehicle hundreds of feet up and straight ahead. Time slowed as we spun cleanly through a cluster of walkways and struts – the driver singing to himself while I frantically tried to lock rockets on a flanking Pelican. Miraculously, the jeep landed on all fours and zoomed to the end of a bridge, blasted off the end and cleared half the enemy team in one bound. Time slowed further. I looked down at their peaceful uplifted faces, at the sticky grenades lazily leaving their palms.
Then we smacked into a cliff, restoring the flow of temporality. A confused blur of axing motions and sparks – and my blue driver became a red driver. “What? What?” I screamed, continuing to rain uncoordinated death like a toddler gripping onto an industrial fire hose. “What is this? What the hell is going on?” The red player ignored this, aimed the vehicle east, floored the accelerator and leapt out in the nick of time, leaving me to plummet – still spewing missiles, still pathetically wailing “what? What?” – into the watery abyss.That particular match was absolutely racked by connection problems, with a host switch practically every couple of minutes. But it would have been a rageful affair regardless, thanks to the other team’s habit of cramming every single vehicle or body possible into our base, snatching Pyrrhic victory after victory from the jaws of sporting defeat. Oh, the rage. The face-in-carpet, stand-on-chair, cape-billowing rage. The kind of rage you write entire Broadway musicals about, in which lines of jack-booted grisly bears wheel and stomp, bellowing for release. That was never a headshot, 343, NEVER. 343! LOOK AT ME DAMN YOU, 343. COME HERE AND ADMIT IT. THAT WAS NEVER A HEADSHOT. WHY? WHY? Eventually I learned to repay fire with fire, throwing everything lethal to hand at the flag every time the enemy showed his face, and took a few scalps that way. The K/D? -6.
Next time, we’re going to talk about Armor Abilities. I’ve been using Sprint thus far, simply because I don’t have a clue how to rock a jetpack without rousing the concentrated wrath of Mother Earth. I tried using Active Camo for a while and just confused myself, hiding in plain sight till the gauge ran down and I popped into view, sheepishly waiting for somebody to do the decent thing. Armor Lock? That’s just teabagging with more whizbang, isn’t it? And as for holograms – half the time I panic and shoot them myself. Got to focus on the numbers. Suffering is transient, like a woman’s charms. Only the numbers endure.
Any further suggestions, besides “try to kill them more before you die”?