Saturday, August 30, 2014

Vehicular Manslaughter: An Analytical Look at the Vehicles of the Halo Series (Part 1 of 2)

So, I know I have a series to continue on the subject of shotcalling in competitive games, but...for reasons that totally don't have an ulterior motive at all, I'm going to be doing a two-parter with a much different subject – An analysis of Halo Vehicles, weighed against the 6 core design tenets Riot Games uses in League of Legends.

Those six tenets are: Mastery, Meaningful Choices, Counterplay, Teamplay, Clarity, and Evolution.
  • Mastery essentially means there is always something new to learn, and experience will continue to make you better.
  • Meaningful Choices means the choices you may make have tradeoffs, and so making the right decision means selecting the one whose tradeoff is easiest to mitigate.
  • Counterplay means the person on the receiving end still has room to outplay you – and in the case of Halo and specifically vehicles, this doesn't just mean having a Spartan Laser to put a stop to your vehicle. It means ensuring even the standard infantryman has a way to play against your vehicle advantage.
  • Teamplay means the vehicle has areas that require the rest of the team to cover its weaknesses, or the team needs to work together to best utilize the vehicle.
  • Clarity – I'll just use Riot's words directly – “Players should fight their opponents, not the game. We strive to present information in a clear and precise way so that League can be about dominating opponents with skill and teamwork – not through bookkeeping hidden information.”
  • Evolution applies more to a game being patched with new mechanics being added, but for the sake of this blog, it will refer to how the vehicle evolved in the metagame of competitive BTB over the course of the title I am pulling the vehicle from.

This first blog will focus entirely on Human/UNSC vehicles. I did say it's gonna be a two-parter, yeah? Guess what part 2 is? COVENANT VEHICLES YAY! But you must stifle your excitement, because for now, we're only talking about human vehicles.

The Chain Gun Warthog – (Halo 3)

Now, for the sake of these analyses, I'm going to focus primarily on one game in which the vehicle showed up, mostly so I can keep the assessment focused. For the default Warthog, we're going with Halo 3, primarily because Halo 3 featured the best maps for utilizing the Warthog, and Halo Reach/Halo 4 introducing vehicle health made it much more difficult for a Warthog to be kept alive.

In terms of Mastery, the Halo 3 Warthog was a fair success, specifically in terms of driving. Gunning wasn't hard once you learned to favor the bottom half of the reticule for aiming and to pulse the trigger at longer ranges. But for a driver, you'd have to learn risk/threat assessment, routes to avoid power weapons, routes to avoid ambushes from people with Plasma Pistols, Power Drains, Trip Mines, and Plasma Grenades. You had to learn how to control the Warthog in case of being flipped from coordinated BR fire (goddamn Frenchies), frag grenades, brute shots, or other nearby explosions of physics. There was always room to improve as a driver, and seeing players with tens of thousands of Wheelmen medals accrued over the years reflected their experience.

The Warthog did not shine as much in terms of Meaningful Choices. Despite the existence of the passenger seat, it was rarely a prudent decision to stop and pick up a person carrying a flag. A stopped Warthog is a DEAD Warthog. Utilizing the passenger seat for a Bomb carrier was less of a risk, since you could pick them up from the safety of your side of the map and drop them off at whatever entrance to the enemy base you wished. If your team didn't have the Spartan Laser, it was usually a bad idea to take the Warthog out, unless you just wanted ammo burned on you to force the laser dry and give your team a chance to contest the new one. Driving path decision-making usually boiled down to “Is there a chance I'll die if I go there? Then I probably shouldn't go there.”

As for Counterplay, as long as you had a BR, you had some defense against a Warthog. The gunner of the vehicle is highly exposed (even able to be headshotted from dead on, though his body is shielded from that angle), and taking down the gunner drastically reduces the vehicle's effectiveness. Well-aimed Frag Grenades could also shut down a Hog run, if you managed to up-end the wheels. This counterplay wasn't heavily pronounced on Standoff, where the only spawn locations were way away from any semblance of cover, so a Warthog already running was much more free to net easy kills off fresh spawners, and led to a lot of grief for unorganized parties against those who had been playing together for a long time. Rat's Nest also put the spawns out into the open, but the narrow paths ensured the Warthog was much easier to take down with your default tools.

Teamplay was a big part of keeping a Warthog alive, or taking down a fresh Warthog. If you ever played against one of the French parties that would roam Big Team, you likely got to see just how strong team BRing a Warthog could actually be. With just 4 people shooting it, your Warthog could be put into a roll from which you could not recover before being either pinned into a wall or launched off the map. The French BTB teams had coordination and didn't let a Warthog stop them from doing so. “See Hog, Kill Hog.” On the flip side, the art of running a Warthog was made a lot easier with the 6 people not in the Warthog playing aggressively to keep it alive – after all, if your team didn't secure control of the Laser, you likely wouldn't get to keep the Warthog alive. If your team didn't push up with the Warthog, the Warthog's left to be the focus of much enemy fire.

For most of my Clarity assessments, I'll have to favor Halo 3 vehicles over the newer Halos. I'll explain this more clearly when I talk about a Halo Reach vehicle, but for now... The only issues with clarity for the Warthog is that there was a marked inconsistency in whether or not a direct Rocket Hit would actually kill both passengers, or whether or not a sticky grenade would end your run. Making it more clear to the player what constitutes lethal damage is a big part of knowing how well they can keep a Warthog alive.

As far as evolution goes, there wasn't much change to the meta of Warthogs once the Warthog was “figured out” – don't drive behind the bases on Standoff, shoot the gunner, not the body of the Warthog, when engaging in a Warthog duel. Put your Warthog's body between your gunner and the enemy gunner in a Warthog duel. Simple stuff. There was very little done to shake up how Warthogs were used.

Overall, the Warthog in Halo 3 served a clear purpose and was a core part of high level Big Team Battle. Standoff required a good hog duo to be truly successful, but the other maps saw less play, due to the larger importance on securing the laser weakening the Warthog's early game presence, and whether or not you had the laser was a binary switch to determine whether or not a Warthog would truly be effective. Rat's Nest left the Warthog as a more preferential bit, though losing control of the kitchens meant losing control of the map.

The Scorpion – (Halo Reach)

Let's be real here, there's not much to say about the Scorpion in terms of design. It's about as straightforward as you can get. It's a tank that does tank things.

In Mastery, there's very little room for improvement. You either hit the shot, or you don't. You don't have much room to avoid incoming lasers or Rockets (unless the rockets are fired from very far away). So maneuvering and positioning are more a question of “How much can I see without being seen by big threats” – not a lot of room for getting better once you've answered those two questions. So in terms of mastery, the Scorpion is somewhat of a failure.

Meaningful Choices? Not really. Paradiso had a few opportunities for a Scorpion to get behind the opposing team's base for a vicious spawn trap, but apart from that, the Scorpion's main choices boil down to the same question in the Mastery section above. The only other question that you may ask is “Do I need someone to gun the turret in case I get boarded?” And the answer is always “No.” unless you were playing random, lesser skilled players in matchmaking, the secondary turret on the Scorpion was an inefficient use of manpower and a superfluous addition to the tank. Sure, it can shoot off highjackers, but if you're in position to be highjacked, chances are you fucked up when you answered the Question.

Counterplay...Ha! That's a good one. If you're on foot with a DMR, you're likely not going to be very effective against it. If you don't have a power weapon or a power vehicle of your own, the Scorpion is going to win. The turret's turn speed is fast enough to deal with most rapidly-approaching threats from the side, and even with a Jetpack, you're still not likely to get in range to board the bastard. The projectile speed of the main cannon is too fast to give a person an honest chance to dodge once the fucker's fired. You just have to pray he missed. Personally, I think this is a terrible design, even if your argument is “It's the fucking tank. It should be strong.” – Strong, sure. But an undodgeable instant kill weapon is batshit. Slow down the shell's travel speed and reduce the SPLASH damage (keep a direct hit an instant kill, even with a little leeway), but outside that the splash damage should be much, much lower. Shoehorn the tank's primary turret into being focused on anti-armor. And for god's sake get rid of that useless secondary turret and give the pilot control back over his anti-infantry weapon. Because let's face it, no one uses that turret unless they know their opponents can't fight back.

Teamplay? Well, MAYBE if you're the most organized team of all time, you can all shoot the Scorpion with your DMR and abuse Reach's vehicle health system in order to take it down! It's not really like though, if I recall my tests correctly, it took 8 clips of the DMR to take down a Scorpion, so it would've taken an entire team all shooting an entire clip of a DMR at once into the tank to take it down. As far as keeping the Scorpion alive, even controlling the Laser or the Plasma Launcher on the Scorpion's primary maps didn't mean much as far as keeping it from being killed. There wasn't much needed to keep your team's Scorpion alive, and only Paradiso saw truly coordinated assaults where the Scorpion would push up with its team in order to be more effective. In terms of taking the Scorpion down, the only time teamwork came into play was if you had someone draw the Scorpion's attention while your Banshee flew overhead and bombed him dead on a few times before getting the fuck out of dodge.

Clarity...okay, we're on a Halo Reach vehicle so it's time for me to rant. Halo Reach introduced Vehicle Health as a separate entity from the living players inside it (in Halo 3, vehicles had health, but they would not blow up unless the players inside were dead). In Reach, if a Vehicle's Health reached 0, it blew up. Period. The problem here is that the amount of health your vehicle had was never clearly communicated to the player. Sure, you had visible stages of damage, and an audio cue every time a stage changed... But there was an amount of health between each stage of damage, and if you stopped taking damage before the next stage, that amount would regenerate. This was NEVER ONCE COMMUNICATED TO THE PLAYER that this was happening. In fact, most people didn't even know it was happening (I found out through talking to the Reach Banshee pilot, Gamesager, who utilized the fact to keep his Banshee alive by retreating before a stage of damage was reached, then waiting a bit before going back in). This is an awful display of clarity. It applies to every single Reach vehicle, Scorpion notwithstanding. Additionally, the Scorpion suffered from the same issue Halo 3's Warthog did, where certain areas taking damage would kill the driver (or the vehicle itself) while shooting others would not. In Halo 3, you needed to Laser over the hatch of the Scorpion to one-shot kill the driver. Reach? Nah, this time it's the treads (what? Really? The treads? Why?) – no visual cues communicated this to the players, it was just something they had to learn. And it wasn't clear visually, nor did it make sense logically. But it was a fact. All in all, the Halo Reach Scorpion's clarity is a steaming shitpile, where the steam obscures all the important information of the fact that you're about to step in a pile of shit.

Evolution? “Use tank, kill people. Be happy.” – Fortunately, it was realized that on open maps, the Scorpion was far too powerful so it was replaced by the Wraith on Hemorrhage. The tank's straightforward, non-skill reliant power caused it to stifle any unique strategies to deal with the bastard.

Overall, the Scorpion is a vehicle that, in the state it's been presented, is usually too strong to logically exist in a competitive shooter. If there's asymmetrical access to a Scorpion, the tides turn too heavily against the team without, as the options for counterplay, even with power weapons, are extremely limited. Combined with the range, damage, and accuracy of the Scorpion's turret, the Scorpion player has more counterplay to his threats than they do to him. Simply shoot first. Go on, you can take 'em! Reducing the Scorpion's projectile speed, as well as adding some degree of gravity to his shots would add a level of mastery for the user, while also giving the targets a chance to get out of the way once they hear or see a shot is coming for them. This simple change would go a long way in balancing the vehicle, though by no means sacrificing its identity as a tank.

Mantis (Halo 4)

Oh lord, the Mantis. This thing is an abomination for game design. For the brief time I was working with the BTBnet team on Halo 4, we all had one expectation as to how the Mantis would be used competitively and it turned out to be absolutely correct. I'll divulge over the course of this analysis.

Mastery: The Mantis was about as cut and dry as you can make a vehicle with 3 different methods of attack. I mean, you've got a set of 5 rockets, a chaingun, and an anti-boarding STOMP. Seems pretty easy to avoid dying. The only area in which there's any significant growth in how to use the Mantis was in terms of aiming the rockets. If you can aim the rocket launcher, you can pilot a Mantis. It's that simple.

But when it comes to Meaningful Choices...this is where the Mantis was an absolute failure of epic proportions. As I said, the BTBnet group all had one expectation: “The Mantis will just sit on its side of the map and play defensively. I mean, you can poke up with the shield, and then back off and get the shield back. There's literally no reason to play aggressively with it. You have a permanent defensive rocket launcher.” We were right. As far as positioning went, competitively, the only “decision” a Mantis pilot made was which choke point to watch. You never pushed up unless your team had full control, in which case you rounded out the back line anyway. I mean, you have a literally infinite supply of Rockets to fire, why would you want to risk that by pushing up and dying? You don't. You hold the line. God damn it, Toto, you hold the line. The only other choice a pilot ever has to make is whether or not to go for the kill with the Rockets or the Chain Gun. And you know how you make that decision? “Do I have rockets left in the chamber?” If yes, use rockets. If no, use the chain gun to keep them away while you reload, then fire a rocket.

Counterplay? Good fucking luck. The thing has a replenishable shield. It's the only vehicle that has ever had a replenishable shield. And in a game where every vehicle has a finite amount of health before it blows up... well, shit. Better hope you kill him before he kills you, or he'll continue to terrorize! Even if you dish out some damage, he gets to come back in fighting form after just a brief respite! So, it was pretty susceptible to boarding, even despite the stomp maneuver, so they added the Survivor perk that made the vehicle auto-eject upon taking lethal damage. Guess what that meant for Mantises... you get dropped out the back directly behind the person who'd boarded you! HURRAH! Win/Win! If you didn't have a Plasma Pistol or a power weapon with good team focus, you weren't taking down a Mantis. Plasma Pistols were the entire core of effectively countering a Mantis.

Teamplay? The only teamplay involved in a Mantis is telling your team “I've got the Mantis watching this area, you 7 go somewhere else because I'm literally not going to die this game.” Boom, you're set. That fucker didn't encourage any form of teamplay apart from encouraging anyone that died to its defensive duties all forming a support group for those abused by the immovable enemy Mantis to share stories about how new orifices were borne into their body by the rockets and bullets of the immortal mech. If Halo 4 hadn't failed in terms of retention for its multiplayer base, Mantis Victims Anonymous would be the nation's fastest-growing sexual assault support group today. I guess it's a good thing Halo 4 wasn't too successful.

In terms of Clarity, Halo 4 vehicles were a step-up from Reach vehicles in communicating the vehicle's health to the player, through various beeping or flashing lights to let you know “Hey, shit's about to blow up.” – but it's still not directly communicated through any form of UI attachment. So again, you never know exactly how much health your vehicle has left. The Mantis clearly communicates how many rockets you have in the chamber, its reload animation shows how much longer it will take, and the chaingun overheat mechanic is shown quite clearly. The only problem is that vehicle health is never directly communicated to the player, when it is an extension of their own health. Good luck knowing exactly how much more damage you can take!

If the Mantis tried to Evolve, I would've held B. The thing was far too strong at the role it assumed, and making it able to do more would've just been insane. Attempting to play around it in the maps it was utilized was a chore and a half, and nothing new really arose from doing so.

But honestly, regardless of the Mantis' intent when it was placed into multiplayer, the vehicle was a colossal failure in terms of presenting a fair and balanced vehicle that offered reasonable opportunities to take it down and push wherever it had decided to play Gandalf. Seriously, I think the designer put a time machine in it that channels the Steelers defense from the 1970s, because that thing was a fucking Steel Curtain.

Elephant (Halo 3)

Whoa whoa whoa, Audley, slow up a second. Are you really fucking counting the Elephant as a vehicle of the Halo series?

You're goddamn right I am. I fucking love the concept behind the Elephant, and that love may lend some bias to everything in this subsection, but despite the fact that it was only on one map (and eventually taken off the map due to rampant bug abuse that would cause massive frame rate issues for anyone in the game), the Elephant is one of my favorite mechanics added to the Halo game.

Now, there isn't much Mastering the Elephant. The thing was a snail. There was a human turret and a highly exposed Warthog turret on it, neither of which were truly potent in terms of the vehicle's combat ability (except on Sandtrap Covies, in which case playing Pirate Ships was actually a highly effective method of combat.) But if you were to weigh the GREATEST ELEPHANT DRIVER against Average Joe #12 in terms of their Elephant usage, there would be almost no way to separate the two, once they realized you drive backwards in order to see if anyone is sneaking up on you.

Meaningful Choices, though, now that's where the Elephant was a glorious beacon of hope. First, the defensive choices – in Capture the Flag, if you wanted to guard your flag, you had to stay on the Elephant. But that means you're weighing in on a spawn zone, and forcing your teammates to also spawn on the Elephant! Uh oh! They can't spawn in more efficient locations because of your selfish need to watch the delicate cloth billow in the blinding desert wind. On the offensive side of things, once you've made it to the enemy Elephant, you're given a much greater amount of equally valid, weighable choices. Do I take the driver's seat of the Elephant and try to take it home? Do I sit here and wait for a teammate to potentially drive me home, risking being found prior to taking the flag or anything? Do I just take the flag and run? Do I set up to slay anyone who comes to the Elephant, praying I don't get taken down before help arrives? The threat of an Elephant being stolen and becoming a near-guaranteed end of a game is a constant threat that forces you to keep an eye on a vehicle that is the very essence of map control – if you control your opponent's Elephant, you win the game (in objective). And given that driving the Elephant takes you out of the game temporarily, unable to fight back unless you stop driving, it's a huge measure of what you can get away with versus the reward of just focusing on the objective itself rather than the vehicle carrying the objective.

Counterplay? The thing handles like a brick with cement shoes. It's not going to be a direct threat. You can pre-emptively counter the threat of your Elephant being stolen by parking it at an incline along terrain to make it not only harder to get to your flag but also force the driver to straighten out the Elephant prior to attempting to drive off with it, giving you precious extra seconds to detect that it is in fact, attempting to one-man stampede its way out of your base area. If someone DOES make off with your Elephant, your default movement speed is faster than the Elephant, you run that motherfucker down and you cap his ass. And then re-cap(ture) your Elephant.

Teamplay? Eh, it's a little weaker here, but if you do want to play the steal game, you better have some back-up because you're not gonna pull it off alone unless the enemy team fell asleep. If you want to play Sand Pirates in a Slayer game, it requires a few people to man the Elephant, and having a Sniper or Laser user keep an eye out for enemy Lasers or Snipers is a great way to ensure your two gunners aren't picked off.

As far as Clarity goes, the Elephant's only weaknesses are that the side turret is facing outward (meaning, it's most effective to actually turn the Elephant around prior to driving it, which is a slight usability issue) – and it's actually more effective camera-wise to drive the Elephant with the open backside facing the direction you're moving, because hopping out of the Driver's seat has you immediately facing that direction, ready for combat. These are things picked up quickly with experience, but not made clear to the new user. Additionally, newer players tend not to understand it's a bad idea to drive your Elephant to the enemy base in objective gametypes, thinking, “Hey if we drive ours closer to theirs, we can score quickly!” – but not realizing the long travel distance you'll have should you die in the gamble, that can often just gift a victory to the enemy team. Finally, the roads/pathways for the Elephant were a little obscured, and sometimes attempting to turn around the Elephant in the wrong spot could cause control issues – again, not a huge deal, but a minor annoyance if you don't know the outer road ring like the back of your Battle Rifle.

In terms of Evolution, (disregarding the usage as a griefing tool with the frame lag issue), the Elephant's best parking spots were mostly figured out pretty quickly. And although Sandtrap Flag was usually avoided for tournament selections, and often vetoed in Matchmaking between two parties, the general strategy focused around keeping your sideways, inclined Elephant sideways and inclined and relying on your team to score through Warthog and Mongoose runs rather than actually attempting the difficult vehicular steal.

Regardless of the grief problems, the Elephant was a unique concept, that worked at a moderate level of play, but fell apart in higher levels (and could be tragic in lower levels, due to aforementioned “Let's drive ours to them!” issue). Even still, the Elephant stands up fairly strong when weighed against the 6 design philosophies, and could potentially be tweaked to be a truly fun and engaging gameplay mechanic if ever revisited.

Falcon (Halo Reach)

I was pretty torn between covering the Hornet or the Falcon for the UNSC Air Vehicle of choice, especially since I had substantially more experience in the Halo 3 Hornet that was given to the player on Avalanche. However, that incarnation didn't have much spectacular about it, and was generally used as a missile-less, flying version of the Mantis – fire into keyhole or fire around the horseshoe but never go aggressive until you know it's completely safe. So instead, I'm covering the Falcon.

The Falcon's display of Mastery had potential – controlling your flight angles to give your gunners great angles was no easy task, especially on a map with the verticality of Spire. Of course, gunning was more about telling your pilot “Hey, yo, I can't see shit, fly better fucking scrub.” than about actually working the gun, which if you'd spent any time in any chaingun in any Halo title, you could probably operate at a sufficient level. But the control scheme of flying the Falcon required moderate amounts of management to become the lord of the skies. The true mastery of the Falcon came in praying you could keep it alive long enough from the threat of teamfire. As with all Reach vehicles, it had the implementation of Vehicle Health that ensured only a god could keep the vehicle alive for the entirety of a high level match. The Falcon's paper-thin defense meant using it very precisely could yield some great temporary results, but your time in the sky was limited.

The biggest Meaningful Choice a Falcon pilot would ever make was deciding whether or not to commit to having a second gunner for the extra firepower or focusing on one-side of fire and keeping the lower level of management required from only communicating with a lone gunner. Apart from that, the choices are more focused on where to fly or whether engaging the enemy Warthog/Banshee is really prudent. The Falcon had a sort of False Choice in the determination of your altitude, where neither choice was truly good for the vehicle – the “tradeoffs” for either end were high and made utilizing the vehicle a bit wonky at best. Do you fly high to avoid vehicle fire from Warthogs/Ghosts and subject yourself to every available DMR while putting yourself at an ineffective range to fight back, or do you fly low so your guns can fight, but put yourself in a position for a set of Rockets to lock onto you. Either way, you were opening yourself up to more risks than you were saving yourself from or creating new opportunities to open up the map for your team.

Counterplay was definitely present for the Falcon. Again, as with most light vehicles in Reach and Halo 4, combined with the Vehicle Health system, the armor felt like it was constructed as part of a child's Gingerbread House for Christmas. And no one eats fucking Gingerbread houses. You fucking smash them. With bullets. Anyone with a gun and cover could deal permanent damage to the vehicle and move it closer toward being taken down. The more guns, the merrier your time...and since we're pretty much talking Big Team Battle here, there's never a merry Christmas for a Falcon pilot.

As for Teamplay, the fact that the Falcon utilized two gunners while the pilot had no weapon of his own made the Falcon a vehicle of forced teamplay. It was essentially a flying Warthog (remember those Halo 2 mods?) with an extra gun. I'll actually tie in a bit of the next category here – because one area where the Falcon suffered was its Clarity of what your gunners could see. You RELIED on them to communicate where to tilt, which way to fly, et cetera in order to keep a bearing on their targets. If they didn't communicate, you're flying blind. There's no way to rotate the camera to see your gunners' view without also rotating the Falcon itself and therefore shifting the view. Unless you are an experienced Falcon Gunner, then as a Falcon Pilot, you're really lost as to what your gunner can truly see...thankfully, the turn radius on those turrets was QUITE forgiving.

I'll actually move on into the actual Clarity section for my talk on how this could've been alleviated – as there were two main paths that could've been taken. The former is more invasive – add a button press that brings up an alternate camera in the corner of your screen that shows what your gunner can see currently (you're in the cockpit of a futuristic plane, it's not unlikely that you have something like that on your dashboard!) – the button pressed again can toggle to the other gunner, or you could just tie it to the Dpad and push the direction (Left/Right) which you wish to see at any given moment. The less invasive manner is to add a button press that enables free look for the pilot – much like PC Shooters do for some aircraft – basically, you are given the ability to look around with the camera as normal, but your nose remains facing the direction it was when you started holding the button. This would enable the pilot to get a glimpse around the side to see what their gunners were looking for, and adjust accordingly. Of course, those aren't the only complaints for clarity, since again, Halo Reach vehicles NEVER TOLD YOU SPECIFICALLY HOW MUCH HEALTH THEY HAD LEFT. And for a Falcon-specific point of odd clarity, the first time you get into the Falcon is a bit disorienting, since you're given a much larger radius for your radar. There's no indicator to show you this is what's happening, though it is easy to figure it out after a few seconds. However, including a smaller ring in the radar to show the player's standard radar range while also keeping the Falcon's increased radar would help make it easy to see just how much farther you are detecting from the skies. Tying back into Teamplay, this enhanced Radar actually made the Falcon a great scouting tool, as there's no hiding from something with a radar that powerful.

As for Evolution, the Falcon was able to remain a choice of style for players as to whether or not they regularly attempted to run it. It was a great spawn killing tool for one-sided objectives on Spire if you could get behind the defensive base, but it was also a great way to rush the Banshee and get a stage or two of damage into it before it even gets going, making it much easier to prevent the One True God of the Skies from taking over the game.

Overall, the Falcon was a better (read: riskier) take on the aerial vehicle of choice for the UNSC than either iteration of the Hornet from Halo 3 (the default Hornet with the Missiles was ridiculously too strong... glad they decided to make that a walking mech for Halo 4 instead of just gutting the idea.) It was by no means a passive vehicle which focused on keeping an area of the map locked down, as attempting to stall out anywhere in a Reach vehicle basically was like casting Vanish and Doom on yourself.

Gauss Warthog (Halo 3)

And that brings us to the final vehicle I'm going to cover in Part 1 of this two-parter on Halo vehicles... And my favorite (to use) in the series: The Gauss Warthog. The “pfew” sound effect of this thing firing can cause nightmares if you've ever been caught in a spawn trap by a Gauss before. Hell, I'm lucky it doesn't trigger my PTSD from the Team America Quadpod set-up on Standoff Heavies.

Mastering the Gauss was not about aiming – the aiming mechanics were fairly forgiving (hell, -I- was good with it, you know it was noob-friendly.). It was all about target prioritization. You have 2 people spawning in front of you and you see the speck of a helmet coming out the back tunnel of the base on Standoff Heavy. If you shoot those two spawners, you're dead. Why? The guy in the back had Laser. You should've known. He ALWAYS has Laser there when there's a Gauss up. There's a Banshee flying overhead and a Chopper coming straight for you. Which do you take out first? Well, your laser guy says he's gonna kill the Banshee, you kill that fucking Chopper before he ends your spree in a glorious double-suicide head-on Splatter collision. Driving was mostly about knowing to go Clockwise rather than Counter-Clockwise around the bases (again, so you can see the back door of the base on Standoff, rather than forcing your gunner to whiptail in order to see as you fly past).

The Meaningful Choices are tied directly back into the paragraph above. There's never a question of whether or not to take the Gauss out. Even if the enemy has a Laser, a skilled Gauss gunner can out-shoot a laser the moment that red tracer shows its ugly tail. Every choice is about which target to shoot first, or whether to let someone live while you keep your eyes fixed on a bigger threat in cover. Seeing that one peon scurry into cover just so you don't die to the laser hiding behind the boxes behind the base is the difference between a 40-kill Gauss run and your run ending at the 13 kill spree you were on.

Unfortunately, unless you have a power weapon, there's no Counterplay to a Gauss. The Gauss Gunner decides whether you live or die. Period. You may get a LUCKY frag flip, or a gunner overcommit to a kill and give you an opportunity to get some shots into his side, but if the driver isn't out of position or doing something stupid, you're pretty much left to the Gauss Warthog's mercy in most situations. Even on Sandtrap Heavies, with its tanks, a Gauss flank could easily destroy a Scorpion before the Scorpion had a chance to fight back. Good thing this thing wasn't on any non-Heavy variants, yeah? Now imagine back to Halo 2, where the thing actually shot faster...hahahahaha.

Teamplay? Nah, like the Mantis, the Halo 3 Gauss was pretty much a “We're going to go win the game now.” in terms of its power level. If you took down the parallel threats from the enemy team, your Gauss run became a fixed point in time, not even a Nameless Doctor (nor a Namelss Hero) can salvage the other team's hopes then.

Clarity for the Gauss user was pretty straightforward. It's a Warthog that kills in one hit. On the receiving end, it could be a little less clear what was happening, especially if there was lag – sometimes you would just fall over dead with no explanation of what killed you...though, if you got the animation of your body flying 30 feet, you'd get an idea pretty quickly. As far as using the Gauss, what it's used for, et cetera, there wasn't really anything obscured from the player, other than the same complaints given for the Halo 3 Chaingun Warthog before.

As for Evolution, there were two schools of thought for the Gauss: “Run the thing and spawn kill the fuck out of people” – or if you got lucky enough to get the enemy Gauss, “Park them both near spawn areas and laugh as the enemy literally can't move off spawn anymore.” (half of the aforementioned Team America Quadpod). Apart from that, there wasn't much to “evolve” in its's a one-hit kill weapon, you can pretty much do what you want with it as long as you don't die in the process.

That concludes my analysis of select UNSC Vehicles from the Halo series – but bear in mind, even despite the fact that you just read through 6300 words of mixed ranting, rambling, and reasoning, this is only part 1 of a two-parter. I have yet to touch the Covenant Vehicles (spoiler alert: I like them better, in terms of design.) I still have another Audley Enough to come featuring the Ghost (Game TBD, probably 3), the Wraith (Reach), the Chopper (3), the Banshee (Reach), the Revenant (Reach), and both the Spectre and Prowler (2, 3) as a single unit. But don't worry, I won't make a girl a promise I can't keep. I will have that one done soon to follow-up!

No comments:

Post a Comment