Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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

Time for Part 2 of my Vehicular Manslaughter set...analyzing Halo vehicles against the 6 core design tenets Riot Games applies to their design decisions for League of Legends. As a quick refresher, those six tenets are:
  • Mastery (ability to improve constantly),
  • Meaningful Choices (tradeoffs exist regardless of which choice you take, choose the one that mitigates the risk for best reward),
  • Counterplay (the player on the receiving end has opportunity to outplay you in most any situation),
  • Teamplay (the team covering weaknesses or enhancing the strengths of something),
  • Clarity (the game should make information clear to the player, letting them focus on playing the game, rather than tracking obscured variables), and
  • Evolution (room for the vehicle's usage in the game should be subject to change dependent upon the metagame of completitive play as players learn each others' tendencies and the vehicle's true capabilities).

Part 1 covered strictly UNSC (Human) vehicles of Halo's history, so for Part 2...it's time to visit the enemy's arsenal and hold the Covenant vehicles under the microscope. So without further ado...

Ghost (Halo 3)

It was a tough choice for me to pick which title to analyze for the Ghost. The Ghost underwent significant changes regarding its mechanics each time it migrated to a new title. And, although the Ghost is strong in a 4v4 environment, it wasn't often that useful in a Big Team environment, so it was seldom seen as a true terror of a vehicle.

Regardless of the title you approach, the Ghost's areas of Mastery were still the same – using the slow(ish) projectile plasma cannons to kill, or using the boosting ability to run over scrambling infantry. Dealing with enemy vehicles was rarely a job for a Ghost, as the Ghost's inferior armor often led to dire situations, unless you were able to get on the exposed tail of a Warthog and pick off the gunner. The only BTB map where the Ghost was truly seen to be used effectively in Halo 3 was Rat's Nest, where some teams had a player who would run interference on spawners or lurkers in the Mauler tunnels in order to draw attention away from the hot zones of the Kitchens. Only those who were confident in their Ghost abilities really bothered, but a well-used Ghost could mean big results.

As far as Meaningful Choices go, the main one encountered by Ghost drivers is usually the same: Do I try to gun this player down, or do I try to time a splatter for him? Sitting still gunning can give rocketeers time to land the coup-de-grace on your Ghost, but botching an attempted Splatter often means loss of ownership of your vehicle (or getting yourself stuck by a Plasma Grenade from the baiting victim). Bubble Shields made bait even juicier at times, and were a great magnet for Ghosts (and sometimes Warthogs) to set up a plasma grenade, where you must have tons of confidence in your abilities before driving headlong into the safety of the bubble.

The driver's seat of a Ghost is possibly the most exposed vehicle seat (rivaled only by the Chopper) in the game – leaving it open to all sorts of Counterplay from the opposition. You can shoot the driver, snipe the driver, stick the driver – so long as you aren't looking dead at him (or more specifically, he's not looking at you). The hoverbike's agility may mitigate some ability to land shots on the driver, but it's unlikely the driver will escape unscathed from a situation where he presents anything but the hulking bulb of an engine at his enemies. The ability to highjack the Ghost coupled with its usual reliance on splatters for kills rather than utilizing the effective-but-not-efficient plasma cannons increases room for Counterplay with the Ghost by playing a sort of matador mini-game between the players. One player jumps “Toro, toro!” to bait in the hoverbike, and prays he can time the next jump or side-step in a way to ensure he can take away the enemy's precious mobility. Regardless of whether you've just spawned or have been in combat for a while, the Ghost's low time to kill with its guns leaves you with options on how to handle a situation of being run down by the Covenant bike. Unlike Halo 2 and Reach, however, the Ghost lacks its signature “weak spot” of the gas tank on the side – where previously a few shots of the default gun or one shot from the Sniper to the tank could completely eliminate the Ghost from play, Halo 3 leaves it to taking down the exposed pilot and leaving the vacant Ghost ripe for the plucking should you wish to attack its weakness. If worse comes to worse, the final bit of Counterplay for the Ghost is to simply seek shelter elsewhere – on Rat's Nest, stick to the bases, the bridge, and the Kitchens. On Last Resort, stick to higher ground. The Ghost can't fly, so you're safe up high, right?

As far as Teamplay goes, the Ghost is the icon of the lone wolf – it's a vehicle that can draw some attention, but most people will ignore it unless it poses a direct threat to them, so its value as a distraction is not huge. It doesn't take a team full of players to take down a Ghost, either. One of the Ghost's best uses from a Teamplay perspective is the ability to use it in Assault variants to force potential disarmers off the Bomb area in order to secure a score. Apart from that, the Ghost neither requires nor encourages much teamplay from either side.

The only Clarity-related issue there is to the Ghost in Halo 3 is the continued existence of its gas tanks on the model while taking away their status as a weak point from Halo 2. Players coming into the game from the previous title may expect the weakness to carry over, but alas, that is not the case. The Ghost's appearance barely changed, but the function of the gas tank was completely removed, leaving an out-of-place bit of appearance that doesn't actually do anything.

In terms of Evolution of the Ghost's usage over the course of Halo 3, or any Halo really, the pattern is fairly consistent: players attempt to use it early in the game's lifespan, learn it's not really useful in 8v8 scenarios, and then abandon it except when they need a faster transport to a power weapon in certain Big Team maps. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't champions of the vehicle, but as far as being a staple of the metagame, the Ghost is more of a tactical-use only sort of vehicle, and its presence in Halo 3's BTB reflected that quite clearly.

Overall, the Ghost was really a vehicle more tooled toward skirmish/objective-related 4v4 maps, as facing off against smaller forces highlighted the Ghost's strengths without its weakness being exploitable from almost any position. When elevated to an 8v8 format, however, the Ghost and its driver were often too fragile to be formidable, leaving it mostly only used for transportation except on a map (Rat's Nest) where the majority of combat took place isolated from vehicles. However, its design in the 4v4 sense highlights what a Light Vehicle should be like – strong, but with plenty of avenues for it to be countered.

Wraith (Halo Reach)

How fitting, I took the “light vehicle” from UNSC in Halo 3 and the “tank” from UNSC in Halo Reach...and now I'm doing the same for the Covenant.

When it comes to Mastery, the Wraith is a vehicle that is at the top of the food chain. The nuance to the vehicle is something that cannot be taught, only learned. The angles to fire, when to boost for a splatter, or how to choose which to choose when that monkey-fucker crests the hill jumping to attempt to board you. All of these are amassed as a part of that underwater mental iceberg I like to talk about when referencing how good a player is. No sane player would be able to tell you precisely why he aimed there to land that shot with the Wraith; he did it because it felt right. And he just so happened to get a triple kill on that flag-loaded Warthog as a result. The Reach Wraith was strong – especially given its ability to shoot off boarders with its primary cannon given a proper aim. A Wraith driver's ability was the difference between tying a game of anything-on-Hemorrhage and losing a game of anything-on-Hemorrhage. If you weren't good enough, you'd die, and your team would suffer. But focusing strictly on the Wraith again, everything about it encourages kinetic learning of the vehicle's limitations. A slow-moving, gravity-affected projectile main cannon and a limited-burst booster for splattering nearby infantry. The vehicle's mobility was greater than that of a Scorpion, leaving room for outplaying incoming rockets or Plasma Launcher rounds, but not enough to prevent a good Warthog run from ending a Wraith's life. In terms of Mastery, the Wraith is near perfection.

The Meaningful Choices are mostly tied into Mastery – do you fire at the incoming boarder, or boost at him – if you're near a hill or a place where boosting could lead you into yet another member of his team, do you just let him board you, then fire at the ground and sacrifice a stage of damage to get rid of the gnat that nipped at your ankles? Knowing whether to boost or fire, or fire then boost, or whether to focus downfield with long-range artillery or watch for incoming vehicles are all a part of the decisions the Wraith pilot must weigh over the course of his defensive duties. When the enemy Wraith is down, do you move up to try to bait enemy Sniper fire (to discover his location and have your Sniper take him out) – or do you stay a little more patient and wait for a larger advantage before moving up for a potential flag run? Aggressive positioning of a Wraith prematurely could lose your Wraith and give your opponents a window to rebound when their Wraith comes back up before yours, so sometimes simply keeping yours alive may be the better choice.

As for Counterplay, the Wraith is a tough nut to crack – its slow turning speed enables light vehicles to get behind it to its weak spot in its back vent, and its limited boost potential allows infantry opportunities to board it, though as mentioned before, the Wraith can sacrifice some damage to itself to shoot you off if the pilot knows how. Given the Wraith is often played as a stalwart defensive unit, its options for counterplay are limited even further. However, weighed against the Scorpion, the Wraith has more room for error given its less-ensured kill potential, and a single mistake from the Wraith driver can mean potential death. As the vehicle also contains Reach's vehicle health system, sustained DMR fire from a team can also eventually take down a Wraith, though it requires several clips in order to do so. Also, there's ALWAYS the Plasma Pistol. (Or Armor Lock, fuck Armor Lock.)

In terms of Teamplay, taking down a Wraith or protecting a Wraith as it moves up onto the map requires team coordination. While a Wraith CAN be taken down by a one-man covert operation deep behind enemy lines, chances are Sylvester Stallone will be too busy raking in his Planet Hollywood money to star in John Rambo: Combat Evolved to take on the arduous task. Whether you use a bait-and-switch tactic to take down the Wraith with mobile vehicles like the Ghost and Revenant, or simply harass from long range with the Warthog turret, the Wraith encourages a team effort to take it down, especially any time it moves forward on the map. Its hulking frame being weak to Snipers also encourages direct teamwork between your Wraith pilot and Sniper to assist one another in neutralizing the biggest enemy threat. In the case of the Breakpoint map, teams could elect to sacrifice the Wraith (blow it up) if they thought their player rushing it would not be the first to grab it.

As far as Clarity goes, the Wraith has some good points about it – the back vent, for example – it's a strange looking area that seems it may be susceptible to enemy fire...Hot damn, it is! Of course, it suffers from the same issue the other Reach vehicles suffer from – a vehicle health system that NEVER TELLS YOU WHAT YOUR VEHICLE'S HEALTH IS, except in terms of stages. I beat this horse to death last blog, though, so let's move on. The reticule for firing the Wraith isn't perfect – it could offer more information such as your current turret angle, or something along the lines of a distance the mortar would travel assuming the land ahead is flat – while information like this would reduce the nuance/mastery level of the best Wraith pilots, it could help less-experienced drivers better guess where they need to aim – or help them find the angle they need a second time should they return to a situation they've been in before. The previous point is mostly neutral, but communicating information to the player that can help them make better decisions improves the potential level of play. After all, the information suggested wouldn't guarantee a hit – the player still has to play the situation right, they're just better equipped to read the situation should it return in the future.

The Wraith's usage in its two primary maps didn't evolve much over the course of Reach. Its usage was tied almost entirely into the Mastery of its user or the standing of the other 7 members of the team controlling it. Controlling Spine on Breakpoint defense meant the Wraith could move up to spawn kill, but lacking Spine control meant the Wraith's duties were usually focused on the main vehicle tunnel at the top of the map. As mentioned earlier, Hemorrhage Wraith aggression was usually dependent upon the status of the enemy Wraith, although one of the unique usages of the Wraith in Hemorrhage Territories was as a complete meat shield for Territory 3 (near Grassy Knoll) – blocking bullets for the players capturing the territory.

Overall, the Wraith is possibly the best-designed vehicle in Halo. It requires the user to be GOOD to really be effective – and only allows the user to be GOOD by actually using it and garnering a feel for its controls and firing mechanism over time. Its mobility is enough to give it room to outplay others, while also being sluggish enough to allow it to be outplayed as well. The vehicle health mechanism added to Halo Reach also allows the Wraith to be susceptible to long-range sustained fire, preventing it from regenerating its health while slowly being chunked through stages of damage. Situations of infantry rushing in close quarters feel engaging for both parties involved (although the Wraith has a substantial advantage regardless) and although the Wraith fills the role of the Covenant “Tank” it feels much more fair to play against than its UNSC counterpart.

(Adding this bit after I've finished the Wraith section as I forgot it and it'd be easier to just mention it here: the secondary turret on the Wraith... this thing is about as useful as a mall cop. Yeah, go ahead and hop in, Paul Blart, I'm sure you'll be enormously effective in keeping me from getting boarded! Oh, wait, I can do that on my own. Well, you can sit there in the enormous hovering baby walker and entertain yourself by shooting at the wall, because God knows that turret's about as accurate as a platoon of Storm Troopers at any sort of range. Seriously, please stop putting secondary turrets on the fucking tanks unless they're going to DO something. Tanks aren't mobile enough to justify wasting a second body to use in a piss-ant turret. Stop it.)

Chopper (Halo 3)

“Master Chief, that Ghost is operating without core containment!”
“That can only mean one thing... Gorram Reavers!”

No, but seriously, if the Reavers from the Firefly/Serenity universe were to move into the Halo universe and modify a Ghost, you would have the Brute Chopper. The thing is a fucking monster that, while it looks like a Ghost, operates in an entirely different capacity.

There's a vast gap between a Champion of the Chopper and even a veteran of the vehicle. Mastery of the Brute bike was not easy – the thing's momentum and handling made controlling the beast a task in and of itself. On the open maps like Sandtrap (or Standoff Heavy or 1SO on Avalanche), the Chopper was a threat to any vehicle – even those in the sky – hell, a Chopper can SPLATTER Banshees and Hornets if it hits a jump the right way. On the Sandbox variants, the Chopper's power was an entirely different entity – sitting back like an unassailable artilleryman, feathering the trigger to fire long range harassment shots to keep people off the tops of bases and from pushing in the open. No aggression was ever required from the Chopper on Sandbox – just sit back, stay alive, and you will always have to be a consideration of the opposition. The Chopper wasn't really able to be killed on the map unless a lucky Rocket landed or it let the Missile Pod stay locked on a moment or two too long. But even with the simple task of “stay back, stay alive” there was a marked difference between good Chopper drivers and GREAT Chopper drivers. I harp on Gamesager's Banshee prowess a lot – but Fall of Reach was just as good when it came to the Chopper. There were countless games where his Chopper simply could not be taken down and his team came out victorious on the map as a result.

Unlike the Ghost, Meaningful Choices for the Chopper rarely related to splattering infantry – the Chopper's guns were much more powerful versus isolated infantry, so simply staying back and gunning them down was more efficient. Engaging an enemy Chopper often had the choice available of going for a Splatter, if you got behind in damage and simply wanted to go for a trade of kills (double-suicide splatter). The Chopper was stronger playing defensively and focused on interception on larger maps, able to plug Keyhole from any vehicle aggression on Avalanche, or able to control the Rocket-side Dip and keep the map clean of rogue Warthogs. If an enemy light vehicle got onto your tail, you had the option to try to escape into cover and engage when they followed, or to whiptail and head straight into them, using your thresher-like wheels to crush their vehicle and their dreams. Sorry kids, there's no Santa Claus...or Easter Bunny.

On the open maps, Counterplay for the Chopper centered around the same weakness of the Ghost – the pilot is heavily exposed on the rear, while the vehicle itself has a hulking front that protects him from whatever he's looking directly toward. Frag grenades were also much stronger against the Chopper than other vehicles, since throwing the Chopper's momentum off meant forcing a spin out that would leave him disabled almost like an EMP for a moment. On Sandbox, however, there was almost no Counterplay for the Chopper, as I mentioned in the Mastery section, save for lucky Rockets or Missile Pod usage. The bastard would move out to the dunes, position his wheels toward the enemy base, and be protected from any attempts at long range BR fire. Had the game been like Halo Reach and vehicle damage could kill it, the Chopper could've been whittled down until it was disabled, but since Halo 3 had no such mechanic, the Chopper on Sandbox was a stifling, overpowered mess of a harassment vehicle. It could stop any Warthog in its tracks with the physics-heavy weapons that sent a Warthog flying, so the only other vehicle on the map couldn't counter it, and it could stay back out of range for any other weapon to truly be effective against it. It was a nightmare playing against a team with a good Chopper on their roster.

The Chopper itself on Sandbox though was a great assistant for Teamplay – weaken the people in an area, tell your team to push. Clear enemies off the top of the base so your team can push. It was great for racking up assists and a few kills but ensuring your team had the advantage. On Sandtrap, the vehicle was more a lone-wolf style of play, but putting your Chopper on defense in Flag meant the rest of your team could generally play a bit more freely, since the Chopper's ability to stop Warthogs and Mongooses was strong enough to rely on for defense, should anything slip past your Spartan Laser user. The Chopper was great at locking down areas of the map to free up your team to focus elsewhere, knowing they wouldn't be giving up much where the Chopper was patrolling.

There's one issue of Clarity for the Chopper, which also applies to the Halo 3 Hornet, and it's something that all the best users of those vehicles knew: holding the trigger isn't the fastest rate of fire for the vehicle. Feathering the trigger allowed you to fire faster. How's a player supposed to know this outside of experimentation or being told by a source outside the game? They aren't. Bad Clarity. Apart from that, everything about the Chopper is communicated pretty clearly by its visual design – the spiked wheels suggest you may not want to drive straight into it, lest ye become spare parts and the wheels turning sideways as you turn suggest the handling may not be the best. The Chopper's role is made pretty clear the first time you see its weapons in action against a vehicle, as the poor helpless bastard gets sent into a death roll from which there is no recovery prior to being blown to smithereens.

The Evolution of the Chopper depended on the map and the player/team using it. On open maps, some preferred to use it aggressively to stop vehicle runs before they started, some saw it as a stalwart defense. On Sandbox, there was a sort of arms race between the safest defensive positions and ways to get the missile pod-wielder in position to take down the Chopper. The best Chopper pilots stayed ahead of the curve, and as a result, stayed alive. The other unique evolution of the Chopper was strictly on Sandtrap – where, originally in high level games, teams would simply Laser the Banshee rather than rushing for it (meaning, the 1-3 people on the enemy team rushing for it were suddenly put without a task, and thus their manpower was wasted), it was eventually realized the Chopper could fit the same role, flipping and eventually destroying the Banshee faster than a Mongoose or Warthog could reach it. Either way, top teams avoided the initial Banshee on Sandtrap and elected to blow it up instead.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of anti-vehicles, it was the age of suppression, it was the epoch of patrolling, it was the epoch of artillery – in short, the Chopper was such a massively different vehicle depending upon the map, that I insist on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (That's right, I just gave you a Dickens reference in my blog.) The Chopper is truly a marvelous design in that its usage was so versatile depending on the map's geometry, though it is unfortunate the vehicle was so overpowering and oppressive on Sandbox. If the vehicle existed in a more recent Halo, the power would not have been as great, since it could've been whittled down. Regardless, the Chopper is a monument to beautiful vehicle design.

Revenant (Halo Reach)

The Revenant was the bastard child of the Wraith and the Ghost. An agile artillery vehicle that packed a punch. It was Reach's replacement for the Chopper as there were no Brute vehicles in Reach. It ended up being used in a substantially different niche, however.

Mastery of the Revenant wasn't as pronounced as mastery of the Wraith or Chopper. The Revenant's faster movement speed, projectile speed, and rate of fire made it much easier to use the main weapon than the Wraith. Missing isn't as punished, and should you get in over your head, you can usually flee without much consequence. The prevalence of Armor Lock in matchmaking made attempting to splatter with the Revenant the equivalent of rolling dice – one wrong decision meant one dead Revenant. But patience circumvented the issue and baiting out a player's Armor Lock gauge made the roads a bit safer for more reckless driving. The Revenant wasn't so much a vehicle for dominating your opponents (passenger bug aside, I'll address later) as it was a tool for intercepting advancing enemies without putting yourself at much risk of death.

The Revenant's superb handling and mobility mitigated several of the Meaningful Choices the Chopper had to make regarding when to boost – the Revenant was fast enough to rarely have to worry about a situation that didn't involve a power weapon. The only risky choice a Revenant ever really had to make was whether or not to pick up a passenger while a Wraith was looming nearby. If you got a passenger into the Revenant, you had a good chance to escape with the flag (though, the DMR's accuracy made it quite strong for taking down a passenger and stop the flag run). Really the only choice a Revenant worried about was whether or not to splatter the guy who hasn't used his armor ability in front of you yet. Because it was always a gamble to find out the hard way whether or not he had Armor Lock.

Counterplay for the Revenant is difficult to measure. Without the existence of Armor Lock (read: in BTBnet settings), the Revenant is given free reign as a splatter-mobile and can be a bit more careless in its decision-making. The DMR is able to inflict damage into the Revenant, however, and Reach's permanent vehicle health damage ensured that attempting to do so enough would eventually whittle the bastard down. Even if your Warthog got taken down by the Revy, as you drove it to the levee, you wouldn't come up dry. The chain gun's damage would stick with the Revenant until your next run, increasing your chance of coming out ahead the next time. Still, the Revenant was a powerful vehicle and essentially a mini-tank with ridiculous agility, and could be a major thorn in the side if not dealt with quickly. Reach's nerfed Spartan Laser and preference to include the Plasma Launcher on maps gave the Revenant a little more wiggle room compared to Halo 3 vehicles, even for a side that was behind.

The major points of Teamplay for the Revenant focused around using its agility as an objective carrier or abusing a bug present in all passenger seats in Halo Reach. Although it applied to the Warthog/Mongoose as well, the bug was given the nickname “The Revenant Bug” because it was in the Revenant it was first discovered that the aim assist for headshot weapons was given enormous weighting to grant almost a guaranteed headshot...and this included the Sniper. Putting your Sniper into the Revenant and driving around meant easy sniper kills (although, it also usually meant you were picking on weaklings.) This bug wasn't practical to abuse in high level play, but several clips circled the BTB community showing off the enormous Sniper sprees players could rack up against teams of randoms. Apart from those aspects, the Revenant's teamplay usually revolved around keeping threats away from the Wraith and patrolling the map to stop flanks. Teamshot could take the bastard down, but it took enough bullets to discourage trying unless you were safe from other infantry fire.

Clarity, Reach, Dead Horse, vehicle health. SHOW US HOW MUCH DAMAGE OUR VEHICLE CAN TAKE BEFORE THE NEXT STAGE OF DAMAGE. SHOW US WHEN/IF THAT DAMAGE REGENERATES. Everything else about it was pretty clear cut. Your remaining boost amount was tied to the Armor Ability gauge, and the reticule even has an indicator to let you know how long until you can fire again (it blinks three times). So apart from the dead horse complaint, the Revenant does a fine job of letting the player know what's what.

Unlike the Chopper, the Revenant's usage didn't vary much depending upon the map. In fact, because of its mobility and mortaresque firing mechanism, it wasn't really as useful on the smaller or medium-sized maps as the Chopper. As far as its usage on the maps where it was utilized, it was fairly predictable, but there was always room for individual decision-making regarding how to utilize the fuchsia bullet. Individual playstyles mattered more for its deployment than a strict metagame of players, so the Revenant was a vehicle of freedom of choice. And given its mobility, it had plenty of choice.

The Revenant was a fun vehicle to use, but overall it felt like it lacked a clear identity. It wasn't as strong as the Chopper in anti-vehicular duties (though, given Reach's implementation of vehicle health, it isn't as though that niche was a necessity), and its mobility and inclusion of a passenger seat made it outshine the niche of the Warthog as an objective delivery driver, while also carrying superior firepower. The vehicle was less like a light vehicle and more like a light tank, with all the mobility of a Ghost. It was almost as though the Reach designers realized how powerful the Chopper had actually been and tried to find a way to match that while attempting to design something intended for more aggressive use. I'd almost compare the Revenant to new champion designs in League of Legends – it had an overloaded kit designed to rival other champions' mobility while having higher damage potential and extra utility, to make sure it got used as much as possible. It was a case of having too much, though it was balanced by the power of the DMR in 8v8 settings. And Armor Lock. Fuck Armor Lock.

Banshee (Halo Reach)

I know I'm pretty centered around Halo Reach for this. Kinda funny, as much as we voice disdain for Halo Reach, when my former team and I reminisce about the different Halos, we realize a lot of the good things Halo Reach gave us. That's right, I said Halo Reach had some good things. (A shame it got buried under bloom and armor abilities and a 3x zoom heavy aim assist weapon.) Anyway, to the point... The Halo Reach Banshee seemed weak to most players. It seemed to fly like a brick. Attempting to use the primary guns got you shot out of the sky and melted by DMR fire. The Halo 3 flight method of sitting at the ceiling of the map and reigning down plasma like napalm was no longer a viable strategy. Then came Gamesager (the most prominent of good Banshee pilots – don't get me wrong, there were other good Banshee pilots...but if you ask a Reach BTB player to name a Banshee pilot, you will ALWAYS get the response of Gamesager.) And then the Reach Banshee's secrets were unlocked.

Mastery. Oh lord, the difference between someone who hopped in the Banshee because there was a Banshee and someone who actually knew how to use the Banshee. Mastery is the selling point of the Halo Reach Banshee. Top pilots controlled games. If you let an Ace pilot get in a Banshee, you fucked over your team. If you didn't immediately have your Sniper dump his entire clip into the Banshee, you fucked over your team. When a top pilot got in the Banshee, there was no more DMRing it. Aerial acrobatics were a must – if you stopped flipping, your armor started melting. Of course, timing your flips was also important, flipping as you fired a Banshee bomb accelerated the missile as well as increased the aim assist. If you flipped randomly, you couldn't ensure you were picking off stragglers with ease in the process. Even on a map like Tears of Joy with its neutral Banshee and hugely open sightlines, an ace pilot could stay alive long enough to reach Rampage sprees or beyond. Paradiso was controlled by the better Banshee, where although the Scorpion could take it down in one shot, a pilot with balls and skill could neutralize the enemy Scorpion and set up for full control of the mountain.

The Mastery spilled over into Meaningful Choices. Enemy has Laser, you don't have to be afraid. Hell, you're so goddamned acrobatic you can dodge it, right? No need to fear the lock-on mechanisms of the Plasma Launcher and Rocket Launcher. Those are just for Falcons. Just flip, you're free of locks! The Banshee was so feared on Spire, some offensive-side teams made the ultimate choice: They would lift 3-4 players to top Spire and unload their DMRs into the Banshee to ensure that no one got it off the start. As your health whittled down to dangerous levels, it became a question of whether you continue to make bomb runs and lose the Banshee or keep lurking in the shadows for an opportunity to make a safer assault. If the enemy's Sniper was active, do you wait for him to burn his shots on infantry, or do you fly free from fear, hoping he doesn't choose to target you (note: 5 shots from a Sniper would kill a Banshee.)

In terms of Counterplay, the options for a regular soldier against a -good- Banshee were highly limited. Your DMR could put in damage, (and, unlike Halo 3, where the SMG and AR were more effective against the flying menace, actually using your DMR was better, since it dealt more damage to the vehicle.) but mostly it was the equivalent of buzzing mosquitoes and simply made the Banshee retreat to regenerate the invisible health before a stage of damage was taken before retaking the skies and smiting the nuisances with the green bolts of doom. If you didn't have a Laser, a Sniper, a Banshee of your own, or a Tank...your chances against a Banshee were nearly zero. Your best bet in matchmaking occurrences was to Armor Lock to survive the Banshee Bomb and then resume shooting it until it fled or bled.

Teamplay: EVERYONE SHOOT THE BANSHEE. SERIOUSLY, JUST LOOK UP AND SHOOT IT. IGNORE THE OTHER 7 MEMBERS OF THE TEAM, SHOOT THE BANSHEE. This may sound ridiculous, but that's basically what the communications of a team left on the wrong side of an asymmetrical Banshee situation sounded like. If you left the Banshee alone, you lost. If you ignored the other 7 members and focused the Banshee, you may stop the bleeding before you gave up an objective or fell into insurmountable leads in Slayer, but oftentimes, unequal Banshee usage meant game over. As far as using the Banshee, its teamplay encouragement revolved around communicating the status of enemy threats – Tank, Laser, Sniper. Find out where those are, fly elsewhere, or fly straight at them and kill them, depending on whether you thought the Banshee's boosters could support the weight of your enormous medicine balls for testicles or not.

Clarity. Reach. Dead Horse. Vehicle Health. Yadda yadda yadda. Once again, the Reach UI makes it visible when you'll be able to fire again (there's a small bar that fills up on the Banshee Bomb's reticule). The Boost mechanism is communicated through the Armor Ability slot. It's a little unclear upon first entering the Banshee that there are two weapons – there's no indicator apart from the reticule to show which of the two weapons you have active. If you are coming straight in from Halo 3, you may wonder how to use your Banshee Bombs, which were tied to the melee button in the previous title (though, to highlight the step up in Clarity, Halo 3 didn't show how long it took for a Banshee Bomb to recharge). Some sort of UI inclusion to explain there are two weapons would be a nice help to ease newer players into the vehicle. Furthermore, the aforementioned “accelerated Banshee Bomb” from flipping is also not something made clear to the player – though I suspect it is a bug with a similar source as the Halo 4 “super grenade” that was patched out, and therefore not something the developers were aware existed.

The Banshee's Evolution in Reach was simple: Get good, kid. If you learned how to fly as well as the best pilots, you were a major force on the battlefield. If you couldn't fly, you were a deadweight in the sky. You were fired years ago, but somehow through a glitch in payroll you still drew a check. Better hope an enemy doesn't fix the glitch. It's hard to overstate it, but a good Banshee pilot dominated games. Period. The forward flips while boosting, the flipbombs, the daring bomb runs with seemingly-narrow-but-not-really-all-that-close escapes were all made possible entirely by the user's aptitude with the Banshee. And being able to pull those off meant you could rack up easy Running Riots or Inconceivables or whatever spree you really wanted depending on how cautious you decided to be.

Seriously though, if you want a vehicle with a near-limitless skill ceiling that highlights even a marginal difference in skill between two pilots, the Banshee is the pinnacle of design in that regard. Was it overpowered? Absolutely. Was that a good thing, given Reach's vehicle health mechanics? Maybe. It may have been a little on the too-tough-to-handle end of the spectrum, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, given it required a huge time/skill investment to get that good with the Banshee. It was seriously an artform that, even at the end of Reach's lifespan, I could count on one hand the number of pilots who had reached the level of Ace pilot. As a competitive player, the frustration of being destroyed by the Banshee was outweighed by the admiration for the level of skill required to utilize the vehicle in such a dominant manner. Granted, weighing it against unorganized play and unskilled players would DEFINITELY push it into the zone of “too stronk pls nerf.”

Spectre/Prowler (Halo 2/Halo 3)

I'm doing a two-piece for the last vehicle, because both attempted to fill a similar niche. They were a 4-seat vehicle in an 8v8 game mode that rarely got used in the manner they were intended. The turrets were ineffective against competent opponents, and the side seats were rarely a place you'd want to be unless you were in an objective gametype and some idiot decided to drive the Spectre or Prowler. I will offer the caveat that I haven't played Halo 2 in 8 years, so I'm a bit rusty on the Spectre, but for the most part, the only thing I recall it being used for was climbing the wall on Coagulation to get into the Sniper nest spot on one side of the map.

Mastery of the Spectre/Prowler... It's like driving a Warthog that can't actually deal damage at range. So you've got a greater chance of being stuck, a greater chance of getting in too deep, and a greater chance of just being absolutely fucked over. The Spectre had some decent mobility, and wasn't as affected by terrain as the Warthog, but its primary cannon was shit. It was a rapid-fire plasma cannon, with standard plasma projectiles. It's good for dropping shields, but actually finishing the kills meant having ridiculous accuracy, and with the slower projectile speed plasma weapons have, it's hard to actually get a kill beyond being in close. The Prowler mitigated that SLIGHTLY in two ways – it put the turret up front (means, you're a little closer to the target your driver is trying to deliver you to), and it replaced the frame of the vehicle with a doom sled. Most often, when you saw a player on HaloCharts with a high amount of Prowler kills, they weren't from the turret – Bungie paid so little attention to the vehicle in its design that it counted both splatters and turret kills as the same weapon...and the enormous block of a front the Prowler had made it great for splattering. In fact, although the Chopper was known for its ability to Splatter anything, the Prowler, used properly, could splatter a Chopper. It was that scary.

The only Meaningful Choice for a Spectre is “Don't.” Don't get in. Don't attempt. Don't drive. Don't waste your time. The Prowler's adjustments to the design gave it a little bit more leeway. Again, the hulking front made passengers a bit safer from damage, and the vehicle's penchant for splattering made it a fantastic tool for the variant One Bomb on Sand TARP. Deliver the Bomb, use Doom Sled to splatter anyone off of it. Win round. But mostly, either vehicle was dead weight. The Prowler just gave you better potential to run over foes who underestimate the Prowler's size and speed.

Countering the Spectre and Prowler is as simple as ignoring them. Okay, not completely ignoring them, they CAN kill you. They just probably won't. I mean, they've got those useless plasma turrets. Just stay away from the roads where they can splatter you and you're pretty much safe from them. They can't turn on a dime, so stick to lateral movements when attempting to escape. Their frames are huge, throw a Plasma Grenade. It's not difficult to deal with a Spectre or Prowler. And, if they were dumb enough to load up to the T, then congratulations on your Killtacular / Overkill (depending on the game) that was just gift-wrapped for you and delivered by the Sleigh of Sangheili Claus. Hey, I only said SANTA doesn't exist.

Teamwork makes the Dreamwork. But while you may think you're on the Road to El Dorado, you're really on your way to being Shrekt if you attempt to seriously utilize the Spectre or Prowler. They're too weak to be effective. Seriously, you'd have better luck trying to learn How to Train Your Dragon than trying to drive a gunner for either of these vehicles to get kills. Unless your opponents are straight out of the jungles of Madagascar and just learning how to play video games for the first time, you're better off ignoring these vehicles and sticking to playing the game on foot. Or, if you remember the “Halo True Men of Genius” series, being “Mr. Take Off In the Warthog with No Gunner Man” – except in the case of the Spectre or Prowler, you may actually be a true man of genius by doing so. Hell, you may even call yourself MegaMind as you roam the dunes of Sand Tarp in a lone Prowler, splattering the Nomadic Spartans attempting to walk the earth a bit. But seriously, these vehicles suck (in terms of effectiveness.)

To be honest, I couldn't actually remember if the Spectre had a booster or not and looked up some YouTube videos to refresh my memory (it appears to). Not that it matters much, you don't need to know if the Spectre can boost or not to know it's as effective and likely to enact change and reform the status quo as a third-party Presidential candidate. Regardless, the Clarity of the vehicles is somewhat cut and dry. The Spectre's side seats are a bit easier to recognize than the Prowler's (which, in Sand Tarp bomb, were sometimes problematic attempting to find and get your bomb carrier on in a timely manner. The Prowler's front design does suggest it's not a wise idea to run into – the teeth/mouth appearance make it seem it eats smaller vehicles for breakfast. The turret's reticule is static, although it has a very apparent Bloom mechanism behind it if you hold down the trigger as opposed to pulsing it. I'm honestly not sure why a plasma turret has bloom given the (relative to bullets) slow travel time of the projectiles – it's hard enough to get the bead on your opponents to START hitting them, why make it even harder by introducing randomness?

The Evolution of these vehicles...well, let's just say they were taught Evolution by Red State schools deep in the Bible Belt, and leave it at that. It's just nonsense, that's all.

Overall, these are less effective Warthogs with a less clear purpose (why are there TWO passenger seats?) and more exposure to danger (gunner in Spectre is highly exposed, driver on Prowler is). The one advantage the Prowler has over the Warthog is how protected its gunner is, but given the Plasma's comparatively weaker damage versus vehicles, a Warthog still has the advantage. Still, most players who insisted on using either vehicle used them alone, relying on the mobility and potential for splattering over actually attempting to utilize the guns. I'm going to say it one more time: Plasma Turrets in Halo suck. They don't do anything effectively. If they had an effect of stunning vehicles like Halo: CE's Plasma Rifle stunned players, maybe it'd be better, but... since they do not, it's a moot point.

That's the end of my two-part series analyzing Halo's vehicles versus Riot's 6 core gameplay design tenets. I know it was a lot of words; I tried to weave in some humor and pop culture references to add brevity and make it worth the read. If you read it and disagree with anything or think I've missed something, PLEASE, comment below or message me some feedback – I'd love to hear it. It's how I can grow as a game designer and competitive gamer.

I hope those of you who made it through this 21 page, 14,000 word thesis of a rant enjoyed the ride. Because unfortunately, the game didn't tell us how much vehicle health we had left and now we're about to blow u

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