This week Bungie released three new screenshots featuring the new maps that we’ve shared thus far as well as a couple extra shots of the Spartan Laser and the one Campaign glimpse we’re giving. In this write-up we’ll go into as much as you can see in the screenshots, but with maybe a slightly better perspective than the average bear.
Mind you, all of the screens and level designs you see here are completely subject to change. The models, the spawns, the balance, the geometry, the very nature of time and space. It may not be like this when you get to play the game next year.
Starting with High Ground, the first thing you’ll notice is the Warthog barreling into the base. It’s taken some damage, as indicated by the misshapen body all around the frame of the hog. The hog is heading into the compound, the door to which has obviously been opened to make way for the Hog incursion. The console to open the gate is on the inside of the base on the left side. there are a couple of ways to enter the base before that door opens. The Warthog’s objective is the base within the base, which you can see just under the right wing of the Ghost. It’s a command center of sorts with portable computers and screens set up inside. In this command center is the flag 9at least for the moment). The area around it can be driven in, so you can make a full circle of the command center with a Warthog. This is useful as you wait for someone to grab the flag, secure a territory or just to be a jerk and keep them bottled up.
Your eye may next be drawn to the turret on the top of the base. Mounting this at the beginning of the game is basically suicide as the assaulting team spawns with a sniper. The sniper spawns down by the beach where the assaulting team also spawns with a Warthog, several Battle Rifles and a few other handy weapons, and one as-yet unrevealed mystery. Once you’re relatively sure that the sniper won’t bite you, the turret is a useful counter to the Hog, typically most useful for taking down their shields before they enter the tight quarters of the base area where they’ll be more vulnerable to all kinds of grenades and small arms fire.
In the camouflage tower to the left and above the turret is where the Spartan Laser spawns. That does more than take down the shields of the Hog-riders. With a direct hit, the laser will obliterate the hog and all of its occupants. And ruin their credit history. The tower is vulnerable, however. There are fusion cores stacked up on one of edge of it, so a well placed grenade can be enough to ignite them and violently eject a laser-wielding Spartan out of that tower, possibly placing the laser right in the assaulting team’s hands.
The bunker you see directly to the left of the Hog is one route into the base which will lead you straight to the command center, about one crafty jump away from the flag. You can actually see this area in the middle of the open gate. Off of that platform, you can jump and grab the flag. Without support from your team, though, it’d be a fruitless effort. Even if you killed the entire defensive team right before hand, it’s a tough getaway without support.
Your eye will definitely be drawn to the spike grenade in the air above the Hog. For a while people were totally unsure what this was, especially early on when people only had scans and no translation. Guesses ranged from a rocket (a la the original Burial Mounds shout in 2003) to a dragon fly. You can see the spike grenade’s explosion directly to the left of the Hog. You can even see the spikes flying through the air in the directional blast (in this case, directly up).
Yes, boarding is back. Big surprise. What you might not notice or be able to tell from that image of the Ghost is that it’s received a pretty awesome graphic overhaul. It’s subtle at first but we’ve been noticing it more and more. The surface is now a lot shinier than before, the reflection on it is real-time, which we just tested by throwing grenades in front of it and watching their reflections. The lighting on the sides of the ghost has also been improved, as well as some of the particle effects of its hovering. Basically, the Ghost has been pimped.
The second screen that we’ll look at is the Valhalla shot. In case you’ve missed all of the coverage, the ATV that you’re looking at is the Mongoose. This vehicle was originally planned in Halo 2, but they were never able to find the right balance for it so they removed it. This time around it’s in, it’s fun and it’s got a role to play. It’s unarmed, but it’s fast and therefore pretty difficult to destroy. Also visible here is the new flag design, which is the UNSC logo. Someone asked me if it waves in the wind and the answer is yes, with tiny little ripples.
The mancannon, or rather the effect of the mancannon, is visible in the background. The mancannon is in the middle of the Forerunner structure, the Spartan in the air is on his way down and will land about 10 feet from where he is now. There are secondary mancannons on the sides of each base which, at one base, will propel you into a shaded area with some tree cover, and at the other base it will catapult you into a similar area but filled with rocks instead. These secondary mancannons do not send you as far and are actually more useful for stealth routes, whereas the big one sends you straight into the heat of battle. We’ve been finding that the spots that they put you in are actually very useful for defensive purposes, especially sniping. You’ve got good cover and a decent view of the base and the area in front of it.
Back to the Mongoose and its balancing. Like I said, it is small and unarmed, but it’s fast. There’s no easy way to take it out. You can use the Spartan Laser, but that’s kind of difficult as the laser needs to charge for three seconds before it discharges. While it’s firing, you’ve got about half a second or so to get it over the target. Unless it’s coming straight at you and even if it is, that can be kind of difficult. It’ll definitely take some getting used to before you can consistently hit a moving target with it, but then it’s all the more satisfying. The driver is exposed, so small arms fire can easily take it out if it’s cornered, but if it’s speeding past you, it won’t inflict very much damage. One of the better methods is actually sniping the exposed driver. They’re quick but if you’re far enough away then it won’t look that fast to you. A couple of body shots or a head shot will do the trick.
The Mongoose is very well suited to flag runs, as you can see in the image. A lone Mongoose assaulting the base will not often be successful, but if you have two players at their base and then steal one of their Mongooses (yeah, that’s the proper plural form, though I prefer Mongi) it’s usually a good bet for escape. Right now the Mongi spawn two per base and are set to respawn rather quickly. It’s something that the designers plan to keep handy for the players as much as possible. It’s insanely useful for getting to a place on the map quickly when necessary.
Battle Rifles spawn plentifully all over the map, one sniper spawns under each base along with all the grenades you’ll need. Right now, the standard vehicle load-out is a Banshee, Warthog, Wraith and two Mongi per base. The Spartan Laser spawns in the middle of the map, really close to where the Mongoose is flying off of that cliff. It’s tough to describe, but there’s another cliff about 20 feet across from it where there is a turret mounted. Between these two cliffs runs a stream. The divide has actually been significant in Team Slayer games, as one team will hold up around the turret while the other will crowd on the other side and the two take pot shots at each other with BR until one finally goes around to flank the other or dies trying.
The final screenshot is from Snowbound. You get your best view at the Spartan character models in this one. You’ll notice the shotgun on the back of the blue Spartan as well as an SMG on the hip of the red, shotgun-toting Spartan in the air. The area in which all of this carnage is taking place in the back of what is referred to as "low base" while the other is referred to as "slightly less low base." You can see, in the distance, the turrets. We’re actually not sure if we’ll go that route yet. There was one build where the area outside of the play area was actually full of land mines (yeah, they worked). Another had an instakill zone. Sometimes it’s just the turrets. Either way, it’s not a good idea to go out of the boundaries.
Another small touch to the game that you can see from this screenshot is the way the Spartans’ feet and ankles adjust to the contours of the ground, or as Don King would call it, "inclination acclamation." Notice the pink Spartan at the bottom of low base, as the Spartan ascends, the feet and ankles angle up to accurately reflect how your feet would rest on the ground in that situation. It’s also visible in the tan Spartan just in front of the pink one. It’s a small touch, but cool nonetheless.
Two other things that we’d like to point out are the grenade explosion. Aren’t they sexy? Plasma grenades have looked awesome in both Halo 1 and 2; Halo 3 has in no way disappointed in that department. Sticking someone with a plasma grenade just got a whole lot more satisfying. The regular frag grenade is going off in the right-hand side of the screen. It also looks really good up close, frightening realistic (I’m sure that if plasma grenades existed, we’d all be talking about how scary-real they look in Halo 3). However, they are less sexy than the plasma 'nades because when you throw them at peoples’ faces they still bounce off and fall at my feet.
Spawning on top of each base is a Carbine and a Needler, which is actually a combo that I grab pretty much each time I’m up there. It’s great for keeping a distance from opponents. The Needler is ridiculous at medium range and the Carbine is pretty much the Carbine that you’re used to. Three plasma grenades spawn atop the base as well. Pretty much all of the maps have a plentiful supply of grenades right now because of the two-grenades-per-grenade-type limit.
The area beneath the base spawns a plasma pistol, a Spiker, tons of 'nades and is absolutely beautiful. You should see the translucent ice ceiling scattering blue light. The two bases are linked by tunnels under the bases. These tunnels lead to a room and then back to the bases. In this room spawns the shotgun and some spike grenades, there’re also two ways out to the surface from there, one through a shield door and to the ghost spawn and another to the trench that separate low base from high base. The shield doors are another new touch to the game. These doors make for some really fun and interesting confrontations. You can see the other player and what they're doing but you can't shoot them or really affect them in any way. It's really rare that both players walk away from that instance, one is normally confident enough to walk through the door and get the kill or immediately regret their decision. The most interesting tactic used thus far is running through a door with someone directly behind you and throwing a spike grenade (which adheres to every surface in the game... except water) on the door as you pass through. If you time it right, you'll be through before it goes off, but they'll get a face full of spikes.
When you look at the screenshot, you can see on the left, just above the blue Spartan’s knee, a small tunnel area. In this area will spawn the sniper. Tragically, it is lined with fusion coils. If you’re going to grab the sniper, do yourself a favor and make sure no one’s watching or blow them yourself, else you’re in for a hurtin’. On the right side of the screenshot you can see the beginnings of another small tunnel. There are Covenant batteries inside this one, nothing else spawns inside it aside from each grenade, but again all of these spawnpoints and weapons are totally subject to change and likely will have changed by the time you get your hands on the game. Subtly or dramatically.