Cliffside hilltop fun

Posted February 26th 2006

The basic idea

In the cliffside area where survivors hide underground in level 2, there's a place where you can drive a Warthog up the hill that runs along the area. Look for the big tree close up against the hillside, just to the left of centre. Take the hill at speed just to the left of the tree. You'll slow towards the top, but as long as you're on the right bit of slope you'll continue edging up. You can be up on the grassy plateau in about ten seconds if you get it just right. Nice view!

Getting 'on top of the level' like this is an old trick, but I'm not sure how much talk there's been about all the fun you can have up there. Aside from the obvious sniping you can do with a sniper rifle or pistol, there's an amazing 'plasma pistol sniping' technique to enjoy, some great long-range grenading, and possibly the best Banshee battling in the entire game. You can even have a squad of Marines up there to join in. Read on for details of all this and more.

Old trick

It seems that people were getting up that hill almost as soon as the game was out. I did a bit of searching in the HBO forum archive and found a mention in a post by carrim dated 26th November 2001 (by searching for the phrase "on top of"). Personally I only learnt you could get up there in late 2005! Oh well, better late than never. I saw it on a tips page.

Plasma pistol sniping

From way up on that hill, I never really expected to get much joy from the plasma pistol, but I was wrong big-time! This is where I discovered the mischievous technique I call 'plasma pistol sniping', which you can read about in the combat tips section. Done that? You can use it to kill all the enemies you can see here. Lots of fun.

Bye-bye beak-face!

The first time I tried plasma pistol sniping, I picked on a Jackal at the cliff edge way over on the left, facing me. The shots piled in, making him stagger backwards off the cliff. Bye-bye beak-face! More usually a Jackal walks over to the edge and faces out to sea for a while. It only takes a few pulses of plasma to make him stagger forwards off the edge. You've just got time to see him start to scream before he disappears out of sight, like he's just been forced into an elevator that isn't there. Hilarious.

This group of cliffside Jackals is a lot of fun. My favourite Jackal assault spot is on a high corner about 143 metres from a Jackal at the cliff edge as mentioned. You can probably use that info to figure out where my spot actually is, if you're interested. If you move closer (down on the slope of the hill) and they spot you, they sometimes move out to the left and send plasma balls your way. Normally I keep more distant though.

100% enjoyment

Naturally, you'll want a plasma pistol with as much charge as possible. I've often found one on 100%, namely from a Grunt on the last dropship in the area where you get the Warthog.

Plasma pistol sniping challenge

See if you can use a plasma pistol to kill enough enemies to get survivors to start emerging. It's certainly possible on Heroic, though you'll want to minimize wasted shots.

Unaided fire

If you like, you can also try to snipe without the benefit of zoomed pre-aiming. It'll be harder, but at least you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you didn't need the pre-aiming trick.

Other weapons

In regard to dealing with the enemies below, the main weapons of interest are the sniper rifle, pistol, and plasma pistol, all for their long-range potential. What about the other hand weapons? Well, the plasma rifle is able to reach some enemies, but has neither the accuracy or satisfaction of the plasma pistol. Although you can do plasma rifle sniping like you'd do plasma pistol sniping, it's not as good. The needler doesn't have the range at all, unless you suicidally jump off and manage to drill a stream into someone on your way down! As for the assault rifle, that can reach some enemies but its scattered fire is pretty hopeless.


You can have fun lobbing grenades down and maybe switching to a sniper view to watch the enemy react. It's pretty satisfying when a huge throw blows a Grunt or Jackal sky-high. Maybe you can even manage to tag them. If you throw two grenades in quick succession, it's even possible to double-tag an enemy, though it takes a bit of luck because they usually start running around after the first one hits.

Accurate tagging

To aid your aim with tagging, first aim at them with the 10x sniper rifle view (though you could make do with the 2x pistol view), then quickly unzoom and raise the elevation to some particular height that you can remember by some little feature in the sky (e.g. "the top of the cloud line"), and send in the grenade. Be quick because enemies tend not to stand still for long. Your elevation will probably be a bit off to start with, but you can successively modify it. Eventually, you'll be able to learn various features in the sky to use as elevation guides from various throwing locations, enabling you to perform spectacular long-range tags at will.

Cliffside Jackals

For example, see those Jackals hanging around way over on the left, by the cliffside? There's a place where they walk right up to the edge and look out to sea. After a bit of elevation testing, I can tag them almost every time now from my favourite location. It's great fun. One moment a beak-faced beastie is happily admiring the view, the next moment he's got a plasma grenade fizzing away on his rear end and he's doing that demented running-around thing Jackals do in such situations. Then BOOM! Off he sails, often for a much closer look at that sea down below. Once I just missed a tag and the grenade landed at the Jackal's feet. He took a long look at it, then suddenly realized it was a very bad thing and started diving off the cliff. Then the grenade went off and gave him a generous boost of speed. Foolish beastie.

Choose your body part

If you manage to tag a Jackal or Grunt on his feet or somewhere else low down, he'll probably get blown way up high. See if you can put a few sniper rounds in him whilst he's up there. Clay pigeon shooting, cyborg style! The cliffside Jackals I mentioned are particularly good for this, and it's perfectly possible to judge your elevation to get hits on a desired part of the body. One amusing way of getting a low tag is to make the grenade bounce off the ground just behind him, up onto his rear end. Yep, for sheer satisfaction a 'butt launch' is hard to beat!

Elites on the big structure

The Elites on the big structure are another favourite grenade target, though they can be a frustration to get as they run around quite a bit. One thing you might see is an Elite doing an enormous dive off the structure, in an attempt to get clear of a grenade. Pretty amusing when he goes straight off the cliff too!


If you do your sniping and grenading near Marines, who you may like to drop in appropriate positions, they tend to keep calling out things like "Nice shot!" and "Boom!", which you'll probably enjoy (though they can get comically repetitive with "Nice shot!" as you may've noticed). Sort of like cheerleaders, only not so pretty. "Yay! Go cyborg!". I would've preferred the San Diego Charger Girls myself (assuming they're still going in 2552), but I don't suppose we can have everything.


The Warthog's chain-gun has plenty of range to get the Covenant scum down below, though its level of accuracy leaves something to be desired of course. You can just about see how much damage you're doing if you've got good eyesight. Deaths are often easy enough to spot due to the death throe firing you often get. But it's also nice to have a passenger, to hear him confirm kills with cries like "Save some for me!".

Angling down

In places along the hill, it's possible to edge forward onto a slope so you can angle the gun down. It's also possible to angle down even where things fall away abruptly, by precariously edging the front wheels over.

Send in the Marines

Get two Marines into the Warthog and push it off the top of the hill so it rolls down into enemy territory. From above, watch and see how well they do. You can help out if desired. Ideally put a sergeant on the chain-gun; they have the best vocals when dishing it out to the enemy.

Enemies outside

Aside from the enemies in the cliffside area, there are potentially a few nasties outside that you can attack from your hilltop. So have a look around.

Jackals at the entrance

If you go right to one end of the hilltop, you may be able to see a Jackal or two that was guarding the left entrance to the cliffside area. They'll probably point when they spot you, but they can't actually point upwards. Presumably Bungie never planned for Jackals having to point up at such a steep angle, though the Jackal is able to subsequently look up at you properly. It's fun to grenade these guys so they comically sail off into the waterfall behind them.

Rockslide entrance Grunts

Over in the valley, you may eventually see a dropship deposit one or more Grunts over by the entrance to the rockslide area. I've previously mentioned these guys and others in a general bit of fun called Lonesome Grunts in the valley. They're within sniper rifle range. But rather than just plugging them, why not play a little first? Shoot the ground close to their feet, and they leap up in surprise and go running off. Very cute.

Other enemies in the valley

As well as those rockslide Grunts, you may see a few other enemies that potentially get dropped off (if you're not playing on Legendary). You may see some down by the stream, or by the passage that leads to the hillside survivor area. Also, if you've gone in and ferried out survivors from the hillside area, enemies from within sometimes chase after you through the passage and hang around just outside.

Banshee battling

Up on the hilltop, you can get what is possibly the best Banshee battling in the entire game, when a pair of Banshees materialize across the valley and attack. Usually they're triggered some while after you've killed enough of the enemy below; but I'll leave triggering details for later. Let's get right into the action.

Low and menacing

Once the Banshees spot you, it's not long before they're heading over, and you'll soon notice that they tend to come skimming in low and menacing across the ground, quite unlike a normal Banshee attack. In fact, they're pretty keen on squashing you and any Marines without further ado, and they're pretty good at it, so watch out! Dodging isn't easy, but after some practice it seems to me that the best way is a bit like how you dodge a stream of needles. Move to one side, then arc forwards inside the Banshee's curve as the pilot tries to get you. If you're thinking of hiding behind the hog, you'll be disappointed. It'll provide you with cover from their fire ok, but is no good for squash prevention, as you'll soon find out if you stay there. You could also try using a bit of slope near the top of the hill for cover.


When it comes to fighting back, the pistol can make things a bit easy, so how about using other weapons? The AR is a lot of fun (you'll soon be able to pick one up from a fallen Marine if you don't have one already), and plasma weapons are also good. A fun challenge with the plasma pistol is to deal the final blow by sending a plasma ball chasing after the Banshee as it flies off. Looks great when it comes off, particularly when the shot chases a long way and just manages to get there. See the combat tips section for more on anti-Banshee tactics.


Then there's plasma grenades. Try tagging a Banshee, perhaps attempting a long throw as it's heading in, or waiting until it's much closer up. Some rather interesting things can happen when it's tagged. If you can manage to get it on its underside or perhaps the rear fins, the pilot may jerk the controls around as if trying to get to it; reminds me of a dog chasing his tail. Pretty funny. Once, the grenade seemed to somehow go inside. The pilot jerked the controls about as if trying to shake it off, and I couldn't see the grenade on the surface. Then it went off, yet didn't quite destroy the Banshee. Next time he came skimming in, I met him with a plasma ball, and CRUMP! A muted blast saw the Banshee fall to earth. Another time, the pilot instantly cried "Aiiieeee!", which normally signals impending death, but when the bang went off it didn't actually kill him.

Frag grenade delight

When a Banshee comes in low across the ground, you can even use frag grenades! This is a lot of fun. Throw the grenade on the ground so it'll explode as the Banshee skims over. It's unusual to see a Banshee blow up that way, and it's not too hard. You don't really get the opportunity for this in normal play, as Banshees normally dive in. For a challenge, see if you can get both of them that way. They seem particularly susceptible to grenades going off just behind them. If the explosion happens to send the pilot your way, give him a whack for good measure!

Bring in the Marines

The battle is really atmospheric if you've got a load of Marines up there, e.g. your original passengers plus some survivors ferried out from the rockslide area. You can even just watch them defend unaided. It's pretty spectacular. See plan 2 in Creating convenient saves, for battling with Marines.

On Heroic, six Marines with ARs can do a pretty fair job on a good day. Mind you, they have some funny ideas about anti-Banshee tactics, often lobbing frag grenades into the wild blue yonder. The sky is sometimes almost alive with grenades. And so's the ground, what with all the fumbling going on. Yep, it's back to Combat Training 101 for these guys, once I've saved the human race!

You don't have to be close up though. I found that once the Banshees were diverted by Marine fire, I was able to move off and watch from a distance. The Banshees seemed happy to ignore me, in favour of grinding the Marines into the dirt. And I do mean grinding; those pilots are vicious!

Banshee battling with the Marines up here eventually made me realize that you could equally arrange such battles in the valley below. See Banshee battling for a complete guide.


You probably won't want to leave a gunner in the hog for Banshee battling, else he'll usually clean up quick, which won't leave much fun for you. Then again, you could experiment with placing a gunner far from the main battle area, so that his contribution will be less overwhelming.

Passing help

Sometimes you get some brief help from the Pelican occupants. You might hear a few pistol shots or AR rounds coming from the back as it passes. The Banshees sometimes chase after the Pelican for a while.

Triggering the Banshees

Ok, now the promised info on triggering the Banshees, assuming you haven't already romped around the level so much that you triggered them earlier. You should also take a look at plan 2 in Creating convenient saves, as that plan is ideal for initiating Banshee battling when you want it.

If you play normally, things go something like this. Once you've killed most of the enemies below, Marines start to emerge from hiding, and at some point you hear Cortana say "We should secure the area before the dropship arrives". You don't have to find and kill the last few enemies though. If you simply stay up top, the Banshees seem to appear after about 110 seconds, unless all the survivors down below get killed by the remaining enemy, in which case the Banshees are likely to appear without much further ado. That said, you could go down to finish things off, then drive back up to attend to the Banshees. If you do that, you might find that when you get back to the hilltop, the Banshees aren't in sight. In one case I experienced, they'd flown off to the waterfall area way over on the right. Another time I saw them doing their 'formation circling' thing down by the stream (which was nice to watch).

However, it's also possible to get the Banshees before you've even killed any of the enemy down below. One time, I'd assembled six Marines up on the hilltop, four of whom were ferried over from the rockslide area. Next thing I know, I'm seeing "Search for additional survivors" on the screen, and the Banshees have appeared. Presumably, the few Marines left in the rockslide area had got wiped out in my absence (they probably didn't retreat to the plateau quick enough); and that was enough to trigger the Banshees.

Hey presto

When the Banshees are triggered, you can see them materialize out of thin air. Watch with a sniper scope, and you'll notice that the pilots seem to materialize separately then drop into position.

Formation circling

If the Banshees don't immediately spot you, they'll probably go into their playful 'formation circling' thing, which must make the pilots a bit dizzy. You can sometimes see them kicking up dirt from the ground as they circle.

Their circling sometimes wanders. Once, they gradually moved further from me, sinking out of sight. I couldn't catch their attention, and they never did come over to attack. Another time, they gradually sank down towards the stream and ended up circling on the ground, kicking up dirt.

Pelican departure


When the Pelican departs and flies over, it almost skims the clifftop. Be there for a dramatic experience. You might like to duck!

Bad cyborg

As it continues on, see how many of its occupants you can kill with the sniper rifle if you want a challenge. Killed occupants fall out. I had a pretty amusing experience the first time I tried this. As the Pelican came skimming over the cliff, one of the saved Marines inside said "Thank god it's you!". Moments later he was far less enthusiastic, as I got lucky with a hasty sniper shot that killed both occupants. Next thing I hear is Sarge on the chain-gun nearby. "What the hell? You're not gettin' away with that!". And sure enough, I didn't.

You could also try tagging the Pelican at some point. If you've already turned traitor, you may come under a bit of fire from the occupants as they pass; and they might cry out some funny things.

Turning traitor

Ferry lots of Marines up to the hilltop, then kill a few to turn traitor. I've had a dozen of them up there, and things were pretty heated; I've never had so many frag grenades heading my way before!

You can also kill friendlies down below if you see any. Here's something amusing that relates to that. I used the sniper rifle to kill an engineer who was running for the Pelican, and one of the nearby Marines commented "Nice shot!". I guess he just didn't like engineers that much. I got the same comment another time when I snipered a seated engineer as the Pelican disappeared off into the distance.

Sniper in the valley

Here's something novel to experience when you've turned traitor; being under fire from a sniper who's way down in the valley (someone you moved there). Up on the hilltop, go near the edge and catch his attention, and you'll soon have rounds zinging your way.

Driving off the edge

See what madness you can perform by driving off the edge somewhere. It actually seems to be quite easy to go flying off and survive with little or no damage. For example try driving straight off the steep edge on the lifeboat side. No trouble! Moreover, if you make the Warthog go into a spin just before you fly off, it seems to have a stabilizing influence and you usually land on your wheels. Meanwhile though, any passengers are probably screaming. Strangely, they sometimes do an odd continuation of this screaming a moment after you're down.

Corkscrew descent

An even more spectacular style of descent is what I'll call a 'corkscrew descent'. Go off almost parallel to the cliff so that one side of the vehicle starts going down first. This puts you into a corkscrew roll as you continue forwards through the air. Get it right and you can land on your wheels and happily drive off, though your passengers may be a little upset about the experience.

Off the end

Once, I drove off the end over by the right hand entrance. It's not a sudden drop. There's a sloping surface that helped cushion us, but we still did a somersault. Meanwhile the Aussie gunner is yelling at me "Can you see out of that bloody visor?", then we land right side up and we're ok!

Aerial insertion

There's one place you can drive off to launch yourself into the enemy's midst, namely right into the small structure on the right. Not exactly a conventional assault, and you'll probably scratch the paintwork, but hey, we fight cyborg-style, am I right?

Watching the rockslide dropships

If you've just been to the rockslide area and killed the initial group of enemy to trigger the first dropship, then you whizzed straight up here to the cliffside hilltop, you'll be able to watch all four dropships arrive and depart. See where they come from and where they fly off to. At least one of them can be seen to blink out of existence; obviously Bungie never planned on you being up here to see that.

Sniping challenge

With the sniper rifle, it seems possible to kill an enemy in one of the dropships by shooting through the narrow gap where the door shuts, when the reticle turns red. However, I'm judging this only by the comments of my Marine buddies. They cried out things like "Nice shot!" which implies that I killed something. Based on experience elsewhere with shooting through the gap (namely with the dropship that arrives in the hillside survivor area), I would've expected any dead enemy to impossibly fall through to the ground. But that didn't happen here.

Glitches to see

I've already mentioned that you can potentially see dropships blink out of existence, and see the two Banshees materialize (their pilots dropping into them). Another glitch you'll see up here is that the section of Halo ring across the valley cuts off well above the horizon. Anything else? Take a look.

Creating convenient saves

If you're enjoying all this hilltop fun, you may be interested in creating a convenient save for it. Here are two plans for this, followed by a few tips including refinements or variations.

Plan 1

In the eventual save here, you'll be starting up on the hilltop, all ready to go to work on the enemy. You'll have the sniper rifle and plasma pistol, and four Marines to help with any Banshee battling. Here's how to create it.

When you leave the area where you get the Warthog, be armed with a fully loaded pistol, a plasma pistol with as much charge as possible (I've often found one on 100% from a Grunt on the last dropship), and a full stock of grenades. In the light-bridge area, don't use the plasma pistol unless you know you can swap it for one with higher charge. Keep your passengers in perfect health for future Banshee battling by doing all the fighting yourself. Preferably save the checkpoint you get after the light-bridge. If anything goes wrong in the rest of your preparations, you'll be able to restart from that point by ejecting the disc and reloading.

Once you emerge into the valley, drive into the cliffside area and deposit your passengers on the hilltop. Drive off alone and swap your pistol for the sniper rifle at the lifeboat. Drive to the rockslide area and quickly wipe out the enemy with the sniper rifle, ideally before they attack the Marines. Pick up two Marines (not the sniper as he's no use against Banshees), and top up your sniper rifle with ammo. Return to the cliffside hilltop and get everything arranged as you want for the start of your save (e.g. stand in your favourite attack spot).

Now here's the cunning bit. Back in the rockslide area, dropships have been continuing to arrive, each one preceded by a checkpoint. When you get the checkpoint for the final ship, you're done (either wait a few minutes to be sure all checkpoints have occurred, or learn to recognize the final dropship from its approach path). You can then save to make it permanent.

Plan 2

In the eventual save here, you'll be starting off driving solo into the cliffside area. You'll have the sniper rifle and plasma pistol, and up to eight Marines on the hilltop to help with any Banshee battling. Crucially, you'll also be able to easily initiate a prolonged session of Banshee battling, if that's what you fancy. Here's how to create it.

Start off as before, up to the point where you've picked up two survivors in the rockslide area. Drop them just outside that area for now. Go back for more, and keep doing this until only the sniper remains. While doing all this ferrying, also thin out the arriving enemy troops to help minimize the threat to survivors left there. Make sure to leave a handful of enemy though, else the remaining enemy get classified as 'stragglers' and an evac Pelican comes in within a few minutes, which you don't want.

Ideally, you've now got six Marines outside the rockslide area. Ferry them up to the cliffside hilltop. Now drive out of the cliffside area then return, getting an entry checkpoint (note: to get an entry checkpoint, you may first need to go and get a checkpoint elsewhere, e.g. at the entrance to the rockslide area). Ok, you're done. Save to make it permanent.

If you fancy a prolonged session of Banshee battling with this save, play as follows. Instead of heading on up to the hilltop, go to the rockslide and pick up the sniper. Exiting the rockslide area, the Banshees have now appeared because you've emptied the rockslide of survivors. But because the sniper isn't on the chain-gun, there's no danger of him damaging the Banshees. Whizz over to the cliffside area, getting an entry checkpoint. Ascend to the hilltop, and within moments the Banshees will spot you and attack (hopefully they haven't already been attacking the Marines; they usually don't seem to). Once the battle is over, you can revert, to ascend and start the battle again. Continue as desired.


Instead of the plasma pistol, you can be armed with a pistol of course. Actually, you can arrange to end up with all three of the most important weapons handy: sniper rifle, pistol and plasma pistol. You can do it as follows. When you drop off your initial passengers, kill one and swap either your pistol or plasma pistol for his AR (which you'll swap for a sniper rifle shortly). Your dropped weapon will remain there for you to pick up whenever you want, in the fun later. If you're going to leave your pistol there, remember to make sure it's fully loaded first. There was ammo down at the lifeboat if you needed it.

Back to the drawing board

If you ever see "Search for additional survivors" on the screen during your preparations, that means the remaining rockslide survivors got wiped out (probably because they didn't have the sense to pull back to the plateau before being detected). If that happens, the Banshees will have been triggered (or so I'd expect), which is earlier than you wanted, and you'll just have to try again after restarting from some earlier point.

Quick departure

From your hilltop, the quickest way to start heading off to fetch more Marines is to drive straight off the edge into the valley. Spin as you leave the cliff; it stabilizes you and you'll probably land on your wheels, maybe even pointing in the right direction!

Extra Marines

You could get an extra few Marines from the hillside survivor area if you want them. Leave one there though, else the Banshees will be triggered (sooner than you want).

In plan 1, if you're quick there's actually time to make a second trip to the rockslide to bring back two more Marines to help boost your Banshee defence. Especially if you use the preceding tip about driving off the edge.

Unwanted chain-gunning

A slight shortcoming of the plans is that Warthog gunners may kill some enemies as you drive into the cliffside area and up the hill, which means less for you to kill later, though we're probably only talking of a few Grunts. One solution is that whenever you hear a gunner kill someone, you revert to your entry checkpoint and try again. Eventually you might get up the hill without him killing anyone, though it could take many attempts. Another solution is to simply avoid bringing gunners into the area. However, it'll take longer to build up your hilltop personnel, and you'll have to end up leaving one guy outside (unless you make an exception and bring the last two Marines in as a pair, making repeated attempts until you get up without the gunner killing anyone).

Squad arrangement

The Marines are mostly there to join in the Banshee battling, so have a think about where you want them. Have fun trying out different arrangements. But you may also like to station a Marine near a favourite hilltop firing position, to enjoy hearing him comment on enemy deaths.