Marine battles on the island

Posted April 9th 2006

The basic idea

After the landing battle on the beach you've got a load of Marines at your disposal. It's a shame to waste them. By ferrying them to an area in which enemy will later spawn, you can end up with a squad taking on the enemy there. It's fun to watch these 'Marine battles', and to potentially lend a hand of course. I've listed the two best battles first.


Thanks go to fellow cyborg Jim Huang for starting me on this business by mentioning the idea of leaving Marines at enemy spawn positions. Jim suggested placing a manned Warthog on the hill where a crashed Pelican appears, along with Grunts and Jackals. I dutifully explored that idea and wrote it up here as Battle at the Grunt hill. The other battles are ones I thought of afterwards, in a bid to squeeze every last drop of sweat out of the Marines. Well, they're being paid aren't they?

Common aspects

Here are some remarks that go for all these Marine battles.

Base save for different squad arrangements

It's fun to try different squad arrangements; see here for tips. For doing this you should first prepare a time-saving 'base save' in which you've already done as much work as possible. You'll have lots of Marines at or near the battle area; enough to cover the most you plan on using. Each time you want to try a new arrangement, you'll adjust the troops as desired (maybe leaving some unused, taking them clear of the area), do the appropriate remaining work to get the enemy to spawn, and head into battle.

With each of the battles, I'll outline a plan for creating and using such a base save. I'll also talk about some of the arrangements I've enjoyed.

It's good if your base save also features spare weapons, placed so you'll be able to select whatever combo you fancy each time you restart a battle. These weapons would need to be somewhere after the battle reversion checkpoint (the checkpoint you'll be reverting to, to replay the battle). You could even place some weapons at the battle scene itself, allowing you to change within battle.

Difficulty levels

I recommend using Heroic or lower; and use Heroic for the most action-packed affair. On Heroic you've got 7 Marines available, whilst on Easy or Normal it's 9. With the lower difficulty levels, the pace is much reduced and the Marines become more of a match for enemies. When you're planning on just watching, bear in mind that the more balanced the battle is, the longer it's likely to last. In a few cases I'll give advice on that.

You'd probably best forget about Legendary. It's far too tough for the Marines unless you give them a chain-gun or two; but in that case it could be the enemy who gets slaughtered in seconds. Either way, it would probably all be over too fast. Besides, on Legendary you've only got 6 Marines. In what follows, I'm only really talking about Heroic or lower, though I'll mention enemy numbers for all difficulty levels, just for completeness.

Include the sergeant

Make sure you have the capped sergeant in your battle squad. Apparently he's known as Sergeant Stacker. He's a funny guy, and it's especially amusing when he goes into rage mode.

Battle at the main facility


In this battle the enemy comprises 2 Hunters outside the main facility, plus 3 Jackals on the grass to the side. You'll find them there after operating the control panel in the security substation.

The topography here is very interesting, and the battle offers by far the most action-packed experience on account of the Hunters. They just love blasting your troops to smithereens and laughing about it, so you've really got the opportunity for letting yourself go. There's great fun to be had with the rocket launcher and chain-guns, quite apart from the more usual weapons. You can also take on the enemy from down below on the grass, something that's fun in so many ways.

Creating and using a base save

After the beach landing, kill the enemies guarding the main facility. Ferry Marines to somewhere nearby, e.g. the grass below, and leave a spare Warthog nearby too, for potential Marine chain-gun use. Arrange spare weapons as desired; I suggest a couple of piles in favourite attack areas so you can change during battle (e.g. down on the grass, and over near the log; see later). Clear the path to the substation but don't go in yet. Drive back towards the Marines, getting a checkpoint as you go through the arch on the beach. Now save.

Each time you want to try out a new squad arrangement, start by arranging your troops as desired, then do your thing in the substation (you can simply run past the enemies there if you like). On exit, maybe apply an overshield; very handy against Hunter blasts. Jump down safely on the right and head into battle in the newly arrived Warthog (maybe with the rocket launcher), to arrive from whichever direction you think best. Enjoy the battle. Revert to restart it; you'll have got a checkpoint just before arriving.

Behind the log

Up on the grass near the facility, there's a big log and a tree stump, which provide superb cover from Hunter fire, both for yourself and the Marines, as long as you keep back a bit to avoid splash damage. While part of your force engages the Hunters, the rest can be tackling the Jackals behind. It all makes for quite an engaging situation. For this plan I suggest arriving anticlockwise, assuming you want to join the Marines with minimal delay after hostilities begin.

Chain-guns behind this cover line are a load of fun against the Hunters. I had a good situation in which Sergeant Stacker was on a chain-gun to my left behind the log, and meanwhile I fired a needler and plasma rifle. I also threw grenades, which kept the Hunters moving about to try to avoid them, and thereby reduced their fire. This sort of plan is one of the few cases in which you might actually consider battling on Legendary.

Of course, you could be on a chain-gun yourself. You could leave a wide section of cover to drive into (no idiot Marines around to jump under your wheels as you arrive), then nip out and clamber up. Actually, I once did this with two chain-gunners already in position; Stacker on my right (behind the tree stump), and some other bozo on my left. I'd left a gap in between, for me. Three chain-guns blazing away is quite something; the Hunters couldn't take much of that! Mind you, this arrangement did backfire once when Stacker swivelled his gun around to fire on the Jackals, neglecting to realize that he was also shooting through my head. "Sorry!". Yeah, right.

Incidentally, have you ever noticed the bark that flies off when you fire an AR at a log or tree? Nice! Go on, give that log a peppering; it's looking at you funny.

Scattered on the platform

Another idea is to scatter the Marines around where the Hunters will be, so they hopefully won't get decimated too quickly. The Hunters will only be able to blast them one at a time, and in the meanwhile they'll hopefully be taking a fair bit of AR fire. I also notice that if you put Marines right near the edge of the platform, it can help keep them alive longer because Hunter shots often sail past them.

Down below on the grass

Here's an arrangement which you absolutely must try. Put the Marines down on the grass in front of the platform; close enough that they'll be within firing range of the edge. When you arrive on the scene, it's initially quiet; friend and foe haven't seen each other. But if you fire a few shots up, the Hunters come to the edge and start firing those nasty cannons. Watch the Marines go flying if you like! If you want to prevent the slaughter, you'd best get busy.

Meanwhile the Jackals come over to the cliffside on your left, and one way of getting them is to lob grenades up. This sometimes makes them dive off in panic. They usually survive the fall, and you can hear some unusual Jackal sounds when they land (I can't remember noticing these before; there are very few situations in which a Jackal takes a big fall and survives).

If my experiences on Heroic are anything to go by, it seems that once at least two Jackals are dead, the Hunters will retreat from the edge, which is hardly ideal; so you'd best concentrate on the Hunters first. You probably are anyway, as they're much the greatest threat.

When a Hunter is damaged enough, he'll enter rage mode and come around down the slope to whack someone, which is fun to see. Sometimes the Marines manage to kill him before he makes it there.

The rocket launcher is great from down below. You can slam rockets into the cliff edge just in front of a Jackal or, even more enjoyable, slam them into something behind him, sending him flying out onto the beach or whatever. It's also a great pleasure to let the Hunters have it square on.

You can also enjoy firing explosive streams of needles up at both groups of enemy. In my base save I've gone to the trouble of leaving a few extra needlers down below, so I've got plenty of pink hurt available. Some needles will bounce off the Hunter shields, but that's sort of fun in itself and sometimes I do it on purpose. Pretty! More seriously though, to help get needles through, strafe right so they tend to enter the Hunter's unshielded side; or be firing up at a really steep angle. In the case of the Jackals, you can potentially get them from the side while they're focused on Marines. Or, remove a shield with a plasma ball then let 'em have it.

Of course, you can also go up and do some mischief from the enemy's side or rear, often unnoticed until it's too late! Grenades, streams of needles, rockets; you're spoilt for choice. I also found that I could creep up right behind a Jackal (preferably do it when there's only one left) and watch from just over his shoulder as he pummelled the Marines with plasma fire. A unique perspective, well worth seeing. You can do something similar with a Hunter; those guys get really quite engrossed in their blasting.

Down on the grass, it's also a lot of fun to allow the Marines a couple of chain-guns. Being close to two or three chain-guns blazing away is quite an experience, and meanwhile you can be sending in a little hurt of your own if you want; a plasma rifle would be a nice choice. Sometimes the hogs will get blasted quick, but other times they remain intact (especially if there are other targets closer to the Hunters, to serve as a distraction), and it's all quite superb.

Hunter ambush

With Marines down below the platform you can also engineer a Hunter ambush. Driving in, go up to the unsuspecting Hunters and lead one or both over to the edge, making them stumble down into the Marines as you dodge a wild swipe. That should give your guys more of a chance. Hunter blood goes all over the place and seems to look extra-vivid out on the grass, especially when mixed in with splashes of human red.

If you like, you can watch the Hunters' predicament from up on the platform, and perhaps send down some punishment of your own. You've neatly turned the tables; usually it'd be you getting battered from above! Alternatively you could jump down after the Hunters and start laying waste with an AR or something.

With this ambush in mind, you could try arranging the Marines right where the Hunters will fall, or thereabouts, to intensify things. It's dark down there, and you might need your flashlight when you've got a Hunter in your face. Or perhaps arrange some Marines to block the route back up to the top, which the Hunters try to follow.

Distant defence

Try putting your Marines in a line down below, way back from the platform; level with the purple boxes or thereabouts. Assault rifles won't be within range, but the Marines can at least serve as distracting targets for the Hunters. Meanwhile you can send in rockets from back behind the Marines, or see what you can do with a chain-gun.

Here's a fun way of getting the battle started. Driving in, go straight up to the platform and arc around, doing a big jump off the edge, heading back toward the Marines. That's enough to get the Hunters heading over to the edge. Watch out for multiple shots coming right after you!

Marine fountain

Here's an extra bit of fun you can have. Arrange the Marines in a concentrated group on the grass below the platform (get a knot of Marines). When you enter the battle scene later with a rocket launcher, drive straight up to the Hunters and kill them (squash or blast them). Now go to the edge and fire a rocket into the midst of your squad, sending them flying out in a spectacular fountain, complete with synchronized death cries. Whoops!

Battle at the substation circle


This battle is against 5 Jackals in the 'substation circle' area where you killed two Hunters on your way to the security substation. They spawn as you return. They've apparently just arrived on a dropship, which is still hovering and which will dish out a bit of pink plasma before it leaves.

This is an excellent battle for simply watching, and it can go on for a good few minutes if reasonably balanced. But you can also have fun lending a hand, perhaps limiting yourself to an AR or doing a bit of cyborg mischief like sending an explosive needle stream into a Jackal's side or rear while he's focused on the Marines.

Creating and using a base save

After the landing battle, drive off and fight to the security substation, but don't enter yet. Ferry Marines to the battle area. I suggest forming a group on the edge of the circle, towards the gap into the next area. You could place spare weapons on the grass around the corner from the substation exit, so you'll be able to quickly select any combo after the exit checkpoint you'll be getting later. You could also leave a Warthog on the grass just past the weapons pile, to enable you to reach the battle a few seconds quicker if you drive neatly. Go down the substation ramp to get a checkpoint, and save.

Each time you want a new squad arrangement, work as follows. Come back up the ramp and arrange your troops as desired, then do your thing in the substation (you can simply run past the enemies there if you like). As you exit you get a checkpoint, which will be your reversion checkpoint for replaying the battle. Maybe apply an overshield. Swap weaponry if desired, and head into battle.

How many Marines?

Left to fight unaided, how many Marines will make for a reasonably balanced battle? I did quite a bit of experimentation to find out, arranging the Marines in a group outside the circle, towards the gap into the next area. On Heroic I'd say 7, on Normal 4, and on Easy 2. Use these numbers as a rough guide for setting things up.

Lending a hand

Attacking the Jackals full on would probably make the battle too easy, especially on the lower difficulty levels. However, if you limit yourself to a wild-firing AR and stay back with the Marines, you can feel free to pump out as much hurt as you can, and the battle may still last quite a while. Keep an eye out for Jackal hide, e.g. when a Jackal rolls. Obviously that's when your bullets will count most.

Instead of attacking hard, you could just lend an occasional hand in some way or another, particularly when the Marines are flagging, or when you see an individual Marine in trouble. One obvious thing to do is to use plasma balls from a plasma pistol to wipe out enemy shields, leaving Jackals suddenly vulnerable to Marine bullets. It might even make them run off and cower for a while. Nice to see them take a few rounds in the back eh?

You can also have fun with explosive streams of needles, or tagging with plasma grenades (perhaps long throws, to give yourself a challenge). It's hard to resist when you spot a Jackal's exposed hide, especially when he's focused on the Marines. You could even be doing this from behind the Jackals; it's usually quite easy to slip around unnoticed. If you send in your needles from distance, you've got time to switch to a zoomed pistol and watch them sail in with devastating effect. Really puts a spring in my step, that needler!

Rage mode

You'll see Marines go into rage mode quite a bit here. On the two easier difficulty levels, a Marine in rage mode can be a lot more effective than normal, as he gets more aggressive and goes running after an enemy, which can finally enable him to get a few shots past that shield. Plus, it's always amusing to see a Marine chasing a Jackal who's running off in cowardly fashion, shield over head.

On Heroic though, a Marine who enters rage mode is often cut to ribbons even before he's finished waving his arms and yelling. It goes something like this: "Who wants a piece of ARGHHH!". And then you get Marines who shout out "Show me what you got!". Needless to say, the Jackals are only too happy to show him exactly what they've got, and down he goes. Meanwhile there's me shouting "They've got plasma pistols you idiot!". But does he listen? Hell no. Don't know why I bother sometimes.

Battle at the Grunt hill


This battle takes place on and around the 'Grunt hill'; the plateau-like hill on the beach, where a Pelican crashes as you head out of the security substation. At the same time, the hill gains a dose of Grunts on the top, plus Jackals down below at both ends. Those enemies total 5 + 8 = 13 on Legendary, 4 + 6 = 10 on Heroic, and 3 + 4 = 7 on Normal or Easy.

In this whole area, Marines on foot seem to have a homing instinct for the landing zone. As such, you're pretty much obliged to leave them in Warthogs to begin with, so they don't run off. Later you come along to get them dismounted, and at that point they sweep along with guns blazing (you hope), reminiscent of the beach landing. It'll be up to you to tidy up anything the Marines leave behind, which tends to be quite a lot on Heroic.

Creating and using a base save

After the landing battle, ferry Marines anticlockwise and drop them just past the island corner beyond the Grunt hill, in the vicinity of the overturned Warthog. Here, they hopefully won't run off. Also leave both Warthogs in the vicinity. Now fight to the security substation, but don't go in yet. Maybe leave some spare weapons outside near the overshields, or down below somewhere. Go and get that island corner checkpoint near the Marines again, and save.

Each time you fancy a new squad arrangement, start by arranging your troops as desired, then go do your stuff in the substation (you can simply run past the enemies there if you like). On exit you'll probably get a checkpoint (it can be delayed due to fighting going on however), which will be your reversion checkpoint for replaying the battle, unless you subsequently go and get one down at the island corner on the right. Maybe apply an overshield. Jump down safely on the right, and head into battle.

Warthogs on top

Here's one of the arrangements I tried, based on Jim Huang's suggestion of leaving a manned Warthog on top of the hill. Place two manned Warthogs on the hill. When you exit the substation, the Marines will probably have chain-gunned all the Grunts, and the Jackals may be ineffectively firing at the hogs. From here, there are a couple of things you can do.

Go to the far hog and make the Marines dismount, then do the same for the other hog. By now you've got four troops running back to base. Jump off the hill at the near end. The Jackals start shooting, and the Marines look over the edge. If you're lucky, some of them will actually jump off, as if launching a flying attack on the enemy. "Geronimo!". However, I think this may just be clumsiness; they have difficulty negotiating the edge of the cliff there, to get around onto the path. They don't like it when they land, and you may hear them wince. Other Marines will come down the path.

The near Jackals hopefully get a nice AR drilling out of all this, which is fun to watch. The Marines run on towards the second bunch of Jackals, and another brief fight ensues. This is where I heard a rare line from Sergeant Stacker: "You are cheese boy!". As in, full of holes, I assume. All this while, the Marines are trying to head back to the landing zone though, so you do sometimes get Jackals left alive. But I'm sure you can tidy that mess up eh? Perhaps a spot of Jackal launching? You did pick up that rocket launcher, right?

For a more spectacular way of getting the Marines down to the ground, get into the far manned hog and drive it straight into the side of the near manned hog, which you've deliberately left at the path end of the hill. This sends it spinning off the edge, closely followed by yourself. Marines spill out, unless a hog lands on its wheels.

Beach sweep

Here's another arrangement to try. Place two manned Warthogs on the beach well past the hill, to the right as you look down from the substation; far enough away that the Marines won't start chain-gunning the Jackals. When you exit the substation, jump down and get the Marines to dismount (maybe after first getting a checkpoint at the nearby corner beyond the hogs, for conveniently reverting to). They now start sweeping along the beach, hopefully sweeping up a few Jackals as they go! They probably won't do much damage to the Grunts above (though I have seen them lob effective grenades up), but you can always take care of that yourself.

Actually, you can even have three manned hogs, so that six Marines sweep along the beach. This is definitely the way to go on Heroic. Do it like this. With two manned hogs in position as before, do your stuff in the substation. On exit, jump down to the new hog, pick up two additional bozos and take them to the other hogs (and maybe get a checkpoint at the island corner, for conveniently reverting to). Dismount all Marines to start the sweep. Watch out Jackals, here come six of the UNSC's finest! And a ruddy great big cyborg.

Marines can sweep past the hill on either side; it depends where you release them from. I imagine they're trying to take the shortest route back to the landing zone. For the best Jackal fighting, arrange for the Marines to take the inner side, past the Pelican. They'll find the second group of Jackals right in their path. On the other hand, if you release them from near the sea line, they'll take the outer route and there's more action with the Grunts. If you're lucky, a Grunt may even fall off the edge and find himself face to face with Marines bringing up the rear. I can just hear the poor little critter now: "Need help!".

Incidentally, once you've released the Marines to start their sweep, you can potentially nip into a hog and speed ahead to the hill, get up quick on foot, take care of the Grunts and watch the Marines from above; a novel view.

Battle in the substation


This battle is against the cloaked Elites in the security substation, who spawn as you come back up the corridor after operating the control panel. There are 5 on Legendary, 3 on Heroic, and 2 on Normal or Easy.

Legendary aside, the shieldless Elites are fairly weak, and all the AR fire tends to keep them visible. They go in for a whole lot of whacking, making it a real close-up affair that's a lot of fun to watch. In fact, there's so much whacking that you stand a good chance of seeing one Elite accidentally catch another sometime. Ho ho ho. It's a rather limited affair though, not to mention cramped. Normally I'd just watch, and maybe send in a few AR rounds to lend a hand.

Creating and using a base save

After the landing battle, drive off and fight to the security substation. Kill the Hunters within. Ferry Marines inside (see tips below), placing them in the relatively large open space where you met up with the Hunters. It's probably not worth arranging spare weapons for this particular battle, but if you want to, place them near the start of the corridor you'll be going down shortly to reach the control panel. I'd just have an AR myself, with a plasma pistol as backup in case I fancy doing a bit of whacking. Get a checkpoint at the room entrance, and save.

Each time you want to try a new squad arrangement, first arrange your troops as desired, then go and operate the panel. As you come back up the corridor to head into battle, you get a checkpoint, which will be your reversion checkpoint for replaying the battle.

Ferrying tips

At the entrance to the substation room there are some purple boxes lying around, blocking your Warthog. However, it's possible to back the hog over one that's lying down (there's a bit of a knack to it). You can then drop your Marines inside. Actually, once you've got one hog over that obstacle, you could leave it on that side and get subsequent Marines in as follows, which might save time. Bring them along in a second hog and make them dismount near the boxes. Now board the hog you left on the other side, and the Marines will run through the gap to join you.

Note that on exiting the substation in a hog to go back for more Marines, the quick way is to drive straight off the edge on the left, spinning for stabilization as you leave. You'll probably land on your wheels ok, and then you can head off left along the beach. But even if it goes wrong and you die, you just got a checkpoint to revert to.

How many Marines?

On Heroic, a mere 5 healthy Marines make for a reasonably well balanced battle against the 3 Elites. On Normal there are 2 Elites and I found that 4 Marines can take care of them quite nicely; 3 might make it more balanced.

Fiddly arranging

Arranging is quite fiddly in this cramped environment, and can be aggravating as Marines have a tendency to jump into the path of the hog, or board it when you're actually trying to drive off alone. It would be great if there was a way of just saying "Hey bozo, stand over there and don't move!", but sadly there isn't. You may need a bit of patience.

Hunter space

The most obvious and easy arrangement is to have the Marines in the relatively large open space near the far end, where you met up with the Hunters. It's what I suggested for the base save, and it makes for a good fight.

Down the corridor

One place you might like to get the Marines is near the start of the corridor that leads to the control panel; either by the decoratively engraved wall, or in the brightly lit chamber that starts the corridor. It's tricky to pack the Marines in, but there's a method of getting a knot of Marines that can help (it's what I used there).

Where did he go?

Whilst trying to arrange the Marines once, something interesting happened. Some idiot got trapped between the hog and a wall, and when I tried to gently move the hog away to free him, he actually got pushed down through the ground. I saw him go; I can still remember the image of about half a Marine disappearing through the floor. I then heard him screaming from the fall. I've got an idea what he was going through, having fallen though this level myself.

Anything else?

What about Marine battles with enemies inside the main facility, that spawn after you've activated the Silent Cartographer? Unfortunately we seem to be pretty much out of luck there, though you can get some Warthog Marines to attack the eventual gold Elite. Here are some remarks about all this if you're interested.

Although it's possible to get a manned hog through the main facility door you unlocked (see Descent into the main shaft), it seems that the Marines become passive, once through. They don't fire, as you'll soon find out if you drive into the first room. Another thing is that they won't readily dismount. If you try it, they won't immediately react. However, if you then run back toward the surface as far as a loading point at the top of a ramp, then come back down to the loading point at the bottom of that ramp, you'll probably find that they have now dismounted. Indeed, if they were in earshot (e.g. on the cutscene platform), you'll probably hear a Marine say "Everybody out!" or something.

After activating the Silent Cartographer, Marines that you left behind in the facility (e.g. in the Hunter chamber) seem liable to be killed by the game, which doesn't exactly help. This also goes for Marines left near the entrance or just within, to potentially fight the final cloaked Elites. However, if you leave a manned hog in the small chamber near where the gold Elite will later materialize, the Marines will potentially still be alive as you return, and are liable to attack the Elite. It hardly counts as a battle though.

Incidentally, it's possible to get a hog all the way down to the Silent Cartographer. I did it by first driving it onto the cutscene platform, then driving off it and onto the edge outside the Hunter chamber (near the supplies), and continuing on from there. I ended up doing another jump that took the hog down near the overshield, at which point the Marines got jolted out. After I activated the Cartographer, I heard the Marines get killed by the game.