Setting up for a large squad

Here's how to set up battles that feature up to eighteen Marines.

Creating a base save

Just as with the plan for a small squad (a plan I'm not assuming familiarity with here), it makes sense to first create a base save which covers most of the work, allowing you to then produce multiple battles quite easily. In the base save described here, you'll end up with as many as eighteen Marines neatly sealed off after the underpass. There will be a load of enemies held back by a blockade in the spiral path area, and you'll have triggered and killed most enemies in the twin bridges area. You'll be ready to build a pen or blockade in the battlefield, having assembled a pool of material to use. You'll have two hogs in the battlefield, and potentially also some spare weapons to arrange as desired.

The main description here involves doing a descent trick off the first bridge, but it's also possible to do things without a descent trick, as detailed at the end of this section.

Do some early rearranging

Start by doing a descent trick at the first bridge, so you can do some rearranging as follows.

In the twin bridges area (where you can get your first Banshee), assemble building material for pens and blockades. See Ghost provision for some useful advice. You could also overturn the Shades to prevent them getting manned later.

Leave a Ghost just after the underpass exit, for later use in blocking Marines once they're through. Preferably also have a second Ghost on hand, for later use in blocking the zigzag path, to keep Marines back while you're building a pen or blockade.

Preferably also assemble some spare weapons (some of which may just be place-holders for UNSC spares that only become available later).

In the spiral path area build two blockades as follows. One is for minimizing any Marine advance. The Marines appear just inside in the shadow, so build it along the shadow-line itself. If you want to save your Ghosts for the battlefield, two Banshees and two Shades can do the job. The other blockade is for collecting the enemy behind, a good distance away. Have it on the ice just around the corner from where the spiral path ends (so, the enemy will come down the path, turn left, and be blocked almost immediately). There's a design consideration to make there in regard to later releasing the enemy; see Enemy blockade options for advice.

Don't use the twin bridges Banshee as blockade material; keep that one for flying around in. You'll later want to be in it when triggering its pilot.

You'll also need a 'tunnel blockade' earlier in the level, to hold back the early Marines until you're ready to return for them later. Build it in the tunnel that leads from the underground bridge. I suggest having it at the bottom of the ramp up to where the snoozing Grunt will be. You're going to want a Scorpion on hand later, so you may as well use it as blockade material. That plus a Ghost will suffice, if you put the Scorpion at an angle to utilize its diagonal length. See Tunnel blockade options if you're interested in a fuller discussion.

Back in the first snowfield, place your Banshee near the door so you can board it as soon as you've triggered the battle shortly. Finally, prepare for getting an extra hog and maybe extra Marines. If you want extra Marines see Seven extra Marines and a hog (you'd use the Banshee version of the trick) or Two or three extra Marines and a hog. Otherwise just see An extra Warthog.

NB: All this rearranging is a lot of work, so it's a good idea to save a tunnel checkpoint towards the end, so you'll always be able to get back to that point if subsequent work goes badly.

Resume normal play, keeping Marines healthy

Resume normal play, keeping the early Marines as healthy as possible for the megabattle. You can minimize Marine damage in the first battle by using the Banshee to divert and destroy the enemy. You can minimize damage in the Pelican area by blasting the enemy before they fire a shot; either fly in low, or fly in high then sink down near the large tree until the enemy materialize. Continued thoughtful play can keep the Marines from being exposed to any subsequent fire at all, leaving everyone in perfect or near perfect health.

Note: If you did the trick for getting seven extra Marines at the start, the game seems to remove the enemies you briefly triggered in the second room; so there's no need to go back indoors to finish anyone off.

When drawing Marines towards the tunnel that leads to the underground bridge, occasionally someone will fail to follow, and instead hang around near the active camouflage and other supplies. I think it's because you got a bit far away, causing him to lose touch. You can get him following again by going back up to get his attention and drawing him down. Once he's coming down the slope, there shouldn't be any problem.

…except for Marines you don't want

If you don't actually want all the Marines, do some killing at some point. The remaining Marines may declare you a traitor, so keep your distance and be prepared to wait for forgiveness (red dots turning back to yellow again).

NB: You'll probably want to limit yourself to no more than twelve early Marines, else some potential megabattle enemies can fail to spawn.

Depart at the tunnel blockade

As you near the loading point halfway along the short section of tunnel leading towards a snoozing Grunt near your tunnel blockade, be in your Banshee with a sniper rifle, and have the Marines close by else they might freeze when you cross the loading point (a technical shortcoming of the game which you've probably experienced before). I hover in the Banshee whilst looking back at the Marines, then let myself drift backwards. When you cross the loading point and get a checkpoint, and see that the Marines haven't frozen, fly off up the rising tunnel. The Marines will get held back by the blockade until you return for them later.

What about the two hogs? I suggest you progressively bring them along with the Marines and move them up to just before the loading point before you depart (but be careful to avoid the loading point itself, else the Marines will get triggered into advancing before you're ready to fly off).

Develop a spiral path megabattle situation

Do the usual work for developing a spiral path megabattle. You'll probably want to kill the two Shade Grunts in the spiral path area before triggering the Marines, but see here for full discussion (it's possible to get them into the battle). Trigger the Marines by freefalling near where the Hunters appear, so you can squash the Hunters instantly.

Get the Marines through the underpass and seal them off

To minimize any danger of advance enemies peeking over the edge of the spiral path to shoot at Marines, quickly ascend and draw enemies well back towards the pass again. Fly high out of danger to get the underpass checkpoint if you didn't already get it when down near the Hunters. Preferably save the checkpoint. This way, if anything goes wrong shortly, you'll be able to return to this point even if it requires ejecting the disc and reloading (which it would if you get another checkpoint). All this was optional, but recommended.

Head across to hover over the underpass or thereabouts. Hopefully you'll see all the Marines starting to head your way, thanks to the blockade being so close. Back off further as they come, to draw them through the underpass.

Seal the underpass exit with the Ghost you left handy, to stop the Marines going back through shortly. But be careful not to enter the underpass even slightly, as you don't want to trigger the underpass guard (or guards) yet. Skipping that trigger prevents any enemies spawning in the twin bridges area yet, which will enable you to prepare your defence there. Also block the zigzag path with a Ghost, to keep the Marines back. Be careful not to squash anyone when parking these Ghosts.

If you're never going to want the sniper in your battles, kill him (leaving you with a handy spare rifle).

Trigger and kill most remaining enemies

Get in the Banshee and draw enemies completely through the pass (i.e. properly into the spiral path area), to help ensure that they all come down the path shortly when you trigger new behaviour.

Fly back past the Marines and land at the start of the battlefield; you're keeping clear of the Marines so you won't squash anyone. Without bothering to move the Ghost that was blocking the underpass exit, briefly enter the underpass to trigger the guard (or two on Legendary), and come back out to kill him quick. You'll also have triggered a Shade gunner on the roof and an enemy squad in the next area (an Elite and four Grunts, on Heroic). Kill them all; probably best done with a sniper rifle and pistol. Go up the zigzag path, triggering additional Grunts, and kill them too, but without advancing far.

Get back in the Banshee and fly low past the large tree to trigger further enemies, including the Banshee's pilot off in the distance. You're deliberately in his Banshee so he doesn't materialize in it and cause trouble. Kill them all. More work for the sniper rifle perhaps.

The only enemies left to trigger here are the two trough passage Elites and the two door Elites. Avoid doing so for now - stay clear of the central part of the trough and the don't go near the door.

Bring the early Marines along, and the hogs

When you triggered new enemies by approaching the zigzag path, you also triggered new behaviour in the spiral path enemies, making them want to reach the underpass (except that enemies still in the pass can be reluctant to move, which is why I emphasized drawing everyone through beforehand). By now they should all be clustered behind the blockade just past the base of the spiral path. This leaves you a clear route for bringing the early Marines along, though you'll need to get them over the edge of the spiral path to reach the underpass. Here's all the detail.

Fly to where the spiral path meets the cliff, roughly above where the two Hunters appeared. I'll call this the 'off-point', because lots of things are going to go off the edge here. For starters let the Banshee fall back down, then run to the tunnel blockade.

Before the main work coming up, you may like to get a delayed tunnel checkpoint to potentially revert to if any Marines get killed (there's a fair risk). You can trigger it on foot, and keep it delayed by jumping until you're back at the blockade.

Release the Marines, who'll start heading for the pass. Pick up outriders on the Scorpion and speed ahead. Drive off the off-point to get them down to the ice. If you spin as you go off, it can stabilize you enough to land on your tracks. But even if you topple over, Marines tend to take little or no damage except if they're actually squashed. Quickly board the Banshee, fly up to the off-point and let it go over the edge again. Head back towards the remaining Marines. You'll probably meet them as they're nearing the pass.

Bring the two hogs along to the pass. They're collectively able to ferry four Marines down to the ice via the off-point; and as with the Scorpion, spin-stabilization can help you land upright for safety. If you've got no more than four Marines left, you can simply go ahead and do that now (leaving the Marine-retaining hog for last). If you've got more than four however, get the others to jump down first, as follows.

There's a rock in the middle of the pass exit. Use a manned Marine-retaining hog to block the larger gap. Drive the other hog through the smaller gap, pick up a gunner and perhaps a side passenger too, then block the gap with a Ghost to stop anyone coming through and getting in the way or (worse) blustering down into the enemy. Drive to the off-point and swing the hog around so that when you then get out and the gunner dismounts, he falls down and gets cushioned by the large rock below. He'll probably take damage, but it'll be quite minimal if he hits the rock on its sloping side; so that's what you're aiming for. If he hits the top, he's more likely to go "Oooh!", which sounds like it hurt; but he should still be in decent shape. Do the same for the rest until you're down to the four you can simply drive down. Fortunately, the enemy rarely seem to notice while you're busy with a jumper, even though you're in plain sight. If they do notice, best drive off quick before a Hunter shot sails over and ruins your day. Let them forget about you before coming in again.

Tip for perfectionists: To help minimize damage to jumpers, ideally you want a nice high rock with a lot of sloping side to aim for. You can arrange that by repeatedly getting the rock geometry randomized until you like the look of things. Rock geometry gets randomized each time you come across the loading point in the tunnel (see tunnel checkpoint). It's certainly not necessary though.

Snipers are a special case, as they won't man the chain-gun. Drive them over the edge. If taking a sniper on the Scorpion, preferably have him on the side away from the enemy, to minimize any chance of him opening fire.

All this while, the shadow-line blockade remains in place to keep the deposited Marines away from the enemy.

Once they're all down, get them through the underpass, and the hogs too. Before taking a hog through, get in your Banshee and lead Marines deep into the battlefield, so you can then whizz back and bring the hog through without any danger of squashing anyone. You can get the Marines re-sealed in the sunken area later.

Finalize your provision of spare weapons

Earlier you may have left some spare Covenant weapons around as place-holders for UNSC spares that weren't yet available. You can now make the appropriate switches if you haven't already done so. But if you haven't bothered with spares at all yet, at least take the time to arrange some near the underpass, as in the basic plan.

Maybe get some more Ghosts

If you want more Ghosts for building material, attend to it now; see 'Late collecting' in Ghost provision. You'll be able to cannibalize the shadow-line blockade too, now it's served its purpose.

Get a save checkpoint

Make sure the Marines are sealed off past the underpass, so they'll be out of the way when you're later building a pen or blockade. To complete the base save, fly off to trigger a tunnel checkpoint, and use Banshee firing to keep it delayed until you're back at the battlefield, ready to start building. Then save it. Incidentally, this base save will also be good for some bonus fun!

Doing it without a descent trick

If you can't get off the first bridge with a descent trick, you won't be able to do the early rearranging work. You won't be able to get a second hog, and hence you won't have a Marine-retaining hog that can be used to get continued chain-gun support in battle. You also can't get extra Marines, so you'll be limited to a squad of at most eleven (or nine if you don't want snipers). But you can still get by ok. You'll need to do a few things differently as follows.

You won't have a Banshee available as you head out into the first ground battle, so you're going to need to work harder to keep Marines healthy. Likewise when you meet up with the next group. The first Banshee you'll get your hands on will be the platform Banshee, which you should rocket down in traditional fashion. Switch to the twin bridges Banshee later on; remember that you want to be flying it when you trigger its pilot.

In the tunnel after the underground bridge, there won't be a blockade there yet as you couldn't build one in advance. But you can build one now, using the Scorpion and hog perhaps. Not in the original place I suggested though; it'll need to be further back as you don't want to cross the loading point yet (you don't want Marines triggered into advancing). You could use the alternative place mentioned in Tunnel blockade options, i.e. on the first peak of the four-ramp section (though this runs the risk that when you later ferry Marines to the spiral path area, some of them may no longer have MC-homing behaviour when they dismount). Keep Marines clear when building. You can do that by leading them well away in your Banshee (e.g. to the supplies in the cavern) then whizzing off for a spot of building.

After flying up the rising tunnel and overturning the dropship Ghosts as usual (before they get manned), you'll need to get enough material for the two spiral path blockades. You can blast plenty of items along from the tower area, including the tower Banshee. As long as you avoid triggering any enemies from the tower (by staying high whenever flying past it), no enemies will spawn in the spiral path area, and no enemies will chase you further than the pass; hence you can build blockades in peace.

When it's time to get the early Marines past the enemy and down to the ice, you'll only have one hog available, not two, so you'll need to modify the work a little. Shouldn't be any trouble though.

In regard to the provision of spare weapons, see my advice elsewhere on getting them without a descent trick. In particular see the method using a blockade near the start of the ice path, bearing in mind that one of those is already involved in the plan.

Finishing from the base save

Here's how to set up a battle from the base save. You don't always have to use all your Marines of course; you can always eliminate some.

Prepare your defence

Build your pen or blockade and get the Marines confined. Except, it's ok to leave a Marine-retaining hog manned if you like; you could have a chain-gunner ready for battle in a supporting position. If you've got spare weapons on hand, arrange them as desired (think about where you might best like them). Maybe remove surplus objects.

You may or may not want to trigger and kill the trough passage Elites or door Elites before bringing the Marines into the battlefield. Sometimes it can be advisable for Marine safety, depending on where they're going to be.

Maybe trigger some Elites

If you haven't already triggered the trough passage Elites, you can do it now if desired. If so, get their attention and draw them back towards the start of the area, away from the Marines. If you prefer, you can leave them to potentially get triggered in battle; that won't cause a mid-battle checkpoint.

Likewise you have the option of triggering the door Elites if not already done. However, you may want to leave them for last, so you can use the door checkpoint as your battle start checkpoint. Be aware that if you leave them to potentially get triggered in battle, that can cause a mid-battle checkpoint (which you'll probably find inconvenient as you'd then be unable to revert to your battle start checkpoint).

Release the blockaded enemy and finish off as normal

Blast the shadow-line blockade and make sure the pieces go well off the beaten path, else enemies may get a bit stuck behind them. Then release the blockaded enemy using one of the methods described in Enemy blockade options. Tempt them through the underpass and finish off like in the basic plan.

Extra Marines

In creating the base save, you've got the option of getting as many as seven extra Marines (along with your extra hog), assuming you were able to do a descent trick. Without extra Marines you'll be limited to the usual eleven in the level, or nine if you don't want snipers. That's still enough to give you a big-squad feel, but I'd recommend more.

It's very easy to get two extras, and if this is the first time you're creating a base save, it may be a good idea to settle for that because it'll make life easier for you later when trying to get all your early Marines past the enemy. You'll have enough vehicles to be able to whizz them all past; two hogs and a Scorpion can transport eight Marines.

That said, it's also very easy to get seven extras (using the 'Banshee version' of the trick), though you may have to fiddle around to subsequently get them all activated. Here's some discussion of this option. No need to read such details yet though. If you fancy seven extras right away, just get on with it.

Invisible Pelican Marines

If you get seven extra Marines, bear in mind that the four 'Pelican Marines' flown into the first snowfield will normally be invisible to the enemy. They won't be fired on. That doesn't really notice when lots of other Marines are still around, but once most of those others have been killed, invisibility becomes glaringly obvious. You'll see the invisibles running around shooting, and the covies don't pay them the slightest attention. Not very fair, and not very realistic! I'm not keen on that.

On the other hand it can be nice to have an invisible Marine on the chain-gun of a Marine-retaining hog. That way you can usually count on continued chain-gun support in battle, unless an explosion occurs nearby. His invisibility usually doesn't notice as badly as with the guys on foot. If you fancy this idea, I suggest getting the sergeant on the gun. It'll be Stacker or Johnson, and they both have great vocals (unless they end up strangely mute in battle, which I've sometimes experienced). Johnson is perhaps the most rousing, but Stacker is the most comical. Preferably get your sergeant mounted up at the earliest opportunity and keep him there, as it could be hard to get him aboard later when there are even more Marines around.

If you plan on having sniper Johnson in your base save (he spawns in the crashed Pelican area), you may prefer your invisible sergeant to be Stacker rather than Johnson, so you can potentially have Stacker and Johnson in battle together. However, if you don't usually have any sniper support, that's not going to matter much. Me, I've got one base save with Stacker on the gun, another with Johnson on the gun, so I can get to fight with each of them in different battles. Of course, there's nothing to stop you having two Johnsons. Might be quite amusing having them both in a hog, driving around the battlefield shooting and cursing at the enemy. Watch out covies, the Johnson twins are coming!

If you have a preference for who the Pelican sergeant should be, you'll need to keep repeating part of the game until you get the one you want. His identity gets determined at the loading point just before you reach the first bridge. So the thing to do is to save the checkpoint you get just before that in the passage. Play on until you can see who you've got. If it's not the right guy, eject the disc and reload to start from the passage checkpoint again.

My preference: four extras including a sergeant

I'm not keen on invisible Marines, but I do like having Stacker or non-sniper Johnson around, especially on a chain-gun. So, my preference is to initially get seven extras, but to kill all the Pelican Marines except for the sergeant, who I get on the chain-gun of the Marine-retaining hog early on. In setting up a battle, I'll always have the option of making him dismount. Even if he's on foot in battle, at least I've only got one invisible Marine running around, not four. And I'll always have the option of not taking him into battle at all of course, just like any other Marine. In my battles I'll be able to have a squad of up to fifteen, or thirteen when I don't want sniper support. That's plenty.

Eliminating the three unwanted Pelican Marines is best done while they're still inactive, easily identifiable. If you want to avoid being declared a traitor and having to wait for forgiveness, work as follows. After triggering the battle in the first snowfield, leave a single Grunt alive, then land at a fair distance from the Marines (not close enough that they greet you, else some Pelican Marines may activate). While the Grunt shoots at you, use a zoomed pistol to pick off the guys you don't want (having previously taken note of where the sergeant is standing). Because of the Grunt making things into a battle situation, the Marines are a lot more tolerant of 'friendly fire' than normal, and you can probably kill your three without being declared a traitor. If not, revert and try again.

Seven extras without any invisibility

I said that if you get seven extra Marines, the four Pelican Marines will normally be invisible to the enemy. Well, they certainly will if you're working as described in my plan. But if you get down off the bridge quick and trigger the first ground battle before the Pelican Marines go inactive, they remain active and visible to the enemy, as mentioned in my 'basic version' of the seven extras trick. You can even do things fast enough to get an extra hog, something you'd definitely want. Trouble is, you won't have done all the 'early rearranging' work. To compensate, you'd need to use the special advice for players who aren't able to do a descent trick.

I mention all this just to point out the possibility of creating a base save in which you've got as many as eighteen properly visible Marines (and two hogs). However, you'd probably still want to limit yourself to seventeen, because there's a drawback to taking more than twelve early Marines along; see below.

Don't take more than twelve early Marines along

There's a maximum of thirteen early Marines available (six normals and up to seven extras), but some testing on Heroic suggests that if you take more than twelve past the loading point after the underground bridge, about ten fewer enemies spawn in the areas beyond. I guess the game has decided that it needs to limit things, to help it cope. So if you want your full quota of covie dirtbags in the megabattle, don't take more than twelve early Marines along.

I haven't checked the other difficulty levels, but it's probably similar. If you want to check whether you're losing out on enemies, wait until you've gone as far as triggering the first enemies in the spiral path area and had the 'pass checkpoint' for it. Count the overall horde you've got (snipe them one at a time) not including the two Shade gunners on the ledge, and add five to allow for the dropship troops yet to arrive. Compare with how many you could be getting, as listed for the spiral path megabattle. You can revert to the pass checkpoint to continue, if satisfied.

Enemy blockade options

In the spiral path area you'll have a blockade just past the base of the spiral path to hold back the enemy. In due course the enemy will be clustered behind it, and eventually you'll need to release them somehow. Blasting it is the obvious idea, but clearly there's a risk of casualties, bearing in mind that you won't be able to draw them away beforehand. That's where a bit of thoughtful design will help. I deliberately have a Ghost at one end, in a slightly advanced position just past the first of two large rocks around the corner from the end of the path. A Banshee blast against the wall will push the Ghost away without causing it to send other objects towards the enemy. Also, there usually aren't any enemies close enough to get damaged by the blast, because the rock tends to keep them away and act as shielding. Problem solved! The first time you try setting this up, I suggest you do a little rehearsal to see if you'll be able to blast the Ghost away ok.

Cloaked release method

An alternative release method is to use the active camouflage to sneak up and open a gap, but this will deprive you of being able to use the camouflage for cyborg mischief in battle. How would you open the gap? You could do it by boarding a blockade Ghost and hastily driving off, but you'd cause a storm of fire that could damage or kill enemies and yourself (though you'd probably survive on Heroic or lower). Or, you could bash a Ghost aside. It'll take several whacks, and you'll have to be careful that an enemy doesn't brush up against you or all hell could break loose; but you should have enough time to do it and retreat to safety.

Tunnel blockade options

Here's some chat about the options for the tunnel blockade that holds back the early Marines.

Up by the corner

When you're heading through the tunnel later, there's a snoozing Grunt at the top of a ramp, just before a few Elites and more Grunts; so obviously any blockade needs to come earlier. Building it at the base of the ramp like I suggested is easy as the ground is flat, which is partly why I suggested it. There's maybe a slight risk that advancing Marines will open fire, but I've not had any trouble with that, because you quickly draw the enemy away as you speed off in a Banshee.

Further back

However, you could have it further back if you like. How far back? When coming along from the underground bridge, the tunnel goes right then left, and then you've got a four-ramp section forming two peaks. For reasons to do with loading points and freezing Marines, the first of the two peaks is the earliest place I'd consider putting the blockade.

Having a blockade on the first peak could actually be used to save yourself a Ghost if you'd rather be using it elsewhere. Here's how. Use a Scorpion to block most of the peak, and leave the rest unfilled for now. Later when you play through with Marines following, you can fill that gap with a hog. But you wouldn't want Marines getting in the way while doing that (it can be slightly awkward). If they're too near, you can lead them far back into the cavern to give yourself time to whizz off and fill the gap.

NB: There's a significant risk in using that first peak however. You may find that when you later ferry Marines to the spiral path area, some of them no longer have MC-homing behaviour when they dismount, which would make them useless for your purposes. At present I'm not sure if that's just something random or if it only affects extra Marines you tricked the game into giving you at the start of the level.

Blockade composition

In regard to blockade composition, forming part of it with a Ghost has the advantage of making it relatively easy to release the Marines later, as you can just hover the Ghost aside to open a gap. If you're instead using a Scorpion and hog, you'll need to be a lot more careful to avoid squashing the multiple idiots crowding around. Slowly edge the hog out or bash it aside.

Bonus fun with the base save

As a happy reward for all the work it took, your base save can be used for a few things other than the twin bridges megabattle, as follows.

Ice horde carnage

You can enjoy some magnificent ice horde carnage with the mob you've got blockaded in the spiral path area. If you want to play this for a while - and you surely will - I suggest you take a few minutes to prepare as follows. First kill the Marines, to reduce the game's workload and possibly reduce the amount of framerate slowdown you're getting. Get armed with a sniper rifle and rocket launcher, then trigger a tunnel checkpoint but keep it delayed until landing near the mob, ready for action. Make sure you have a good read of that ice horde carnage page for all the fun things you can do.

Massive spiral path megabattle

You can have a massive spiral path megabattle (albeit with a lot of framerate slowdown). Bring your Marines back through the underpass and go say hi to the waiting covies. Maybe release them and see if you can hold them back. Actually, even if you don't blast the blockade yourself, it'll probably get done pretty quickly by a Marine grenade.

Marine chain reaction

If you fly up to the first of the twin bridges and snipe a lot of the Marines who'll be clustering behind the Ghost blocking the zigzag path, you can then go back and set off a massive chain reaction that sends the remaining guys flying. Which is a bit naughty, but hey, who's gonna know? I won't tell the UNSC if you don't.