Grunts into orbit

Posted February 20th 2008

The hurling effect

The theme of this page is a freakish Grunt-launching effect you can achieve at any hovering platform manned by one or more Grunts on plasma cannons, if you've got the Cowbell skull on. It's an effect you could easily have missed as you have to be aiming quite perversely to achieve it. There are five such platforms in The Ark and I'll talk about specific cases later, but first I'll describe the phenomenon in general terms.

Hitting the sweet spot

Rising up from the platform base are three curving prongs. Select the one most directly below the gunner you want to launch. If you hit it at the right place with a rocket or a shot from a Scorpion or Wraith, the unfortunate Grunt gets launched way up high; probably far higher than you'd ever have expected. It's pretty hilarious first time you see it - careful not to wet yourself laughing. He emits a shower of blue blood, and sometimes his plasmas go off shortly after he's airborne (though that seems rare).

For maximum grunty boost you need to hit the prong in the right area. There's a shiny panel that starts about halfway up the outer side, just above a gently flashing shape reminiscent of a very squat butterfly. A strike to the middle of the shiny panel or slightly higher will do nicely. If you hit too high the Grunt won't get launched as far, and if you hit right at the tip he's barely launched at all. There's also very little effect if you hit near the bottom of the prong.

As an alternative to hitting a prong, you can also achieve launching by hitting the top surface of the platform base roughly below the Grunt, but that's usually a pretty thin sliver of target to aim for.

Without the Cowbell skull the launching effect still operates but is feeble in comparison, so do make sure you've got that skull on.

Hurled, not blasted

At first I assumed the Grunt was getting launched by the blast itself. However, if you pre-weaken the platform so it actually shatters when the blast hits (see later), you'll see that the Grunt isn't launched like before, despite being just as close to the blast. This suggests that when a Grunt is launched, his velocity is chiefly due to the shove he receives from the violently displaced platform edge. In other words he's not so much blasted up as hurled up by the platform. Also note that he doesn't go straight up; the platform flips him backwards to some extent.

The sniper rifle, and extra sport

When using a rocket launcher it's good to have a sniper rifle too. For one thing you'll be able to aim your rocket precisely by pre-aiming with the rifle; quite important if you're a long way off. For another it's good for tracking your airborne victim. But there's more. For a challenge, see if you can shoot his backpack off in mid-air. Not easy, but very satisfying! When you do that he leaves behind a trail of little puffs of what I assume to be escaping gas. You can also just try to get spurts of blue blood by shooting him of course - which is a bit easier. Always make sure you've got four rounds in the chamber for this sport.

A mid-air strike is also possible with a Scorpion, though again it's not easy. It took me many tries before I scored my first hit. I recommend trying to hit the Grunt just as he reaches the peak of his trajectory, so he's not moving much; but you have to allow for shot travel time. Notice also that if you swing the barrel quick after firing, bringing it down sharpish perhaps, you can actually see the trace of your shot as it flies up. That can be useful in letting you see where it went, to better gauge how to correct your timing. The more drastic the barrel swing, the more clearly you can see the trace.

Other platform disruptions

Strikes in some places on a prong can cause the platform to be dislodged violently and either fall off to the ground or bounce around wildly before settling back in place - so that's something else to play about with. For example try blasting the inner surface of a prong. Actually, if you do that and the platform remains aloft - which it often will - it'll be damaged so much that if you now try for a launching shot, the platform just shatters. The shattering is rather nice though, with each of the long upper three 'flaps' giving off a small blue explosion effect that you don't usually get. Definitely worth seeing.

Instead of weakening the platform with a blast to the base, you can use the sniper rifle. Playing on Easy I found that eight rounds were enough to weaken it, ready to shatter when you rocket the base. I was firing them at the outer surface of the platform, beneath one of the upper flaps. I also noticed that you can shoot those flaps clean off with three shots apiece! Not sure why you'd want to bother though, unless perhaps to let the gunner know his days are numbered and he won't be seeing the food nipple tonight. But that would be just plain mean.

Nearing rally point alpha

Heading for the Scorpion drop at rally point alpha, you come up through a short tunnel from where you get a fine view that includes AA Wraiths in the distance and a normal Wraith off to the right. There are also two hovering platforms, each manned by a Grunt on a plasma cannon, thus giving you two launching opportunities. This is where I first noticed the hurling effect, and it should be your first port of call. You can be there very quickly on Easy (which you may as well use for all this launching fun), and you should be carrying a rocket launcher and sniper rifle of course. Preferably approach in a Ghost or Chopper as it can be handy later.

You can do your launching from the cover of the tunnel itself if you like, using the sniper rifle for accurate pre-aiming. With the nearest platform the Grunt will hit the overhanging cliff and bounce off, but there's no such trouble with the furthest one; the little fella will rise unhindered and be treated to what I expect is a rather unwelcome aerial view of the battlefield. You won't be able to hear him from way back at the tunnel, but you can bet he's screaming "Waaaahhhh…" or some other choice phraseology from the methane breather's handbook. Just look at that altitude! Took me quite a while before I managed to shoot his backpack off in mid-air, but I eventually got him on a descent (from way back at the tunnel).

Stop press: pete_the_duck took a nice screenshot of that particular Grunt after launching him way up high: see his HBO forum post.

Handling the Wraith

The nearby Wraith is annoyingly good at spotting you, but it's easy to stay far enough back in the tunnel that it can't get you. Alternatively, destroy it right away so you can have your launching fun in peace. This is actually quite easy. If you wait for it to stop moving after it's spotted you, then fire off a quick double whammy of rockety goodness, often both rockets will hit, even if the Wraith starts dodging after the first strike. That's usually enough to do the job, even on Heroic; but on Easy the Wraith moves around less and is slower to dodge, which helps. It can also help if the second rocket is shot to one side slightly, in anticipation of dodging; or simply aim both rockets off-centre in the expected direction of dodging (so for example the first rocket may clip one wing and the second ends up clipping the other wing).

Checkpoint management

Obviously its good to have a checkpoint just before your fun so you can keep reverting to launch Grunts again and again. There's a handy checkpoint as you head up into the tunnel, and you can use that. However, you need to be aware of a secondary checkpoint that can get triggered. If you remain in the tunnel, it seems to be triggered by eliminating all enemies in this first half of the battlefield, other than the Brutes below the platform. If you've left the tunnel though, you may also need to eliminate the Ghost pilots.

If you want, you can effectively cancel the secondary checkpoint by jumping non-stop five or six times - a cancellation technique I've used in quite a few other places and which I suspect can be used with most checkpoints in the game. Actually though, the secondary checkpoint is very useful if you just want to concentrate on the furthest Grunt. With a bit of care you can get it on demand after moving to a desired rocketing position closer up - within certain limits. Here's the plan.

First eliminate the Wraith and subsequent Ghosts and anything else you don't want to have around, such as those noisy AA Wraiths. You could potentially do all this by going in with a Ghost or Chopper for example. Except, leave at least one ground enemy alive or else you'll trigger a checkpoint for the Scorpion drop when you eventually launch your Grunt. Move to your desired position then send a rocket towards the first Grunt. As soon as you fire, turn and get your aim ready for the second platform. The first Grunt dies, you get your checkpoint, and you're nicely set up for launching. And this time you can be close enough to hear the little blighter scream as he shoots up - an added bonus! This set-up is the best in the whole level for doing repeated tries at sniping your victim's backpack off.

There's a detail about that plan I need to mention though. When you try to get your checkpoint, you mustn't be too far forward. Near the first Wraith was a mast among a few rocks. How far past those rocks can you be and still get the checkpoint? Based on my experiments, I'd say about three seconds running distance, which is namely about halfway toward the rocky arch where covies were clustered. Actually, standing on one of those rocks near the mast can make a nice rocketing spot.

After rally point alpha

After the Scorpion drop at rally point alpha, you head back through the high tunnel - meeting enemy resistance on the way - and there's a new platform being dropped by a Phantom. There are initially two Grunts on it, so you've got more opportunities for launching, this time potentially using a Scorpion. You'll want all Marines to be dead by this point, so they don't interfere with your fun. You can kill them yourself, but you have to be a bit careful or the Monitor will zap you! However, there's no convenient checkpoint and the Grunts don't always stay at the plasma cannons. So although there are possibilities here, it's not really ideal.

Final platform

The next platform - the last of the level - is rather better. Preferably driving a Scorpion with no gunner or other interfering support, clear the Ghosts and Wraith and maybe other enemies, to leave just the two grunty gunners plus any ground troops you're happy to keep around for extra fun. As you advance towards the platform you should get a checkpoint. Happily, killing the gunners doesn't seem to cause another checkpoint, hence you'll able to revert at leisure to launch them again and again. With two gunners you've got a choice of two prongs to fire at for the highest launches; the prong dead ahead or the one on the left which you'd need to move around to face. Each one gives good launching of the Grunt most directly above.

This is where I first managed a mid-air strike with a Scorpion on a launched Grunt, after driving around to launch the leftmost gunner. I got him right at the top of his flight. BLAM! That's really rubbing it in eh? Poor little grunty - he never asked for this. The Prophets made him do it.

It's good if you've got the IWHBYD skull on with a two-Grunt platform like this, because when you kill one of them the other tends to give an amusing line, such as my favourite one about Flip-Yap. Or was it Yap-Flip?

Experiment with hitting the side or inside of a prong, to send the Grunts and platform flying off to one side. It's rather a lot of fun to do that and then shatter the platform in mid-air, like a giant version of clay pigeon shooting. This can be done with a rocket launcher, but it's much easier with a Scorpion.

You can use the Wraith for doing some launching if you can manage to get hold of it - which is no trouble on Easy (e.g. pepper it with Ghost fire until both occupants die). However, it's rather clumsy so there doesn't seem a great deal of reason for using it.

At the first arena

There were also a few Grunts programmed to man a platform at the first circular arena, right back at the start of the level. If you leave them alive you'll be able to go back later with a rocket launcher to do some launching (or play about with dislodging the platform). It's a good situation and there are various rocks you might like to hop up onto to fire from.

Setting up

To set things up with a convenient checkpoint, start the level by killing the Marines so they won't put holes in your Grunts. At the first arena kill all enemies except those gunners. At the second arena leave a single Hunter alive, preferably weakened so it'll only take a rocket or grenade to finish him off, then bring back the rocket launcher from the crash site.

When you kill the Hunter you'll get a checkpoint associated with the death of both Hunters (as mentioned in Cliff path slaughter), which will be your starting checkpoint for the grunty fun. Obviously the closer you are to the first arena when you get that checkpoint, the more convenient things will be for replaying. I suggest you stand near the start of the tunnel as you rocket or grenade the Hunter to finish him off. As soon as you fire or throw, turn about and head through the tunnel. Behind you the Hunter dies, and you can be about halfway through the tunnel by the time you get the checkpoint, leaving you only a few seconds away from the Grunts. Actually you can be even further through the tunnel if you jump three or four times on the move to delay the checkpoint; but don't jump longer else the checkpoint may get cancelled entirely.

Plasma cannon removal

I tried out the idea of removing the plasma cannons beforehand, so the Grunts wouldn't be able to pepper me with them when I came back. I don't know about you but I hate plasma cannon fire! However, if you do rip the cannons off, you'll probably find that the Grunts won't launch properly. Apparently Grunts need to be manning cannons to get launched properly; or perhaps the main thing is that they need to be right at the edge of the platform so they'll get the most push when the edge of the platform is blasted upwards.

However, you can have some good fun even with 'loose' Grunts. When you blast the base to make the platform sway violently or whatever, the Grunts tend to get buffeted about by it, which can be quite amusing and result in multiple sprays of blue blood. They often survive and fall to the ground - possibly whipping out a plasma grenade and sending it your way while still in mid-air. So watch out - them little fellas ain't quite done with you yet!