Cortana's Firefight voice

Posted September 21st 2012

Choosing Cortana

If you google for 'favourite Reach Firefight voice' or suchlike, you can find plenty of opinions on the various options. But despite being a guy, my own preference is for Cortana in my solo play against the covies, and a big part of that is because she's so amusing and chirpy, full of character.

In case you're wondering, she's not the 'voice in your head' that she was in the original game. She actually is the Spartan, in some unexplained way. That's clear from many of her lines such as "I'm gettin' pretty good at this" (for a headshot), not to mention her various cries of pain. Maybe you could imagine her having been implanted into some sort of Spartan android body or something, so she can go kick some covie ass in person. The whimsical notion of Cortana doing that actually cropped up at the end of my old 'Frontline with Suzie' episode Calibrate this!, so having her playable in Firefight sort of realizes that fancy, almost as if Bungie took note of the idea - not that I think for a moment they even saw it. Her Firefight lines paint her as an endearingly enthusiastic novice, really getting into things.

I know some players would've preferred her to just be embedded in your helmet, but in that case you'd need an underlying Spartan character, so who would that be? The obvious candidate is MC of course, in which case the option would've been to play as 'MC plus Cortana'. Many lines would've need to come from MC (such as exertion sounds for jumping), but Cortana could've been the main one commenting on things such as enemy damage and kills, and some other things besides. I think that could've worked nicely, but perhaps Bungie thought it would be more amusing to go with the Cortana Spartan notion. It's no less fanciful than having an Auntie Dot Spartan, and in any case it's hard to treat Firefight as a serious battle experience because you've got scores popping up all the time, plus an announcer babbling on about kill-trocities or whatever - elements I sorely wish I could switch off as I have no interest in them at all and they reduce things to an arcade-like atmosphere. Given the non-serious nature of the experience, it seems entirely reasonable for Bungie to have a bit of fun with the voices.

As well as having agreeably cheerful character and exhibiting admirable pleasure in dishing out hurt to the covie horde, her melodious voice is generally very clearly audible above the noise of battle, unlike some others, including the soft-spoken MC whose voice I found a bit boring and monotonous when I tried it. His understated vocal style was fine for the original game where it was limited to cutscenes, but it doesn't make for such a good Firefight voice in my opinion. I think if I wasn't using Cortana I'd probably go for Stacker, who's always been pretty amusing. I have no interest in the co-members of Noble team though (the ones aside from Six I mean), none of whom I warmed to in the campaign, and whose woefully limited and repetitive vocal repertoires contributed to making them outright irritants a lot of the time.

In some of Cortana's lines the notion of her fighting by herself is broken when she seemingly acknowledges you the player. When dying she might say "You're dead, and… so am I" for example, but there are also a few lines for other events. When taking a driver's seat she might say "Do I get to steer this?", as if thanking you for directing her there, and when suffering a heavy landing she might say "Landing!" as if in protest at your clumsy control (or at least, that's my interpretation). Occasional use of 'we' also suggests acknowledgement of the player. Some lines could perhaps best be interpreted as talking to herself, such as "Good work soldier" on killing an enemy, but I guess you're free to interpret some of those too as talking to you the player.

Finally, it's also worth saying that Jen Taylor simply does a fantastic job with these lines. Quite aside from the humorous remarks, she's really terrific at crying out in pain or screaming, such as in the lines used for making a heavy landing or more generally suffering any nasty impact. In contrast, poor old MC's impact lines all seem to be very close variations of a single cry, a very impoverished repertoire compared to Cortana's rich vocabulary of pain. So if you've previously thought buying her voice wouldn't be worth it, or would be boring or something, I hope you'll take my advice and give it a go. Even if you're not going to routinely use her voice, she's well worth the cost of hearing.

About the line listing

In the rest of the article I'll present the Cortana lines I've heard so far (aside from certain groups of non-verbal utterances which are hard to identify and transcribe), usefully divided into categories and listed alphabetically within each. Some lines may need the IWHBYD skull. If you see IWHBYD indicated, it means I never got the line with the skull off, despite considerable testing, so I suspect you need the skull. There are also some lines which merely become very rare with the skull off. Line frequencies in general are affected.

Note that I've taken great care to try and be accurate with all this, in contrast to the abundance of careless misquotes peppered around the web, and also I've worked hard on trying to hear all the lines within a given category. There may be some rare lines I've yet to encounter - perhaps some which required a certain unusual situation to trigger? - but I'll update the listing if I hear anything new. I've currently only got one controller, so I haven't included lines in which Cortana speaks to an ally, nor have I tested anything needing two controllers.

In writing the lines I've used an exclamation mark to indicate something relatively punchy, and there's also some use of italics to indicate emphasis. All that sort of stuff is just a matter of judgement about degree, but if I think it helps give the sound of a line, I'll use it. Sometimes I add some description or clarification.

Hearing the lines for yourself

If you want to hear the lines for yourself in actual gameplay, check out my article Hearing Firefight lines for some efficiency advice which arose out of my Cortana work.

Arming lines

Cortana has some excellent lines uttered occasionally when arming herself with certain large and impressive weapons. Obviously likes to play about with the big stuff! Definitely some of her best lines.

Fuel rod gun

  • Goin' nuclear
  • Gonna give them a taste of their own medicine
  • I'm readyin' the flak cannon
  • Radiated ballistics? What could go wrong? (IWHBYD)
  • Warning, detecting high levels of radiation

Plasma launcher

  • Alert! I have a plasma launcher (chirpy, delighted)
  • Alert! I have a plasma launcher (smug satisfaction) (IWHBYD)
  • All blue 'n fancy
  • Big, blue and scary
  • I'm readyin' ma plasma launcher
  • This looks awfully dangerous. I think this could do some damage
  • Wait'll they get a load o' me
  • We'll use their own guns against them

Rocket launcher

  • I'm readying a rocket launcher
  • I'm ready to make a splash
  • Is spanker an acronym? It's not in my database (spanker = SPNKr pronunciation)
  • I've seen the Chief use one of these - can't be too difficult (IWHBYD)
  • Let's see, point and…

Spartan laser

  • An elegant weapon for a more civilized age
  • Beam me up!
  • I'm readying a Spartan laser
  • Ooh this is impressive tech
  • Ready to cook some covies?
  • Red isn't my colour, but I'll make it work (IWHBYD)

Damage lines

These lines are not just used for damaging enemy troops but also manned enemy vehicles, including dropships (even though those seem to be indestructible). Cortana is strangely silent when using a Wraith's mortar however, which is a shame. You'd think she'd get a real kick out of that!

  • He doesn't seem to like that
  • Hit one! (sounds more like 'hid' but I think it must be 'hit')
  • It's been injured
  • Right on target
  • Right on the mark!
  • Shots landed!
  • Target is taking rounds
  • The target… is wounded (IWHBYD)

Note: No distinction seems to be made for the manner in which the damage is caused, hence you can get some incongruous results such as a cry of "Target is taking rounds" when using melee or a vehicle impact.

Anomalously, in the case of a shielded Jackal a damage line may be heard when killing him. Maybe this is an unintended technical issue to do with the shield? It can happen even if the kill shot doesn't even touch the shield, e.g. a sniper round through the body.

Jackal lines

Surprisingly, Cortana seems to have some lines used only with Jackals! Several seconds after damaging or killing one (which may or may not have triggered a damage or kill line), you might hear one of these follow-ups. The delay varies but typically seems to be seven to nine seconds, which sometimes makes the line feel oddly disconnected because you've already moved on to other matters.

  • Guess I shouldn't play with my food (IWHBYD)
  • I almost feel sorry for them
  • They're not as tough as they look!
  • This is the way your world ends

The line "They're not as tough as they look" strikes me as having a rather different style to Cortana's other lines, with a southern drawl that tends to put me in mind of old westerns. It's as if Jen Taylor put on a cowboy hat and dropped out of character for a moment.

General kill lines

These lines are used for killing covies or destroying manned enemy vehicles, except for killing by headshot. Also, in Installation 04 you can get these lines when destroying a Spirit's cannon. You don't get them when using a Wraith's mortar however. Sometimes one of the lines follows an assassination line.

  • Alright!
  • Excellent!
  • Good work!
  • Good work soldier
  • Got one!
  • Great!
  • Hmm, they're more fragile than I suspected
  • Nice work
  • Target… eliminated
  • That was incredible (IWHBYD)
  • Threat neutralized
  • Yes!

Headshot lines

Cortana obviously enjoys a good headshot, having several amusing lines for such kills with a DMR, magnum, needle rifle or sniper rifle. When you kill with a headshot and get a line, it always comes from this dedicated set.

  • I didn't realize I had such good aim
  • I'm gettin' pretty good at this
  • I think the correct term is… headshot!
  • Just trying to be efficient
  • My aim is good (IWHBYD)
  • Went directly through the cortex

Melee lines

These lines are additional options (i.e. besides the general kill lines) for use when killing an enemy with melee or using an energy sword, gravity hammer or golf club.

  • Alert, you're dead
  • Good night, stinky prince (IWHBYD)
  • Good riddance
  • Sweet dreams (chirpy)
  • Sweet dreams (quiet)
  • That's the way… your world ends

Assassination lines

The assassination lines aren't easy to transcribe or even separate out, so I'll just describe the general picture.

Most of them seem to comprise two parts, each being either a sound of effort, or one or more words uttered while exerting effort. One such line is something like: Urrr… uhh!, and another is: And you're… dead! The second part occurs with the actual kill, via knife or head twist. Two more options for the second part are "bye!" and "goodbye!" Because of the verbal distortion through the affectation of effort, the words involved aren't always clear. Sometimes there seems to be no second part, and occasionally there's no line at all. I'm not sure if any of the lines require the IWHBYD skull.

After the assassination line you sometimes also get a general kill line, such as 'Good work!' or 'Got one!', and I expect those are added on quite separately, randomly chosen from among the general kill lines.

Reload lines

Here are the lines for reloading. The first one's best - like she's really enjoying her work.

  • Changin' mags (enthusiastic)
  • Changin' mags (businesslike)
  • Cover me I'm reloading (even in solo play)
  • I'm reloading
  • Reloading

Overheat lines

These lines, which I've divided into two types, are for the overheating of a focus rifle, plasma launcher, plasma pistol, plasma rifle, Spartan laser or spiker. You don't get them on a machine gun turret or a Wraith's plasma cannon turret, even though they overheat.

Utterances of pain

  • Ah! (short)
  • Ahh (not very loud) (IWHBYD)
  • Ahh! (loud) (IWHBYD)
  • Ooh!
  • Ow (spoken rather than exclaimed)
  • Whhh-oh! (first bit is intake of breath)
  • Whh-ooh! (first bit is intake of breath)


  • Ha-how am I feeling this? Ah! Ow (first bit is stuttered) (IWHBYD)
  • I'm a light basically. How could I feel this? (IWHBYD)
  • Overheated!
  • Weapon is overheating

Throw lines

I've classed these lines into various types. One type is for some strangely nonsensical comments alluding to damage, which is daft because these are merely for the throwing action. It's as if Bungie got some wires crossed there. Occasionally a throw is silent.

Utterances of effort

  • Eh! (short exhalation)
  • Ehh! (longer exhalation)
  • Rrrrh! (grunt-like)
  • Uhh!
  • Uhh! (more effort)

Simple shouts

  • Frag out! (short and rising)
  • Frag out! (rising and falling: f-rag out!)

Casual comments

  • A girl could get used to this
  • Ahh I thought this would be a challenge ('Ahh' is yawn-like) (IWHBYD)
  • I didn't realize this was so much fun

Nonsensical comments

  • Got it!
  • Judging by the response, that one just crossed its pain threshold
  • Tagged one
  • That… was a direct hit

Note: The two 'frag out' cries apply to plasma grenades as well as just frag grenades, which seems clumsy. It's a pity there weren't some separate lines for the two grenade types.

Boarding lines

The lines for boarding a driver's seat apply to the Warthog, Mongoose, Ghost and Forklift, but not the Wraith. In solo play the lines for boarding a passenger seat apply to the Warthog. In co-op, perhaps they apply to the Mongoose? I haven't actually played co-op so I don't know.

Boarding driver's seat

  • Do I get to steer this? (IWHBYD)
  • I actually get to dr-drive one of these things? (excited stutter)
  • I actually get to steer? (IWHBYD)
  • Mhhh! (effort)
  • Uhh (effort)

Boarding passenger seat (Warthog)

  • Get us there
  • Let's ride
  • Ready to go
  • Ready to roll

Boarding turret (Warthog and Wraith)

  • Ahh (effort)
  • Mmh hmm (effort then settling)
  • Uhh phh (effort then exhalation)

Note: I heard no lines for vehicle mishaps, despite doing my best to drive recklessly in Beachhead and launch off things. So it looks like there are no such lines (when in the driver's seat at least, which is all I could test with one controller), which is a pity because that could've been fun.

Loss lines

On the Installation 04 map Cortana sometimes comments on the loss of an ally as follows, even if she's far away and not even looking in the right direction. She's got pretty good sensors huh?

  • Blast! We lost one
  • Damn it
  • He made a really good stew (IWHBYD)
  • Man down
  • No!
  • Oh I liked him (IWHBYD)
  • Soldier is offline

Stuck lines

These lines apply when a plasma grenade attaches to you, even if you threw it yourself. The first three don't make a lot of sense as you can't get away from the grenade. Possibly they were intended to be calls to any nearby allies, but you get them even in single-player. The line "We're stuck!" seems to be Cortana addressing the player, like she does with some of her death lines.

  • Get away! (shorter)
  • Get away! (longer, rising tone)
  • Get clear!
  • Grenade!
  • He could stick it! (IWHBYD)
  • I'm stuck! (slower)
  • I'm stuck! (faster)
  • No!
  • Stuck! (IWHBYD)
  • We're stuck!

Impact lines

When Cortana makes a heavy landing or suffers any other type of heavy impact, she's got a large selection of lines with which to react. I especially recommend you taking the time to hear these (which is easily done), as some of the cries of pain are really funny, and way more amusing than the selection of dull grunts you'll hear from the likes of Stacker and Johnson for example. I've divided the lines into two types.


  • Ah!
  • Ahh! (fairly soft)
  • Ahh! (hard-edged, really hurt)
  • Dhaaaaa! (wavering down then up; comical, really hurt)
  • Hhh - aaagh!
  • Oah! (hard-edged)
  • Oahh! (soft ending)
  • Oahhh! (hard-edged)
  • Oahh-hhhhh (long intake of breath at the end)
  • Oahhh-whh… mmh! (the 'whh' is an intake of breath; really hurt)
  • Uhhh!
  • Uhhh-hhh!


  • Abrupt landing
  • Landing! (as if protesting to you)
  • Landing (as if gently schooling you)
  • Oww? (spoken, as if questioning your skills)

Surprisingly, the lines referring to landing seem to get used for non-landing impacts too (e.g. getting knocked by a dropship while hovering nearby), which seems somewhat clumsy of Bungie.

Hurt lines

Cortana seems to have two groups of lines for when she gets damaged, other than by heavy impact, and not including the slight damage incurred when a plasma grenade sticks. First there's a group comprising relatively light cries and intakes of breath, which are used if some shielding remains. There are several of these (I'm not sure exactly how many) but I won't try to transcribe them. Then there's a group comprising more severe cries plus some spoken lines, and these are used when any shielding has gone. Again I won't try to transcribe the cries, of which there are several, but the spoken lines are as follows.

Spoken hurt

  • Ow
  • Pain
  • That hurt
  • That hurt, and I'm hurt too (IWHBYD)
  • That was not good

Note: With IWHBYD off, the spoken lines become much less frequent (involuntary cries of pain dominate), though you do still get them all.

Death lines

For dying, Cortana has a lot of lines. The situation isn't easy to analyze, but in regard to getting killed by the effects of weaponry or melee, I think there may be three groups, used in different situations. In the case of fairly standard deaths there are five or more cries which I won't try to transcribe, plus the following comments.

Standard death comments

  • Bring in the next empty helmet
  • Clean-up on aisle three (like an announcement)
  • Connection lost
  • Get the blue chick outta here?
  • Hello? Hello? (IWHBYD)
  • Life signs terminated
  • Spartan down
  • Where's clean-up?
  • You're dead, and… I'm… trapped in here (IWHBYD)
  • You're dead, and… so am I
  • You're dead. Someone get my chip out of this helmet

I'm also aware of a group of ten or more cries readily obtained by suiciding with a concussion rifle (see the Death lines section of my hearing advice article), and doubtless those can occur under enemy fire too.

But there are also lines reserved for severe deaths. The exact triggering conditions aren't clear to me but perhaps it's to do with how much damage is totting up over a short space of time. The presence of a fuel rod gun tends to help, but your demise doesn't have to be explosive to get these lines, and you can even get them by running into a machine gun turret at high speed. They're mostly cries or screams and it would be hard to identify and transcribe them, so I won't try, but I've heard at least ten. Some are really long and mightily impressive, and I'm sure it must've been fun working with Jen Taylor recording them. There's also the following comment line.

Severe death comments

  • This is surprisingly painful! (strangled cry)

The start of that line is invariably hard to hear in normal gameplay, but after using Theater mode to isolate it (see the preliminaries in Hearing Firefight lines), I'm sure I've got it right.

It looks like there are also death lines for getting headshot, something I was put on to after getting headshot a few times with a needle rifle when doing Knock-off speed play. There are various short non-worded cries which I won't try to transcribe, plus the following comments.

Headshot death comments

  • Is this the end… of Cortana?
  • Marty!… (trails off) (IWHBYD)
  • Marty I'll always love you! (IWHBYD)
  • No! (tight cry)
  • No! (another cry)
  • No! (shaky voice, spoken rather than cried)
  • No! (soft)
  • This… is the way my world ends (IWHBYD)

The two Marty lines refer to Marty O'Donnell the music guy, while the line "This… is the way my world ends" is evidently a joke on Cortana's Jackal line "This is the way your world ends" and melee line "That's the way… your world ends". When I was working on hearing headshot death lines, there were a few cases where needles appeared to instead hit the high chest or shoulder, but I think the game was counting those as headshots (possibly the anomalies were to do with the finite shot speed and/or mid-air direction changing of needles). When I made myself immune to headshots I didn't get the lines, so that seems to confirm it.

There are also some cries for death by falling, being killed by the game, and drowning, but I don't have anything much to say about those except that maybe the same line group is used in each case (though for drowning the line is distorted by an underwater effect).

Other lines

There are a few line groups I haven't bothered to have a separate section about. For jumping there are various exertion sounds, for sprinting there are lines for panting and stopping, and for using Evade there are some nicely done exertion sounds plus one I simply can't make out, but it sounds a bit like an abbreviation of "hello", as in 'lo.

If there are any other lines in single-player, I've yet to hear or notice them. If and when I do, I'll add them here. In co-op, characters say things when stared at, but I haven't checked out Cortana for that situation yet. Maybe I'll add an update later.