Aerial firefighting with a jet pack

Posted August 26th 2012


Back in September 2011 when I finally got Reach, I selected Gruntpocalypse on Beachhead, set player gravity to 50% for the first time, jumped up and ignited my jet pack, and found myself going up and up. Woo-hoo! I soon realized that with careful control I could stay airborne as long as I liked, which was great. I had a whole lot of fun decimating Grunts from above with barrages from the fuel rod gun and concussion rifle (with infinite ammo), and later the rocket launcher which has the biggest blast of all. I also used other weapons such as the DMR, though it was the high explosive barrages that gave the most satisfaction. A little later I realized there was actually a setting for unlimited equipment usage, so I didn't need such careful control of my jet pack after all; I could have a never ending supply of boost to stay airborne with ease. Even better!

So anyway, I soon became a big fan of aerial firefighting, enjoying it in various maps. It's terrific fun, and probably accounts for the majority of my firefighting to date. If you've never tried it, you really should. In this rather belated article I'll go into details about the options and generally do a lot of enthusing. I'll try not to do too much frothy-mouthed babbling about the cataclysmic glories of the fuel rod gun and the sparkly splendour of the concussion rifle, but I can't make any promises. You know how it is.

Flight control settings

Various factors affect your flight dynamics, so here I'll talk about those and make some recommendations. The factors are all part of your Spartan traits, accessed within GAME OPTIONS > SPARTAN SETTINGS > BASE TRAITS, though they can also be adjusted through custom skulls if you wish. All but the first I'll mention are movement traits.

Equipment usage setting

As mentioned in my introduction, with careful control it's actually possible to stay airborne with a standard jet pack if the player gravity is only 50%. But you'll be able to fly much more easily and freely if you set unlimited equipment usage, which you can do in the WEAPONS AND DAMAGE section of your Spartan traits, so that's what I recommend.

Player gravity setting

The lower the gravity you select, the less boosting you'll need to stay airborne, the faster you can ascend, and the more floaty you'll feel. The default 100% can be used as long as you've got unlimited jet pack usage, but you'd need to be relatively skilful on the boosting to stay up. Simply keeping the boost on isn't actually enough; you need to keep re-boosting or you'll gradually sink down. It's as if the jet pack reduces its boost after it's been on for a few seconds, and it's not quite enough to beat the gravity. Also it takes quite an effort to get up high at all. Basically then, using normal gravity makes things a bit of a struggle. Instead I recommend using 50%, though you could use 75% if you've got unlimited jet pack usage and want things a bit less floaty (with 50% it takes longer to lose altitude, which can be frustrating if you boosted yourself higher than intended). With either of those low-grav settings it takes much less effort to stay airborne, and accordingly you can concentrate better on your shooting. Also you can get up high easily.

Player speed setting

Player speed doesn't just apply to running, it applies to flying too! The higher the player speed, the more rapidly you'll be able to get about by air. It affects not just your top flying speed but also how quickly you can change direction and accelerate away from danger. The default speed of 100% isn't very satisfactory. You'll feel fairly sluggish, and on a map such as Beachhead it would take quite a while to get from one end to the other, which can often make it hard to arrive at an enemy drop to decimate them as they land. Instead I suggest using the maximum 300%, though 200% is also high enough to feel nippy. The lower your speed, the longer you'll have to target multiple enemies on an attack run, but the more fire you're liable to take.

Jump height setting, for launch control

One other movement setting of interest is jump height, which is relevant to your launch abilities. If you're playing in normal gravity, setting the jump height to the maximum 300% would be a big help in getting you high up quickly, saving you a bit of a struggle and potentially being a life saver if you mess up with the tricky jet pack control work and find yourself on the ground near enemies. So you might want to consider doing that. Raising the setting isn't so relevant for low-grav play though, as you can already get up high easily, but it does still help if you're interested. I prefer to leave it unchanged however.

Incidentally, high jump height can enable you to engage in a certain degree of aerial attacking even without a jet pack, especially if using low gravity and high player speed. For example try jump height 200% with gravity 50% and speed 300%. But obviously it won't be as flexible as what you can do with a jet pack; and when you're making a long jump, you can often end up heading for a clumsy impact against a wall or something.

Map choice

In this section I give my verdicts on the various maps (or 'missions') in regard to their suitability for aerial play, putting the best first.

Beachhead - excellent

This is the map I've used most, and is excellent. You've got loads of space to fly around in quite freely, and there's a really high ceiling which allows you to get well clear of most dangers when you want. Still not high enough to be clear of Ghost fire though, which surprisingly can come up at you practically vertically. It's great for doing low swooping attack runs, distant sniping, and long-range shots with a fuel rod gun, concussion rifle or rocket launcher. It's also the ideal map for getting used to aerial work, in view of the freedom.

Overlook - excellent

Overlook is excellent too, albeit not so expansive and interesting as Beachhead. Again you've got loads of space in which to fly around quite freely, and when you're over the stream area you can be relatively high above the ground, good for staying clear of fire when you want.

Glacier - excellent

This map is really great for wiping out bunches of covies as they advance along the paths, either from distance or using exciting low attack runs. The covies get channelled very nicely. The ceiling is very high over most of the map, but unfortunately it's largely out of bounds so you won't be able to rest up against it. However, you can still go pretty high. If you use 75% gravity, there are places where if you ascend from low down with constant thrust, you end up stabilized at an altitude within bounds, letting you do some nice stable sniping or whatever. Try that down the lowest path for example. On 50% however, you'd drift higher and out of bounds. The drift can be very slow though, allowing a fair amount of time for shooting before you get the 'return to the battlefield' warning. It's worth getting familiar with these subtleties to get the most out of things. You need to be quite careful with your flying to avoid ending up killed by the game for being out of bounds too long, but you should soon get used to it.

Installation 04 (Halo Anniversary disc) - good

A beautiful map, very nice to cruise around in. Sadly you're not allowed to get up to the ceiling, so you have to be careful with your altitude. But you can still get up fairly high - around the height of the centre of the installation's massive circular vents - so things are still pretty good. With hazards enabled you can enjoy the novel challenge of keeping your allies alive from the air! If only they'd keep their fool heads down. Banshees make another novelty; a rocket launcher comes in handy.

Holdout - good

This is plenty of fun, especially for blasting. A special pleasure to look out for here is in blasting covies off the edge of the map still alive, especially when they've just landed. A standard concussion rifle is great for that. Stop press: I've later made an article out of that idea: see Let's play Knock-off.

Waterfront - good with careful flying

In parts of Waterfront you're not allowed to get up to the ceiling, which is annoying, but in others you can. So there's good opportunity for hovering high and sniping if you learn where the good areas are. You might like to do first do some unpressured exploration to find them, with invulnerability switched on. However, the most fun I've had here is in skimming around at low level, blasting covies as they appear (e.g. with a concussion rifle boosted to 200% damage), and sometimes tagging them as I pass. The map is uniquely interesting and challenging in that regard, with various obstacles to avoid and gaps to try and pass through smoothly, such as going under the bridge. A great map for enjoying some skilful flying.

Outpost - good

There's not much variation in the topography here, but it's a pretty good map for aerial fun, with good scope for sniping and bombarding from reasonably high up over at least part of the map. The ceiling is much lower than that of Beachhead though, and is especially low to the ground at the top end of the map. When you fly in that area, you have to be quite careful not to end up rubbing against the ceiling, which would quickly slow you down - a definite health hazard!

Courtyard - ok with careful flying

In most of the central area you have to stay slightly below the low ceiling to remain in bounds; you can't rest up against it. As such, you have to fly fairly carefully to avoid getting killed by the game, but you can get used to what's required. At the far ends however, and also down the bend, you can rest up against the ceiling for some stable shooting, so that's good. With such a cramped space you'll be getting a lot of close attention when you're in the same half as the covies (you might want to boost your damage resistance), but it's a good map for lots of hectic blasting work.

Corvette - poor

This is the least amenable map for aerial play. The confined space makes it relatively hard to escape enemy fire, though you can help yourself by repeatedly passing over the raised platforms to give yourself cover from enemies on your side of the map; and you can always boost your damage resistance of course. It's also tricky to stay within bounds. You have to stay below a certain height, which is annoying. You can rest up against the purple ceiling near either of the shielded openings, but remaining still may not be too wise on this map. The ground often appears rather dark, making it relatively hard to see Grunts unless they're shooting at you, so you might want to raise the screen brightness in the AUDIO VIDEO section.

Weapon choice

Here I'll give my thoughts on weapons for wreaking aerial havoc with. This is all assuming that you've got unlimited ammo - certainly the best policy for aerial play - so you're not concerned with issues of having to repeatedly land and find fresh supplies (if any would even be available).

Fuel rod gun

Cue frothy-mouthed babbling! This heavyweight beast has featured prominently in my aerial adventures. It's great for sending down murderous barrages - potentially from very long range - and the green-yellow blast effect is just gorgeous. Quite apart from the joy of blasting hapless Grunts running around for dear life, and slaughtering larger enemies too, it also gives you enough power to easily tackle enemy vehicles of course.

Concussion rifle

Nowadays I use this thing even more than the fuel rod gun. I love the firing sound, and the red shot with pretty blue sparkle effect is great. In standard form it's not very powerful, but with Cowbell on (which is standard for my aerial play) I actually quite enjoy the way a first blast or two can send a Grunt flying through the air still alive, and then I can arrange for a follow-up blast to finish him off. But you always have the option of boosting weapon damage through the DAMAGE MODIFIER setting within your Spartan traits, and you may be interested in that if you want to be able to take out minor enemies with a single blast and be considerably more effective against larger foes, not to mention vehicles. A setting of 200% will do nicely and I use that a lot, especially when using the rifle as my main weapon - which is pretty often. A significant advantage over the fuel rod gun is the higher shot speed, making it much easier to land blasts near moving targets. It has higher rate of fire too. Like the fuel rod gun, it's great for sending in barrages, potentially from great range.

Rocket launcher

This has an even bigger blast than the fuel rod gun, though not such a pretty blast effect. But the low clip size is a shortcoming unless you play with a bottomless clip - something I'd generally do if I want to use the launcher as my main weapon for a change. The launcher is nice to have on maps where you get pestered by Banshees, as it's got that handy lock-on feature.

Grenade launcher

With standard operation the grenade launcher wouldn't be something I'd fancy using, because of only getting one shot before you have to reload; and it's a rather weak shot too. But it becomes a lot of fun with a bottomless clip, allowing you to send in barrages. In that case it's a bit like the concussion rifle, though it's a lot harder to use. Even with a bottomless clip though, I'd want the damage modifier bumped up to 300%, otherwise the effect still feels too weak.

Plasma launcher

This is pretty good from the air, and you can get covie after covie target-locked in rapid succession. But as you probably already know, you don't have to get a target lock to fire it. You can also use it in what I think of as 'bombardment mode', sending in plasmas one after another as fast as you can.

DMR and needle rifle

As a counterpoint to explosive carnage, you may like to pack a DMR to enjoy some sharpshooting. It's a great weapon on the ground and it remains a great weapon in the air. I quite like to couple this with a fuel rod gun or concussion rifle, to enjoy a mix of blasting and sharpshooting. One thing you can do is hover stationary up against the ceiling, looking around for targets. The needle rifle serves much the same purpose and is likewise enjoyable, but I do prefer the higher magnification of the DMR.

Sniper rifle

If you're a sniper rifle fan, there's nothing to stop you enjoying it up in the sky, though you might want a map with a ceiling you can rest up against - Beachhead being the best place for it. With its huge range, you can hover up high and just scan around for heads to ventilate.

Focus rifle

This has similarly large range to the sniper rifle and can be amusing in tormenting Grunts, but I do find it a bit underpowered. If using this I prefer to have the damage modifier bumped up, so it'll kill foot soldiers quicker. That also helps it destroy vehicles faster, so it can double as an anti-vehicle weapon if you want.

Assault rifle, plasma repeater and needler

With these weapons you'd need to get relatively low and close to use them effectively, in which case I'd suggest raising your damage resistance (e.g. to 200%), but there's certainly scope for fun, especially in making low-level attack runs. It could take you quite a while to work your way through the enemies but you could enjoy that as a challenge. The needler has that handy homing feature and it can be fun making enemies go bang one after another, but I don't do much of that myself because the needler is such a painfully pale shadow of the H1 original. I've preferred messing with the assault rifle and plasma repeater, and for those I'm inclined to raise the damage modifier to 200% so they can work through enemies at a decent speed. Things play better that way I think. If you're wondering about the plasma rifle and spiker, I don't use those in aerial play. The plasma rifle is slow to get going, and the spiker has slow shot speed.

Tactics and tips

Here are some assorted remarks about aerial play. Tactics, info and more.

Running take-off

A running take-off can give you your maximum flying speed right away. Good for repeatedly launching fast low-level attack runs, if you don't mind touching down. Also handy for covering a large distance fast, if you happen to be near enough to the ground to make a brief touchdown worthwhile.

Overshooting the bounds

If you overshoot the bounds of the map, getting the 'return to the battlefield' warning, don't panic. Just put the brakes on fast and face back to the playable area, and you'll probably reach it in time, even though it can feel agonizingly slow to head back. Once you get used to the map, unintended overshoots should occur less often.

Low flying

With suitably skilful pulsing of the jet pack you can speed along with relatively little bobble. In particular that enables you to make exciting low-level attack runs, whizzing past enemies and leaving a trail of carnage in your wake - a very different style of play to raining destruction down from on high. You can also enjoy flying through tricky low gaps - even under the very low central bridge in Courtyard and through the roofed bridge in Overlook. So it's a skill worth developing.

Resting up against the ceiling

If you're using low gravity and a map where the game lets you rest up against the invisible ceiling (keeping the boost on), you can exploit that as giving you a steady position from which to shoot, whether that be sniping or explosive bombarding. One bit of mischief you could spend time on is sending out explosive shots from so far off that the victims aren't even aware of what's coming. You can enjoy watching the results with a zoomed view. With normal gravity you can't rest against the ceiling however, because with boost on continuously, you gradually sink down.

Ceiling friction

When up against the ceiling, you can still move laterally but the friction will slow you down. So if you want to cover distance fast, remember to drop down a bit.

Blitzing the drop-offs

If you really want to despatch the enemy troops fast, try to get to the drop-offs if they're coming in by ship. You can blast the whole lot as soon as they're on the ground. Glorious! Also bear in mind that vehicles can be destroyed while still attached to dropships.


Here's a tip on using a concussion rifle or fuel rod gun, or even a grenade launcher if it has bottomless clip. If you want to do some killing from a challenging distance, perhaps even on the move which makes it harder, consider firing a well patterned salvo to compensate for uncertainties in your aim, so that hopefully at least one of the shots will pay off. You could try to blanket an area, or you could make a line of explosions.


Give yourself maximum grenades (i.e. four of each), because they're good fun to throw from the air. You may even like to try tagging an enemy as you pass; especially when doing a low-level attack run, so it's nice and personal. That can be pretty funny, and you can quickly swivel to look back at the result as you speed on. One other thing: a quick grenade can help save you damage in situations where you've emptied your clip on an attack run. Or heck, maybe you just want to add one for good measure!

Motion tracker

With your commanding aerial view the motion tracker is of much less value than normal, and certainly the default range of only 25 metres would be pretty much useless, so you might want to just remove it with the Cloud skull. To my mind, the best reason for maybe keeping it would be to get an expansive indication of where the remaining enemies are, by setting it to enhanced mode and using the maximum 150 metre range. That can certainly be useful, and seems the most appropriate configuration for aerial play. However, when you're more than about 30 metres higher than an enemy, his red dot becomes very faint, not easy to see. So to get a clear reading you'd best be low.

Enemy reaction to your height

Your height affects enemy homing behaviour. When sufficiently high, enemies don't seem to close in on you, but if you then land on the ground or hover very close to it, some enemies are likely to head your way. Try checking this out on Beachhead for example, using a remote location along the shore. When enemies do approach, you can make them back off again by rising sufficiently high.

Forbidden high surfaces

Annoyingly, almost every high surface which looks like a great place to shoot from is out of bounds, in the sense that landing there will give you the 'return to the battlefield' warning. That makes no sense to me. If the game gives you the ability to reach a high place, it seems silly to outlaw you from landing there. It's a real fun-killer. You'll also get the warning if you fly close over such a forbidden surface or feature (e.g. pinnacles), something you'll soon notice as you fly around. On some maps there are some handy perches though, as if Bungie missed a few spots when trying to kill off all the fun. So do some checking if you're interested.

The Catch skull

If you have the Catch skull on, Grunts will tend to lob plasma grenades as you pass close (Brutes and Elites too). That can be amusing, and it also means you'll take less fire. Of course, you wouldn't want to be hit by one of those things, so you'd best be moving along at a decent pace!

Whistling plasmas

It's quite good fun to have plasma grenades whistling past you like fireworks, fired by Grunts with plasma launchers (and Brutes and Elites too, though I've not been playing with Elites much as I dislike their terrible movement animation). I think you may need to be on Heroic or higher to get such Grunts, but I'm not sure. You might like to go to town with that by trying to preserve as many of these critters as you can. If you also make them trigger happy via the shootiness setting of a custom skull, they might put on quite a show!


One last tip. Defending generators from the air is pretty good fun, so don't forget to try that too! With some high hovering you might be able to defend multiple generators at once by sniping across the map. But I've had more fun flying about doing a lot of blasting. On Beachhead and Glacier especially.

Adjusting settings

If you're relatively new to Firefight, you may initially find all the business with the settings quite confusing, and may not be sure exactly what's going on. Here's some basic info relevant to adjusting settings (figured out by experimentation), which could be helpful.

When you make a change to a game type's settings, it's not permanent unless you save the game type. It lasts only until you make your next game type selection, even if you re-select the same one. Whenever you select a game type, you start afresh with its saved settings. If you've made changes from the saved settings and you want to wipe them all, you can thus do it simply by re-selecting your game type from among the various options. If you're within the GAME OPTIONS section and you're using a game variant (a custom game type you created) and you just want to wipe the changes you've made since entering the section, press X to 'Save Game Type' then select REVERT.