Banshee Handling III: Applying Reality
[This is the third article in a series. It deals with highly advanced concepts that build on those already established in the previous articles (one, two). If you have not yet read the previous articles, please do so; they are available on this site. Keep in mind that “more advanced” does not mean “more effective,” and that in fact it means nearly the opposite—while you can be effective and skilled with a grasp of basic concepts and no knowledge of advanced techniques, knowledge of advanced techniques will be useless without basic familiarity.]
Sometimes it is easy to overthink the entire process and concept of flying. In reality, there is nothing elaborate about it; it is simply moving and shooting while not being anchored by the ground. The controls are straightforward, the idea is basic, and the execution is a little tricky but essentially simple. As a result, just about anybody can fly a Banshee.
Skilled, experienced pilots will scoff and make the point that beginner pilots, those who are “not serious” (in other words, those who care more about other aspects of the game, and view flying much as a pilot might view sniping), are not real opponents and not worthy of sharing their air. The truth, though, is that the best pilot in the world can be killed by the worst pilot in the world. It is not chess; it is not arm wrestling or sprinting or rock skipping. It is not a pure shoving match of skill-on-skill. Anyone who flies, or even who menaces a Banshee without entering one himself (a ground attacker, for instance) has danger granted to them by the nature of the game. In Halo, all men are truly created equal, and here, “equal” means “deadly.” The manner and effectiveness with which the player acquits himself will do a great deal to affect his overall performance—by the end of the game, the skilled player will likely have a high score, the unskilled player a low one. Yet this is merely probability, and in the short term reality is less likely to adhere to statistical tendencies.
The worst player has guns, and grenades, and vehicles, and all manner of damaging tools. Like a baby with a razor blade, he need not be skilled at all with his tools to cause terrible damage with them; a blind man can fire a tank and kill you.
Thus it is important to remember that although one can train, study, and become highly skilled, comfortable, and experienced with a Banshee—or indeed with any other facet of Halo—in the end, all he is doing is improving his odds. You may always be beaten.
Sometimes when I’m feeling good I’ll call myself “The world’s second best Banshee pilot.” I’m being smartassed, of course, but the point is valid: There’s always somebody better, and they don’t need to be better over a thousand games—just right now, as they shoot at you.
Let’s get down to brass tacks.
A Banshee can shoot plasma and fuel rods. However, it can also kill with its body, using the laws of Halo physics in its favor (namely that “a moving vehicle will kill anybody it hits”). I have touched on this before, but not on a subtler facet of it: Ramming against a target not to kill, but to effect a tactical advantage.
Obviously, running over a target on foot is an effective tactic, as it will kill instantly. If your target is ensconced in another vehicle, however—another Banshee, a Warthog, even on foot but taking cover behind a vehicle—hitting it will not cause damage. There are no fender benders in the Halo universe.
However, that does not mean that the concept of “ramming” within intervehicular combat is useless. Improving your position and upsetting your opponent’s is always valuable, and moreover, there is nothing wrong with striking another vehicle, so you need not worry about controlling your momentum. If charging another Banshee or swarming on a vehicle, don’t be afraid to crash into them as you enter, knocking them around with the mass of your body; ground targets can be upset or their movement controlled by this, and air targets can have their territory “stolen” from them as you enter and dominate. (Targets on foot, of course, will simply be killed.)
Do not look for this, but do not be afraid of it. You are the king of sky; move aggressively and with a constant assumption of the upper hand.
Plasma fire, whether from a plasma rifle, a Ghost, or a Banshee, has a unique characteristic: Aside from damaging your target, it will also create a momentary “stun” effect, freezing and preventing effective movement or offensive action. It only lasts a moment, but because of the rapid-fire nature of most plasma weapons (including the Banshee guns), if a steady stream of fire can be directed into a target, it will seriously disrupt their ability to respond; if combined with evasive motion on your part, their only real hope will be to escape from the plasma, something which will itself be hindered by the stun. (Though beware that stunning does not prevent firing a weapon, so don’t walk into their sights.)
Realistically, escape will usually happen, because unless they are in a very bad position indeed there is nothing preventing them from breaking the stun for the crucial moment needed to reestablish even footing. However, in the meantime, you can create a healthy edge that may be the advantage you need.
The most vital element in a good plasma freeze is continuous fire, and for this reason it will usually not be possible in an already-begun battle—both sides will be moving and attacking, and will not stand still for you to dump fire into them. However, if you can surprise them, it becomes much more likely. Consider a situation where you sight an enemy about to enter a Banshee. Obviously, you will fire, both plasma at the target and a fuel rod either at the person (for damage) or at the parked Banshee (to possibly overturn it and prevent his mount). However, if and when he arrives and is about to enter, should you fire at him or at the vehicle? Fire at the vehicle, even if you waste a moment or two of plasma on an empty shell; the moment he “bonds” with it, he will enter both your damage and your stun, and the slow take-off of a Banshee will keep him in the stun for several seconds at least. If he is already damaged, you should be able to kill him easily in this time, and if you can direct a fuel rod into him then you can nearly destroy him even with full health.
You will rarely achieve an effective freeze on an infantry target, merely because plasma is not a sniper rifle, and cannot hit such a small target 100% of the time. (Of course, infantry will die under direct plasma fire before long anyhow.) The best targets are vehicles. Look for ambushes and surprise attacks; while firing as soon as you notice an enemy and maintaining fire all the way until you close is a valid tactic, first observe and decide whether they’ve noticed you. If not, can you approach from a blind side and get near without them seeing, then unleash a devastating attack which will not only damage but also impair their response by stunning?
I have said before that passive defense has no place as a technique or as a mindset in Banshee piloting, or indeed in any other facet of Halo. By “passive” defense, of course, I refer to anything intended to keep you alive by any other method except killing your attacker.
Because I still believe this, I have named this section “defensive intervals” rather than “defensive tactics” or the like; the difference is semantic, but helps emphasize that while these brief intervals may occur, they are nothing but momentary pauses, and while they exist nobody is winning—at best, both sides break even.
A defensive interval is when you intentionally insert a break into a confrontation. This may be for a variety of reasons, but due to the nature of combat in Halo, will most often be to allow you to recharge your shields after a heavy assault. Try as you might, sometimes your opponent will get the best of you, and while you can always try to simply kill them before they finish you off, occasionally it can be wiser to break for a moment and let yourself breathe.
The obvious flaw in this tactic is that while you are recharging, reorienting, and reacquiring, your attacker will also be, and (unless he is a fool) when you do reengage him he will be no worse off than you. For this reason a defensive interval is an undesirable, last-ditch decision, and not preferred. Of course, if your opponent is actually more skilled, than no matter how many times you disengage and reengage, his chances will be better than yours, so you would be better off searching for a more unfair means of confronting him.
The only requirement of a defensive interval is that neither combatant be able to damage the other. If your enemy can damage you, then it is obviously not a very useful move, and if you can damage him, then it merely an advantageous offensive position, not a defensive interval. However, if neither side can attack, if only for a few seconds, then you can take the time to recuperate before wheeling back with new fury.
Defensive intervals are highly situation-dependent, but certain constants can be looked for. When dogfighting, the wrong technique is to simply turn tail and run; unless your opponent is very poor, he will simply follow and kill you. You cannot outrun anybody in identical vehicles. You may be able to outmaneuver him, if you are in tight quarters, and this can be effective—if you can keep enough obstacles and turns between you to prevent him from hitting you, you will be successful. In open air, one useful interval is to intentionally enter the classic symmetrical circle. While the circle is usually avoided, due to its “fairness” (e.g. neither side has an advantage), this nature becomes an asset when you seek only to survive, not to attack. Since most pilots (save experts) will maintain the circle, with no thought to break it and no skill to dominate it, you can keep twirling around happily and mostly safely until you are ready to reengage.
(Establishing a defensive interval from other positions is outside the scope of this article, but as food for thought, players should consider this: When on foot, what can you do to momentarily remove yourself from combat? Can a slight peak in terrain block line-of-sight between you and your opponent? Can a confusing arena let you slip into a corner and remain undetected for a second or two?)
This is the most straightforward and unfettered stage-trick piece of knowledge I will ever write about here, so enjoy it.
Whether or not you notice it, when you damage a player enough to drop his shields, his shields will emit a momentary “flare” of light, their dying gasp before disappearing. (This is most noticeable when sniping; if you hit but do not kill, do you notice a flash of light?) Of course, all hits to a shielded target will make the shields glow and course with light, but a dying shield flare is characteristic, and, fortunately, is especially noticeable when the player is in a Banshee. Look toward the rear, where the legs are visible (and where you are hopefully shooting into, from a dominant rear position). The flash will “float” out from the vehicle, and you will rarely miss it if you know what to look for.
Why is this useful? Halo is one-half tactics and one-half strategy, and a vital element of stategy is intelligence. If you know your opponent’s status (in this case, 0 shields), you can plan your strategies based on that knowledge, and tactics flow from proper strategy. I will not elaborate on the specifics of the proper response to a shield flare, since they can vary from “nothing at all” to many complex strings of attacks, but I will say that an enemy nearly dead will usually merit a stronger attack than one barely harmed.
HIDING THE STEEL
The name for this technique is stolen from other sources, and in fact the technique itself was familiarized to me mainly by goatrope of HBO and Subnova. The concept is relatively simple, and like all good tactics, is scalable to be effective against both skilled and unskilled opponents. This is not a Banshee methodology, but rather intended for anti-Banshee use, something I will sometimes discuss mainly because in a busy game the only way to get a Banshee is to win it.
The basic setting is for the player to be on foot and armed with a pistol and rocket launcher, a common scenario in Death Island (the quintessential Banshee map). The paradox of the rocket launcher is that it is both an extraordinarily effective anti-air weapon (capable of a one-shot kill to most targets) and very difficult to actually use in an AA context. A wild rocket fired against a free-air Banshee will rarely hit. I have mentioned certain methods for improving your chances of a hit, but this is one of the most useful.
Using your pistol, start firing as soon as you enter range. As I have said before, the pistol is a surprisingly effective and especially annoying weapon against Banshees, and will almost certainly provoke a response, as the opposing pilot tries to find you and remove you. If he lacks the skill or presence of mind to do so, no worry; simply keep firing until he dies.
If he comes after you, hold your ground and keep firing until he is near. He will probably come straight and easy, unafraid; if you are not moving, he will expect an easy crush-kill, and with only a pistol to contend against, he has nothing to fear.
When he is close, promptly whip out the rocket launcher and blow him out of the sky. Be careful not to let the incoming Banshee carcass kill you, as that is both ironic and embarrassing.
The beauty of this tactic is that it does not require any particular action on the part of your opponent. What if he is older and wiser, and does not close to crush, but rather assumes a heavy-weapon tactic and stays high, swooping and firing? Then you may simply keep firing with the pistol, and kill him normally, or if you are a rocket savant try to nail him at the corner of a turn.
One subtle but omnipresent facet of advanced piloting is the need to “match” an opponent’s energy. I say “advanced” not because it is only relevant in advanced contexts—it is always present, whethe or not you see it—but because it will probably only be visible to experienced pilots. Of course, many will not understand it consciously, but that is no requirement unless they want to teach it to another, as I am doing now.
No matter how you fly, you will do it with a certain characteristic behavior and energy. In the introduction of the previous Banshee article, I categorized two primary types of energy while flying, “crashing” and “flowing.” Of course, many smaller subcategories exist even within these groupings, and in any given situation you will need to actively analyze how your opponent moves to judge its characteristics. It changes not only between pilots, but between games, between battles, sometimes between moments.
What’s useful about this knowledge is the ability to balance your own behavior against your enemy’s. While blindly adhering to a “trademark” style (assuming that style is effective) can do the job, you will survive longer and scratch more kills if you mold yourself around your enemy.
“Matching” energies does not mean that you mirror the way your opposite number moves. Indeed, this is frequently the wrong approach—often, the best technique is to effect the opposite energy, strong when they are weak, elusive when they are arrogant. (This should not be read as a be-all and end-all strategem; the proper match for a certain type of energy will change depending on the situation. However, this is true more often than not.) Only experience will teach you what response is appropriate for what behavior, but while complex analyses of these concepts may seem overly complicated, keep in mind that the basic precept—choosing x move correctly in y situation—is the very heart and soul of military theory, sparring, and indeed most of life.
An example of a failure to properly match energies is ai-uchi, whose name I borrow from Japanese. Ai-uchi, or “mutual slaying,” occurs most frequently when both dogfighters charge, heavily damaged, and one or both fire fuel rods from point-blank range into each other’s face. The result? Both participants die.
While this is not necessarily an undesirable outcome (dying is generally bad, but sometimes killing your opponent is the only thing that matters), it successfully illustrates the possible results of poorly-matched energy. Because you both are extremely aggressive and forward, you have attacked with no regard for your own safety, and resulted in a clash that left both of you destroyed. The solution? Better balancing, so that you let his own aggressiveness dig a hole that allows you to kill him with little danger to yourself.
MOUNT & DISMOUNT TACTICS
The Banshee is a vehicle, but it is not self-contained; the game is Halo, not Banshee-lo, and if you forget this, you become as handicapped as the cavalryman with the psychological aversion to leaving his horse. In actuality, though you should never relinquish your vehicle lightly—you will almost always survive better inside than out—useful and effective techniques can be utilized involving both the tactical mount and tactical dismount from the Banshee.
Banshee can be entered from any position that brings you close enough to their “entry” location (their rear hatch) to activate its proximity detector. In reality, this tends to mean one of three locations: Directly behind, in front, or beside. Behind is simple and easy. In front is more difficult, and involves pushing up against the “crook” where either wing meets the body; at the furthermost position forward, you will be able to enter. Beside generally means taking a running jump from the front of the Banshee, over the wing, and entering from the air; either beside or in front are the two options for mounting a Banshee when you approach from a forward angle.
If you can learn exactly how much damage it causes to fall from a given height, you will have the flexibility of dismounting a Banshee before it has actually touched the ground. Certainly it is not ideal, but if you don’t want to get hurt, this is not the game for you.
It should be understood that Banshees, like all vehicles in Halo, exhibit an unusual quality not common to most games, that of “lasting control.” If you exit a vehicle, you will discover that for a moment or two after hitting the button, you still have control of its movement, and will still take damage from hits to its body—in short, that you are still “bonded” with it. This is also true for mounting, as you will be connected to the vehicle for a second or two before actually having fully entered, and before the camera has fully switched.
When would you ever want to dismount from your Banshee, and do so with such urgency that you can’t wait to touch the ground? Consider an attack on an infantryman, who is skilled and practiced at evading crushes and may very well kill you before you can kill him with direct fire. You might consider making an approach as if to crush, then moments before impact, dismounting in the air.
What does this accomplish? Several things. To begin with, you have essentially lost none of the effectiveness of your crush. Your Banshee will continue on its same course, using the aforementioned “lingering” control (of course, you must remember to hold down the throttle until you are well and truly clear), and in actuality, if you leave early enough, may catch a moment or two of freefall, which is faster than throttled flight. (You may have noticed that you can drop faster than you can throttle downward. Halo’s physics are mysterious.) Whatever the reason, the motion of such a technique generally results in a particularly difficult-to-dodge Banshee, improving your chances of a crush.
Of course, the result may be a vehicle kill rather than a kill attributed to you. Vehicle kills are embarrassing enough to be worthwhile, though.
What if you miss? Well, while your Banshee has been flying along like a toaster, you’ve surrepticiously hit the ground behind it, and though you have taken damage, you carefully timed your fall to leave you alive. You kept moving, and as the enemy dodged the Banshee, attention diverted, were able to shoot and kill him easily. If you completely screw up and lose the element of surprise, keep the Banshee between the two of you for cover and do your best.
What else? Lately, I have been fooling with possibly the most stylish kill in the game. You make an approach on a ground target—a vehicle is the best, usually a tank for the largest target, but it can work even on infantry—and while still in the air, suddenly leave the Banshee, and as you fall, fire a rocket directly into the target. Then you either hit the ground and die, or, depending on your altitude, hit the ground and barely survive. Is this useless? Certainly it’s not a primary tactic, and more for style than for utility. In lag it is next to impossible. However, if taking out the target is more vital to your game than surviving—consider killing a flag carrier in CTF—and you’ve got a challenging target (again, a tank is the best example), then it may be the way to go. The most difficult aspect of this is reorienting yourself to the camera change and graphical lag caused by the dismount, which can disrupt your equilibrium for long enough to flatten you against the ground before able to fire. You can optimize the shot by lining up your flightpath with the target before dismounting, facing forward, in a nice, straight line, meaning that the only thing you’ll need to do after dismounting is aim down and fire. If you need to turn in midair, all bets are off.
Can you do more? Consider the need to grab a flag, pick up a powerup or ammo, or similar action without stopping. It’s possible with a Banshee just as it is with a Warthog. Fly nap-of-the-earth, scraping the dirt, in a straight line; then, just as you reach the item, hit your dismount key, keeping the throttle on. You will slip out, touch the item, then, if you time it perfectly, be able to remount without ever completely leaving the Banshee, keeping your downtime at a minimum.
Remember always that basic abilities are infinitely more useful than advanced techniques, and in fact, with a grasp of the basics, you will in time come to discover every advanced permutation of them without needing losers on the internet to write articles about them. But understanding even the basics is not enough; you must truly be comfortable with their application, and this can only come from practice, practice, and more practice.
Think, practice, and learn. Enjoy the skies.
— Brandon “vector40” Oto