Stealing Jun's Falcon
Posted October 29th 2011
Very soon after the game was released, it was found that you can pilot a Falcon you weren't meant to have. It's supposed to have Jun aboard as a passenger, scouting things out for you, but sometimes the game suffers a glitch and he's gone AWOL. In such a case the Falcon can be brought down to the ground with a plasma ball, and if the canopy pops open - something which can happen even if the Falcon does no tumbling - you can pilot it and go exploring, and do other things too. slYnki posted a video of his Falcon snatch and exploration, advertising it at High Impact Halo, which may've been the first documentation, and there was soon another video by Hold X To Trick.
In this my first article for Halo Reach, I'll cover the main business of getting the Falcon and escaping normal bounds with it, and also cover some exploration specifics (I'll cover other uses in separate articles later). A few aspects of this may be new, I'm not sure, but in particular I figured out how to make sure Jun is absent (when you're playing from the start of the level) so you can be sure to get your ride, and I realized you can get the Falcon as early as rally point alpha if you want - earlier than where slYnki nabbed it.
Getting the Falcon
So, you've got yourself a plasma pistol from one of the early covies? Ok, let's go steal that Falcon!
Making sure Jun is absent
At the top of the field before rally point alpha you typically meet some Grunts, and when you get sufficiently far forward - drawing level with the tin shack or thereabouts - some Elites charge forth. Meanwhile the Falcon flies to and fro in a fixed orbit offering supporting fire, thought it'll break off and fly into position past rally point alpha if only a few enemies remain (two I think) - something to be avoided.
What you should do is reach rally point alpha when the Falcon is near the furthest point of its orbit, or just anywhere in the furthest half of its orbit, pretty much. In that case it'll vanish, and a fraction of a second later a Falcon appears up to the left past rally point alpha. It's presumably meant to be the same one (it goes the same places as normal and you still hear from Jun), except that it's empty and you'll see no blue indicator. I believe the switch occurs because the original was too far away from you, forcing the game to play catch-up in a rather clumsy way. Clumsy because you can actually see the new Falcon appear - and the old one disappear if you care to look backwards. If the original had been sufficiently close to you, it would've simply flown into position with Jun still aboard.
It's easy to arrange things just by good timing. Here's my safety-conscious recipe for an approach up the left. After killing any Grunts from distance if you wish, move to the start of the shack, near the early gap in the curve of tin panels. You can use the panelling for cover. As the Falcon reaches its furthest point, run for rally point alpha via the most efficient route, making use of one full sprint along the way. There's an easy jump over some rocks as you arc left, and the sprint should keep you pretty safe from the distracted Elites. Run over the drop. When you reach rally point alpha the Falcon should again be near its furthest point thanks to your timing, hence the switch will occur.
Bear in mind that when you reach rally point alpha a new checkpoint will be due, though it could be delayed by jumping while you check to see if things are looking good (and sometimes it gets delayed for other reasons, presumably relating to the nearby combat). Just in case you get things wrong, it's wise to've saved a checkpoint back near the river so you always have the option of exiting to the dashboard and restarting to try again. One other detail is that if you're using a low difficulty, I'd recommend not killing the Grunts in advance (if present), otherwise the enemy might get quickly reduced to just a few, causing the Falcon to break off early, which is no good.
Rather than doing a well-timed run, you could more simply just run to the drop, wait until the Falcon is near its furthest point, then continue over. But Elites might be attacking you while you wait, so it's not as safe.
Getting the Falcon at rally point alpha
From your position just past the drop you can bring down the Falcon already. Wait for it to become stationary (it moves into a standard hovering position) then hit it with a long-range plasma ball. That usually makes it drop like a stone, rotors halted. If you're lucky it'll bounce around a bit on the ground and the canopy will pop open, in which case you can go and board it - after flipping it if needed. Quite often the canopy stays shut however, in which case the Falcon rises back to its original position, though not necessarily pointing the same way. You can keep making attempts while you've got enough plasma left; and you can always revert to the rally point alpha checkpoint assuming you got it. Sometimes a plasma ball will just make the Falcon glitchily freeze in the air for a while until the rotors start again. Weird.
Note: Preferably don't go more than a few metres past the base of the drop before firing. If you advance too far the Falcon starts heading off around the corner, and it would be hard to hit as it departs.
Here's a variation on the method, which can speed things along a bit. When you fire a shot, give it enough time to get most of the way there, then sprint forth. Assuming the Falcon drops, there are two outcomes. If the canopy pops open, great; you'll be there early. If it doesn't, you may be able to follow up with further shots from closer range, e.g. after the Falcon clumsily flies into a tree on the hillside.
Getting the Falcon later
If you don't nab the Falcon at rally point alpha, there are further opportunities ahead. Basically anywhere you can get a shot at it. It hovers near the two Skirmishers around the corner and I've been able to nab it there, but it would be much easier to get it at its next position, above a hill on the right across the stream. That's the 'classic' nabbing location if you like, as seen in slYnki's video and also a later video by Hold X To Trick.
If you want to get it when it's there, it's good to get a handy checkpoint you'll be able to revert to just in case. Kill the two Skirmishers on the hillside (one of whom can furnish you with a plasma pistol if you don't already have one) then continue down to the bridge. A checkpoint is triggered some way before it, but if you're speeding along in a truck you can end up getting it at the bridge, maybe standing on the start of it with plasma pistol aimed at the distant Falcon. You can then make attempts at bringing it down. If you're lucky it'll tumble down the hillside to the path, saving you from having to get up the hill to fetch it - and enabling you to quickly board to engage the nearby covies with it.
An alternative plan is to continue across the bridge and up near the blue barrels to take closer shots. slYnki shot it down from the top of the hill, as did the Hold X To Trick folk, but there's no actual need to go up yet; you could just take shots from the bottom. However, with the right route it's easy to get to the top if you want to. You might need to go at least part way up to access the fallen Falcon of course.
Starting at rally point alpha
An alternative to playing through the game from the start is to enter the mission at rally point alpha. In this case the hovering Falcon will be empty - which I find pretty odd because it's not as if the game is even having to play catch-up with you. The only drawback is, you won't have a plasma pistol so you won't be able to bring it down yet. However, you can get one from a Skirmisher around the corner, and can bring down the Falcon while it's hovering over the hill beyond.
Falcon attributes and oddities
Here's some talk on aspects of the Falcon.
Released assault rifle
Just before the canopy pops open for the first time, an assault rifle is released from within. Typically it comes through the exterior and is fully outside before the canopy has started opening. Normally it settles to ground level or thereabouts, but I've also seen it come to rest floating in the cockpit (actually that was the first time I noticed the AR at all). It's often horizontal and upright - thus looking quite anomalous - and in that case when you near it you get an onscreen message for holding X to take the ally's weapon. Sometimes holding X doesn't work though; maybe it's to do with how deeply the weapon is embedded into the scenery?
If the AR is indeed upright you can make it 'normal' by dislodging it with melee or doing something explosive to it (grenade or needle bang), but if Carter or Jorge is close, you can expect a rebuke as if you've just killed a friendly. Like "Dot - note another friendly fire incident on Six's file". Also your melee sometimes gives the sound effect for hitting someone, as if there was an invisible pilot there! Maybe there was. All quite weird.
Stop press - there's more! After thinking again about my 'invisible pilot' quip, I went back and did some more experimenting on an upright assault rifle. It turns out that if you shoot at the right place just above it, that can likewise cause the death of the mystery man, plus you get blood on the ground! The target area you need to hit seems to be something like a small thin slab above the rifle (in the plane of the rifle), just back from the ammo readout. It's possible to just get blood without killing - e.g. firing just a single needle - but the mystery man seems very weak so he can't take much. I also noticed than a plasma ball fired at the rifle can do the killing, and you can get lines of protest from troopers if you've flown them here from the evac zone. "That soldier look like an alien to you?". Plus, you can move the rifle by pushing against it.
Good protection but not perfect
The Falcon is indestructible and also gives you complete protection against damage from enemy fire. You're not invulnerable though. For one thing, plasma balls will bring you down, and if the Falcon bounces badly you can get ejected. For another, Elites are quite keen to jump onto the side of the Falcon's nose and rudely hoist you out, which is pretty amusing. They can jump up quite high to do that, so watch out! There's no proper jumping animation though; they simply rise up off the ground as if pulled up by magnetism, which is a shame.
You'll be able to freely get into and out of the pilot's seat until you get 'OBJECTIVE COMPLETE' for the defence of the missing troopers' evac zone. If you're still aboard at that point (which can occur even when you're nowhere near the evac zone), you can still fly but you'll be trapped inside unless you can either find an Elite to yank you out, or get knocked out of the sky by a plasma ball and end up ejected, or land on a stationary dropship at the relay outpost and end up ejected when the dropship departs and the Falcon falls (I'm not aware of any other methods). If you're outside the Falcon when you get 'OBJECTIVE COMPLETE', there's no longer any pilot boarding prompt even if the canopy is open (you could take a passenger seat but you wouldn't be able to exit). However, if an Elite has ejected you and taken the pilot's seat, something I elaborate on in Cockpit fights, you can then eject him to get back inside.
The Falcon can pick up passengers, so you can take Carter and Jorge with you on your travels if you like. You can also pick up all three of the missing troopers, even if Carter and Jorge are already aboard. Want to see a trooper merged with Jorge? Not a pretty sight. If it's vacant, Jun seems to appear in the rear right seat around 80 seconds after saying "Noble leader be advised, I have visual on inbound Covenant dropships", so you can actually end up with all six aboard! At the relay outpost Emile can board; and one time when I hadn't brought any passengers along, Kat took a seat - which surprised me because I thought she always stayed indoors fiddling around with repair work. I guess this time she'd finished and fancied a ride. When I continued the level that time, I was all alone in the outpost until the cutscene was triggered.
Escaping normal bounds
Initially the Falcon is confined by invisible barriers which significantly limit your wandering. But it's possible to get outside those normal bounds by making use of a dropship, in a manner reminiscent of how a Phantom can be used to force you through barriers in Halo 3. Here's how.
Escape technique basics
While a ship is dropping covies at the location of the missing troopers, get your Falcon settled down into the fork, preferably pointing the opposite way with nose touching or almost touching - though it's also viable to be facing diagonally or even the other way. It's quite easy but you'll want to be in a good position ready to settle down because the ship won't be stationary for long. As it departs you can use the joysticks to try and maintain your relative position, and maybe later too as the ship veers about as if trying to get you out of its face (I suspect it's really just trying to avoid you). But it can also be viable to leave the controls alone entirely, once in the fork.
When the ship reaches the barrier you'll hopefully get forced through, either braced against the base of the fork or held by friction with the sides. But you may suffer health loss and could even be killed, so it's a good idea to've started with perfect health. If you're still in the fork once through the barrier, you can either manually disengage yourself or wait for the ship to shrink to nothing - which is what they do. Yep, magical shrinking dropships. Yet more fiendish covie technology! One time it shrank to nothing within the passenger compartment, so that for a moment when watching in Theater mode, it looked like a toy in front of Carter and Jorge. Made for a pretty amusing snapshot.
To reduce the hassle of fire from the ship, which can push the Falcon back along the fork and damage troopers if you've picked any up, I suggest blowing the cannon off beforehand. On the lower difficulties at least, it can be easy to do that with a few bursts as the ship is heading in, if you're not too high. I'd normally be hovering a few metres above the ship's forthcoming hover height, ready to drop into the fork.
One other danger is that while settled in the fork waiting for departure, an Elite may jump up and eject you. But I found this rare on Normal and Easy which I used for all my escape testing. I'm not sure if they're more aggressive about it on the higher difficulties, but you could always settle down late to minimize their window of opportunity.
In the case of a troublesome ship which is tending to quickly leave you behind as it departs, or which tends to shed you somewhere along the flight, an alternative approach (after reverting for another try) is to wait somewhere along the flight path beyond the troubled section, and deftly let yourself get scooped up by the fork. You may also want to try and match your speed with it to some extent, to avoid harmful impact. This 'interception method' could be used with any ship of course, but it does take a bit of skill to get yourself scooped up nicely.
More on escape technique
It's not necessary to be completely in the fork. You can get carried along quite nicely if the Falcon gets caught on the pointy bits sticking out at the base of the fork - a configuration which might arise in flight if you get jostled around badly. You might even try to get caught up like that right at the start of the flight, or very soon into it. Normally I wouldn't recommend that - I experimented a little and didn't find it easy - but it could be worth trying if you've got a troublesome ship.
Around 1:56 in the Hold X To Trick video where I first saw this escape method, the advice is "Hold LB to push the Falcon down, don't let go". The first thing to say about this is that you'd surely need to have LT down at the same time, otherwise LB does nothing. That seems to be the case in normal powered flight at least. The second thing is, even with LT down I didn't notice LB being any help at all in keeping the Falcon in the fork, and meanwhile LT felt like a hindrance because it tends to bring the Falcon's tail up. So I'm sceptical about whether that advice was really justified. At any rate, I don't use it.
The best location and ships to use
By far the easiest trooper location to use is the lower one, near a stream. To arrange for that, just head around the valley on the right rather than the left. Ship 2 seems the best option for escape. It reaches the barrier quickly and ends up near a massive sloping pinnacle you might like to land on for fun. In ten tries I got through every time, retaining perfect health nine times. That was when using both joysticks to try and maintain my relative position, but I also fared well when simply leaving the controls alone once in the fork (nine successes, seven with perfect health, two with poor health).
Note: There's usually a handy checkpoint shortly before the ship's arrival, but if you rush the game you may not get it. To trigger the ship you'll need to've been sufficiently near the troopers (before which they're invulnerable), and the enemy count would usually need reducing to no more than three. After the first ship has been triggered to make its drop, I recommend staying back from the troopers until you've killed the initial covies and are ready for the reinforcement ships. Then move in to trigger them.
Ship 3 is similar to ship 2 but there's no particular reason to wait around for that, and you'd have more covies shooting at you. As for ship 1, that takes a much different route which involves scenery hazards. It often flies through a tree or some high rock, but those things are solid to the Falcon and can easily wrench it out of the fork. The trip to the barrier is also much longer. In ten tries I succeeded only three times, and on each success I lost most of my health. You can get a better success rate using the interception method, getting intercepted beyond the scenery hazards. I escaped eight times out of ten that way, my two failures being due to not getting myself intercepted well enough.
At the higher location ship 1 is the best, but after rising a little it does some fairly speedy backing up while rising further, and you can easily get left behind (sliding out of the fork) unless you've positioned the Falcon diagonally to make it grip the sides, which I'd recommend. In ten tries I got through the barrier every time but almost always lost most of my health. The reinforcment ships seem very hard to use. After rising they tend to abruptly skim underneath you, but you might manage to stay in the fork if you've wedged the Falcon in diagonally for grip. You could try the interception method to avoid the slipping problem, but that's hard too. Even if you make it to the barrier there's a strong tendency for the Falcon to get pushed out, due I think to the ship being angled up somewhat. So you may need a lot of attempts!
None of the ships hold position at the higher location long, so you have to be pretty efficient about getting settled into the fork. At the lower location, ships 2 and 3 hover significantly longer (up to about ten seconds), giving you more time to get settled if you need it.
NB: There's some variability in the departure dynamics for a given ship, and on a given play-through you may find that the ship is prone to making departures which are difficult to cope with. After experiencing this with my usual ship 2 at the lower location, during which the Falcon tended to quickly slide out of the fork, I made more play-throughs to try to see if there was an avoidable cause to this badness, rather than just being something random. I think it may be linked to rushing the game. So I suggest that you give the first dropship time to settle into a firing position, trigger its landing, then work as I recommended earlier, staying clear of the troopers until the initial covies are dead. The success rates I quoted were for when things were 'good', needless to say.
Postscript, November 6th: I've now realized an alternative way of using ship 1 to escape at the lower trooper location, which rivals the ease of using ship 2 and which has some special benefits. See my article Wandering dropship escape for details.
Handy checkpoint after escape (or before)
For either location you can potentially get a checkpoint after your escape while remaining out of normal bounds, which could serve as a handy starting point for exploration. If you used ship 1 to escape there's a checkpoint when the reinforcement ships are triggered, but you'll need to've been sufficiently near the troopers (close enough to make them lose their invulnerability) and the enemy count will probably need reducing - something you can help out with using long-range cannon fire. If you used ship 2 or 3 you can get the 'OBJECTIVE COMPLETE' checkpoint in due course - again something you can help out with using cannon fire - though in that case you'll no longer be able to dismount.
An alternative way of getting a checkpoint when using any of the ships, is to fly off and get the relay outpost loaded (see the exploration section below), which brings a checkpoint. One potential drawback of this is that a large chunk of the territory after rally point alpha will be missing, but it's possible to get that reloaded as described in the exploration section. Another thing worth mentioning is that when you next dismount, it seems to trigger a further checkpoint, along with the message 'ADVANCE INTO RELAY OUTPOST'. That's potentially useful because it gives you a method of getting a checkpoint at a particular spot (e.g. it would be ideal for exploring ways of descending from a peak, just for the challenge). But there's also the option of cancelling this checkpoint by jumping six times.
If all of that sounds like too much bother, let's keep it simple. If you're using ship 2 at the lower evac zone, there's normally a checkpoint shortly before it (don't rush the game too much), and you could just save that. The subsequent escape is usually quick and easy, in which case it won't be long before you can start your out-of-bounds exploration.
Once you're out of normal bounds, you can later save the game and go into Theater mode, where in due course you'll be able to get an escaped free-cam which you can use as an alternative way of exploring.
When Falcons go funky
Sometimes when you're trying to settle into a dropship or when you make an adjustment during the trip, the Falcon can completely bug out, like it's having a fit. It sort of 'flickers' extremely rapidly, and don't be surprised if you die. One time this happened when I was settling in, and the Falcon went way off to the side. I happened to get a checkpoint while still aboard, so I was able to play about with dismounting as the ground wasn't far off. Sometimes when I dismounted, the Falcon would then shoot up in the air, still flickering with Carter and Jorge aboard. Major weirdness!
Now you've got the Falcon, one thing you can do with it is go flying around exploring things, especially high areas. You can do plenty of this within normal bounds, but for reaching higher places you'll need to escape as described in the previous section. Bear in mind that when you've escaped, you'll subsequently become trapped inside normal bounds again if you re-enter them. Thus, you'll probably want to make sure you don't get too low in the relevant areas. Now here are some specifics.
Hey, bring that back!
If you've got Carter or any troopers aboard, bear in mind that if you dismount and get more than about 35 metres away from the Falcon, one of them is liable to hop into the pilot's seat and fly off with your ride, though you can potentially bring it back down with a plasma ball. For this reason you may want to do your exploring alone.
Back to the start, in normal bounds
Within normal bounds, you can fly all the way back to the start of the map, though the game will need to do some reloading. As you head back past rally point alpha you'll briefly see that the area ahead is missing; but after a few seconds of freeze, the area gets reloaded - potentially including some bypassed Elites who you can wipe out if you want a checkpoint. Continuing back over the circular farmhouse, there's another missing section. To get that one loaded, fly around to the left (getting around an invisible wall) and it should pop into place as you near a pinnacle. You can now continue on to the start of the map.
I say reloaded, but if you went down the valley and got a loading point (near the stream) before heading back past rally point alpha, two wind turbines will be missing. Originally there were two lines of three, but in each case the highest of the three will be gone; most obviously the highest turbine of all, which was quite near the waterfall. I expect they got removed when you got the aforementioned loading point.
NB: If you want to return in normal bounds, you'll need to do it before going near enough to the missing troopers to cancel their temporary invulnerability after officially locating them, because afterwards the game doesn't seem to let you back past rally point alpha. If you try to approach, you'll suddenly find yourself on the ground, facing the other direction! Pretty brutal. As far as I know, you'll get repelled however you approach.
At around 1:47 in slYnki's video a caption says "I got to this giant invisible rock". I went in search of this phenomenon and it turns out what we've really got here a pinnacle with an insubstantial top surface - which is much less fun to say than "giant invisible rock", but hey, I can't help that. If you try to land on it, you'll find that the Falcon sinks down a way, becoming partly or almost totally submerged as seen from above. But you can dismount to stand on a lower invisible surface, and that's where slYnki was. The pinnacle in question is the massive one beyond the cliff edge near a pair of white wind turbines, and it's inside normal bounds. Not far off (back towards the broken bridge) is a shorter pinnacle which is similarly misleading.
Dismount tip for tricky drop-offs
Not far from the lower evac location are three wind turbines like upside-down whisks. The blades of a turbine are insubstantial but the spindle isn't, and you can dismount on top. Here's a tip though, which can be used for other tricky drop-offs too. To be sure of which side of the cockpit you'll dismount on, use the right joystick to look to that side slightly, just beforehand. Took me a while to realize this. Before that I thought the dismount side was random, which was infuriating because I kept dismounting to my doom when trying to get onto a small pinnacle. The left stick can likewise be used to indicate a preferred dismount direction, but it seems to have lower priority than the right stick if you use both (fairly close together).
Relay outpost, after escaping normal bounds
If you escape normal bounds you'll see two big holes in the early part of the map. One is just behind the dish and is for the relay outpost. The other - much bigger - is for all of the level before rally point alpha. In each case you can actually land on an invisible plane area above the missing territory (at approximately the height of the lowest part of the dish), and there are walls extending down from that plane.
The relay outpost can be loaded by getting sufficiently low down not far away from it, back along the path leading to it (be further back than the shadow) - and you'll still be out of normal bounds at that point. You can subsequently explore the roof areas of the outpost if you like. There are four large spheres which are insubstantial. The entire dish assembly is likewise insubstantial by the way. You can fly right through it! Also, take a look at the two red lights. Neither of them is properly attached, and one is way out in mid-air. Weird.
When the outpost is loaded, some of the area before rally point alpha gets some crude new surfacing over it, and the six early wind turbines reappear. Also a large area after rally point alpha gets removed (resulting in a massive new high invisible plane you can land on), but it can be reloaded if you don't mind losing the outpost again. I found a spot for doing that. Flying high to stay outside normal bounds, get to a point above the first waterfall after rally point alpha. If you descend there, the missing area reloads. Mind you, there'll also be a few patches of insubstantial grassy ground floating way up high, which appeared when you loaded the outpost.
Invisible surface navigation
If you go wandering around on a high invisible surface, some of which I've mentioned, you obviously need to be wary of falling off an edge. A plasma weapon is handy here. Fire shots ahead of you and you can see whether they're hitting the surface, and thus know whether it's safe to keep advancing.
You can go really far out from the core area - over twenty kilometres - and it can make for an absorbing trip. The first time I set out with a purpose, I headed south and the terrain just seemed to go on and on. There was quite a bit of mist at the height I was using, and things actually felt quite realistic and atmospheric, even though the scenery is somewhat low-res as you'd expect. There were significant features in it - more than I was expecting. Arrays of two-dimensional tree groups, a lake, and massive partially surfaced rocks (expect some rear sections to be missing, as Bungie didn't plan on you seeing such things from behind). The surfaces out here are all insubstantial I think, so you can't actually land on things, but never mind. On the positive side, that allows you to drop through the ground to see stuff from below.
I eventually hit a barrier at just over 21 km from the evac zone, by which time it had become apparent that the moon in the sky was actually just a two-dimensional disc. Looking back towards the core area was quite a sight, featuring various graphical oddities and effects. So yes, you must take a long journey sometime; it's fascinating.
Tip: If you get 'OBJECTIVE COMPLETE' for the defence of the evac zone, you'll see a handy distance readout when you look back, enabling you to see how far out you are. Using that, I found that the Falcon covers ground at around 160 kph with altitude locked. With altitude unlocked it's more like 178 but the Falcon rises as it goes, so it's not necessarily preferable.
Way up high
Here's something else you need to do. Ascend. I got up to 16240 feet before hitting an invisible ceiling. Long before you even reach the top, which takes almost 7 minutes at a rate of about 2430 feet per minute, the view will become mighty impressive, letting you see the lay of the land.
Grey disc and invisible surface above
Beneath the map is what looks like a massive grey disc, but I don't think you can get down to it. Way above it - and way below normal ground - there seems to be an invisible surface you can land on. It's not a horizontal plane; it seems irregular, sloping in various directions here and there, sometimes quite steeply. Landing on it, my altimeter has read as high as around -1200 feet (that was more or less underneath the map - the part you play on), and as low as -4753 far out. It would be interesting to have a better picture of the shape, but that would need some careful work I think. Incidentally, this particular surface doesn't register weapon fire.