If I had to describe what it feels like to play Halo in one word, it would be "empowering." Master Chief is covered from head-to-toe in titanium alloy armor plating, can effortlessly move throughout environments in a supersoldier-like fashion, and is capable of caving in the skulls of aliens several feet taller than him with nothing more than the blunt end of a rifle. One thing many fans have always wondered, though, is what would it be like to be in the shoes of a normal human on a Halo battlefield?
This is the question that led to the development of Operation: TREBUCHET, also known as OPTRE), which is a mod for the popular realism-focused military shooter ArmA 3 that adds in weapons, armor, vehicles, and Insurrectionist AI enemies all based on and from established Halo lore. Recently, I was approached by the 12th Marine Division, a large group of players that use OPTRE to design, plan, and play weekly operations.
I was able to tag along in one of their missions and roleplay as a war journalist in the Halo universe. Equipped with nothing more than a helmet, vest, and some cameras, I was expected to follow closely behind squads of Marines and capture footage of their efforts to eliminate Insurrectionists from a UNSC colony world over the course of a three-hour-long operation. Here's a breakdown of the terrifying, intense, and chaotic experience.
A walk in the woods
"Go, go, go!" the player leading the UNSC Marines I was with barked over the whirr of the Pelican dropship's engines. Immediately, over a dozen fully armed and armored troopers exited the Pelican and began to sprint towards a nearby treeline, scanning the woods for targets. I and the other reporters in the group disembarked shortly afterward, keeping our cameras trained on the forest ahead as we kept pace with the soldiers. The sharp staccato of gunfire began to ring throughout the trees, indicating that the Marines had encountered the Insurrectionists. I watched as what I assumed were the Insurrectionists' scouts fell to deadly crossfire while a supporting UNSC Hornet aircraft flew overhead, providing our unit with air cover as we continued deeper into the thicket.
The deafening cracks of gunfire and never-ending shouts were overwhelming.
Eventually, we ran into the Insurrectionist's primary defensive line, and I immediately hit the dirt and the army crawled my way out of the line of fire as Marines called out targets, patched themselves up, and created foxholes with entrenching tools. For the next several minutes, I focused on peeking out of my cover to try and capture footage of the Marines and the Insurrectionists while deafening cracks of gunfire and never-ending shouts overwhelmed my hearing. A stray bullet hit my friend Taras, one of the other reporters, and after waiting for a lull in the firefight we crawled our way to a trench where Marines were treating their wounds.
A handful of the Marines were injured from the ongoing firefight, with blood seeping through their garments and around their armor plates. The other reporters and I informed them of Taras' wound, and then waited patiently as they bandaged their injuries before assisting. By the time everyone in the trench was ready to move, the rest of the Marines had cleared out most of the enemy.
The unit pushed forward out of cover and began to search the rest of the woods for stragglers while the reporters and I followed closely. We soon discovered an abandoned Insurrectionist vehicle that the unit's combat engineer detonated with explosives, resulting in a massive bang that reverberated throughout the forest. Eventually, the unit was called back to a landing zone so that a Pelican could pick us up and drop us off for the operation's second phase.
Tanks (don't) beat everything
As we were landing for the second part of the mission, the other war journalists and I were told that the landing zone was too hot for us to follow the Marines for now. As mortars and rocket fire exploded nearby, we rushed to a small abandoned house nearby and dove inside, huddling in the corners of the structure so as to not be struck by stray rounds that might potentially come through the windows.
For almost 15 minutes, we heard nothing but explosives and streams of gunfire.
For almost 15 minutes, we heard nothing but the heavy, thunderous boom of explosives and seemingly endless streams of gunfire. I was extremely nervous, as it felt like at any moment, a mortar shell could strike our shelter and blow us to pieces in an instant. Eventually, though, the sounds of battle grew less violent and one of the Marines from a different unit came to take us back to the front. On the way, we learned of the developing situation — our unit and another group of troopers were working together to assault a hardened enemy position that currently had them pinned down with heavy machine guns and a tank.
When we arrived, we immediately got behind cover and focused on capturing footage of the battle. As the auto riflemen in the Marine units laid down heavy suppressive fire, anti-tank specialists and marksmen worked together to designate and eliminate various targets. Every few seconds one of the enemy machine-gun positions or the tank would retaliate and pepper our position with the deadly suppressive fire of their own, forcing us all down into our trenches and foxholes. By this point, several Marines were wounded, but thanks to rock-solid communication and careful management of medical supplies, the troopers were able to weather the worst of the enemy fire.
Once the Marines began to gain the upper hand in the battle, the enemy tank moved into a nearby field — likely to get a better firing angle on our position. The troops were quick to take advantage of this opportunity, and as the tank began to maneuver into a firing position, one of the anti-tank Marines fired off a rocket. I watched as the explosive whistled into the distance on a perfect course to intercept the moving vehicle.
The Marine's aim was true; the rocket directly struck the tank's right side armor, resulting in a thunderous explosion that crippled the vehicle and sent the tank's surviving crew members running for the hills. Without their heavy fire support, the remaining Insurrectionists were able to be flanked and taken down. Once the area was clear of hostiles, we followed the Marines to a nearby landing zone where we were picked up by another Pelican to be taken to the third and final objective of the operation.
Finishing this fight
For the final phase of the operation, multiple 12th Marine Division units — including the one I was attached to — converged on a small Insurrectionist-controlled town with the objective of taking it from the enemy. Our Pelican dropped us off on the edge of the town, and as another Hornet flew overhead to provide covering fire, squads of Marines began running into the settlement and clearing structures one-by-one. The reporters and I kept our distance so as to not interfere with the process, but we were eventually told to follow several Marines into a large apartment complex. When the troopers came under fire from Insurrectionists in adjacent buildings, we laid flat on our stomachs and waited for several minutes as the Marines took up firing positions at the windows to return fire. After several minutes, the Marines eliminated most of the assailants.
As rounds burrowed into the wreckage around me, I frantically crawled over the rubble of the structure as quickly as I could.
Due to the ferocity of the fighting and the fact that most of the Marines were wounded by this point, the unit left the apartment complex and moved into a small cleared warehouse that provided good cover from the battle the troops could use while regrouping. It was at this moment, however, that an Insurrectionist gunship flew over the town, launching a missile directly at the warehouse. Out of nowhere, a deafening explosion filled my ears and my in-game character blacked out due to the shock of the blast. I could hear my reporter partner call out for the Marines' help as my character nearly died on the spot.
I suddenly awoke to the sight of the remains of the warehouse — merely a large mound of collapsed walls and roofing now — as well as several Marines and my reporter partner several feet away. She exclaimed happily as I managed to regain consciousness, but I was still in the line of fire and I needed to move. As rounds burrowed into the wreckage around me, I frantically crawled over the rubble as quickly as I could to the cover my partner and the Marines were using for emergency medical treatment. Both of us were bleeding badly, but the Marines managed to patch us up with their spare supplies and the unit moved into the center of town where the rest of the Marines had established a defensive perimeter. One of the Marines was taken down by a round to the head; luckily, he was only knocked unconscious as the bullet ricocheted off his helmet.
As the troopers began to designate and fire on remaining Insurrectionist targets in the town, the gunship returned and began to lace our position with deadly explosive rounds. The Marines attempted to destroy it with rocket fire, but the aircraft's deployed flares were able to foil the rocket launcher's targeting systems. Eventually, the majority of the Insurrectionist infantry had been picked off, and the only thing standing between the unit and an evac back to home base was the gunship.
The troopers requested air support from the nearby Hornet, and its pilot began to bear down on the aircraft, true to its namesake. The Hornet hit the gunship with several streams of bullets and a series of explosives, and soon after, the aircraft fell below the treeline in a trail of smoke and fire. Seconds later, the sound of a massive explosion ripped through the air, confirming the destruction of the gunship.
Shortly after, we were told that an evac Pelican was on its way. In the final few minutes of the operation, the reporters and I gave the Marines a very well-deserved photoshoot. And when the Pelican arrived and everyone piled into it, I took a deep breath and realized that Spartans don't know how good they have it.
Overall, I absolutely loved my experience with the Operation: TREBUCHET mod and the 12th Marine Division. All of the players in the group were incredibly friendly and took excellent care of my reporter colleagues and I as we documented the battle, and I hope that at some point in the future, I can play with them again (I've been told they'd love to have me return for future operations). If you're a fan of ArmA and Halo and you're interested in signing up as a trooper of the 12th Marine Division, check out the 12th Marine Division Discord.
The intensity of the operation also highlights the fact that for the non-Spartans on the battlefield, war in the Halo universe is, much like real combat, terrifying. It's scary to think about what it would be like to fight the Covenant in this kind of context, too; imagine trying to fight aliens several feet taller than you as they bombard you with plasma weapons capable of easily burning through your armor, skin, and insides. It gives me a newfound appreciation for the Marines that bravely face off against the Covenant Empire throughout the series, regardless of whether or not they've got a Spartan backing them up.
What do you think? Do you think it's interesting to think about what combat is like for the Marines in Halo? Let me know. ArmA 3 is available on PC for $30 if you want to get it and try out Operation: TREBUCHET. It's one of the best PC games out there, and if you like hardcore strategic and tactical shooters, you'll probably love ArmA. Additionally, I also recommend picking up Halo: The Master Chief Collection on Xbox or PC if you haven't already. It offers all of the pre-Xbox One Halo shooters in a single $40 bundle, easily making it one of the best Xbox One shooters available. It's also an excellent game to play while waiting for Halo Infinite to arrive in Fall 2021.
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