(Or, How to Beat Its Longest Level, The Covenant, in 20 Minutes and Get the Full 3x Time Bonus)

(Or, What I Did On the Day after Christmas)

(Or, How to Set a New World Record for Speed Play in Halo 3)

Over the recent holiday break I decided to play some games with my kids.  My teenage son loves Halo 3, so we played some of that.  For those who aren’t Halo warriors, some back story:  you can play against other people via Xbox Live or you can play against computer-controlled bad guys (The Campaign) and can optionally team up with other players against these computer baddies.  My son and I used to play Halo 1 competitively over XBConnect years ago, but I lost interest when Halo 2 came out, Xbox Live debuted, and you couldn’t decide what maps, game variants, etc. you wanted to play—you had to play whatever the Powers That Be decided.  I didn’t like that and basically retired from competitive Halo play.  Despite my son and I (and occasionally Bart) having played, I’d estimate, hundreds of games against other teams and never having lost, I decided it was time to hang up the cyborg armor and shoulder holster.  My son played on and continues to.

Anyway, we played some campaign over the holidays, and one of the new intriguing features of H3 is campaign scoring and time bonuses.  You can opt to have the game record individual or team scores while battling the computer-controlled bad guys and get a time bonus for finishing a level within a specified time limit.  For the full bonus, you must finish a level in less than 20 minutes.  You get a 3x bonus (i.e., your score is multiplied by 3) for this.

This works out nicely for short- to medium-length levels, but not so well for really long ones.  The longest level in Halo 3, The Covenant, takes nearly 20 minutes just to navigate through—forget killing bad guys.  This level is, I think, the longest in any version of Halo so far, and really ought to be two or even three separate levels.  Everyone I talked to thought it was simply impossible to get the full bonus for this level on Normal difficulty.  The current record for completing The Covenant was 11-12 minutes (as recorded at http://www.highspeedhalo.net/?times), but it was done on Easy difficulty, which few veteran players would really consider valid.  The game practically plays itself on Easy, and you play differently when there’s virtually no chance that the bad guys can kill you.  You try tactics and take shortcuts that simply would not work on Normal difficulty or one of the higher ones.  For me, the record for Normal difficulty or above was all I was interested in, and, not surprisingly, there were no records for Normal or above—no one had yet done it—not officially, anyway.  I decided to find out whether I could.  I haven’t set many records in my time, but this was one I thought might be within my grasp.

You might be surprised to learn that there’s an entire community oriented around high-speed Halo play, but that’s exactly what the fine folks at HighSpeedHalo are about.  They’re a thriving group of expert players dedicated to nothing but completing the various levels of the three versions of the game as quickly as possible.  Some of the times posted for some of the shorter levels are simply insane.  Me, I like to play a little more deliberately, so the mammoth level The Covenant was right up my alley.  I spent the day after Christmas figuring out how to beat it as quickly as humanly possible and, in so doing, earn the 3x time bonus.  I learned a number of interesting details about the game and came to respect it on a whole new level.  When you feel certain about something--when you're literally inspired by it--you ought to say so and throw away all the qualifiers and hedge words people like to work into everyday speech.  For me, Halo 3 is, quite simply, the best video game ever published.  I've played a lot of video games in my time, but it towers above them all--plain and simple.  The folks at Bungie should be very proud of the final installment in their trilogy.  Pondering the sheer amount of work that must have gone into making it the masterpiece that it is simply boggles the mind—even for an old programmer like me.

So, below is a little piece I wrote about my journey through The Covenant in under 20 minutes.  It was originally linked on the Bungie forums, but I thought you might enjoy reading it.  It includes step-by-step instructions in case you want to do it yourself (this didn’t take as long as it might appear—I wrote it mostly from memory).  The piece also links video of me playing the game in case you want to see the record actually being set.  My first record time was 19:45.  Subsequently, I was able to get it down to 14:59, the current record.  I think that could go still lower.  As you might expect, my current techniques have evolved a bit from the first time I broke the 20-minute barrier.  You can view all the current records here.

I’m back retired from Halo—I just don’t have time for it.  But it’s a wonderful game, and I’ll return to it someday after some of my projects are done and it looks like there’s another mountain to climb.

How to Beat Halo 3 in 20 Minutes

I haven’t played much Halo since the original version.  I used to play online via XBConnect on a regular basis, but I didn’t like some of the limitations of play on Xbox Live when Halo 2 came out, and I gradually lost interest.  I was partial to Capture the Flag on Blood Gulch and didn’t like having to play umpteen other game variants and maps just to get a combination I actually enjoyed.  I also didn’t like the prospect of having to play all the time just to be as competitive as I had been.  I have a day job and a family and some semblance of a life.  So, as fun as it is being schooled by someone who’s played a map a hundred times more than I have and can recite where every weapon and power-up is in his sleep, I haven’t played much H3 multiplayer.  I don’t like playing with noobs (which is, of course, where you start in the Xbox Live ranking system when you haven’t played much), and I also don’t like getting my butt kicked by people who may not be great players in general but who simply have more time on their hands than I do (what you might call “educated noobs”—a gaming variant of the “educated fool”).

I’m also not a big fan of twitch-centric games.  I like killing baddies as much as the next guy, but I prefer something with some strategy to it, some teamwork, some planning.  Playing merely by reflex can be fun, but I got my fill of that back in the days of Doom and deathmatch—I want something with a little more substance to it now.  That said, I don’t want a mere strategy game—the FPS still is and probably will always be my favorite kind of game.  And I certainly enjoy racking up kills.  It’s just that I want it to be for something more than getting the kill title for the game or bumping my experience points.  I couldn’t care less about player ranking, armor types, or any of that other nonsense.  I need an objective of some type, and I want it to involve teammates and strategy.

Playing the H3 campaign with others over Xbox Live for points and/or speed became a nice substitute for me.  You have definite objectives and you have the team play and strategizing that I find so much fun.  Turn on some skulls and play on Legendary—or play for speed—and you actually have a challenging game, something approximating the fun I had on XBConnect.  Until I can create custom games that I can then advertise publicly and play random teams in (like I did with XBConnect), this is probably the only way I’ll play.

I got interested in playing H3’s longest level, The Covenant, for speed, and was surprised to learn that no one had recorded an official time on Normal difficulty or above for it.  It appeared no one had been able to beat it in less than 20 minutes and earned the full time bonus.  My teammates were pretty sure that getting the full bonus wasn’t even possible on Normal or above, and I did some online research that seemed to confirm that.  No videos of anyone ever doing it, no step-by-step guide on how to do it, no discussion of it whatsoever.  Most people seemed resigned to getting only a partial time bonus and making up for it with all the additional kills one could get thanks to the level’s inordinate length. 

I had hoped that Bungie had play-tested each level before deciding on the 20 minute cap.  Seemed reasonable to assume that if they were going to have a uniform time limit for all the levels, they’d start with what was a reasonably brisk pace for the longest level and use it for all the others.  Doing otherwise could leave you with a time bonus that was simply unattainable.  So, I wondered whether there might have been something we’d missed, a way perhaps to finish this humongous level in under 20 mins that we hadn’t yet discovered.

The day after Christmas I finally sat down and figured it out.  It took many tries, but was embarrassingly simple once I finally got my act together.  So, without further ado, here’s a step-by-step guide for beating Halo 3’s seventh level, The Covenant, in under 20 minutes.  If you can beat this level in less than 20 minutes, you should be able to beat any H3 level in less than 20 minutes.  The YouTube video of my first record-setting game is located here:  Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  The game film for my latest record is in Slot 1 under gamertag Ryanator if you have an ID on Bungie.net.

A few general recommendations:

·         If you get killed, it’s very difficult to hit the full time bonus on this one.  For that reason, I’ve been known to turn on the Iron Skull when I play this level for time.  There’s no point in continuing to play for the full time bonus if it becomes impossible because you got killed and burned a bunch of time.  Beating the level is not hard—on any difficulty.  Beating it in under 20 mins is.  Turning on the Iron Skull automatically resets you to the level start (if you’re playing solo), so it’s a time saver while you’re first learning how to quickly beat it.

·         When playing strictly for time, you have to think differently than you normally do.  For example, you’ll have to resist the urge to kill every enemy you come across—you won’t have time.  You’ll also have to avoid doing things that leave you waiting for the game, such as waiting for your computer-controlled helpers or equipping them with desirable weapons.  For example, when playing for points or with a bunch of skulls enabled, I frequently equip my passenger in the Warthog and the passenger on the Mongoose with a Fuel Rod and a Spartan Laser, respectively, before heading for the first tower because they will have unlimited ammo and are a great help in taking down the Banshees, Ghosts, and other things you come across.  When playing for time, I don’t do this.  I don’t care about racking up points, and every second counts (I actually missed the 20 minute mark once by one second—yes, one second—and I was not happy).

·         My approach here (and the only one that works, as far as I know) is to skip as much of the level as possible.  I’m fairly sure this is the only way to finish it in less than 20 minutes (without cheating by getting out of the map, that is—search YouTube for videos demonstrating that).  This begs the question as to why Bungie would make the limit so low that you have to not play parts of it in order to get the bonus (kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?), but I don’t see any other way to do it.  I originally thought I might be able to hijack one of the Banshees that harass you after you kill the AA Wraith at the beginning of the level, but not so.  You can down them with a charged Plasma Pistol burst, but you cannot then board them—Bungie has evidently disabled this in order to prevent you doing what many of us did on H1’s Assault on the Control Room level:  grabbing a Banshee before you were supposed to have it and bypassing/laying waste to much of the level.

We’ll first begin by bypassing the forces in and around the Wraith hill in the interest of time.  Note: on Normal difficulty, it is also possible to clear these forces quickly enough that doing so and driving (rather than walking) to the tower is actually faster.  The instructions I provide below work on any level of difficulty and should also work regardless of the skulls you have enabled.

1.       When you exit the Pelican, head toward the right of the boulder in front of you, toward the waterfall.  There will be 2-3 Grunts in front of you (at about 2 o’clock).  Take them out and head for the waterfall.

2.       Continue on up the pathway on the right edge of the map immediately adjacent to the waterfall.  Hug the wall as you walk, being careful to situate yourself behind the trees, rocks, and other cover that Bungie’s level designers helpfully placed in order to protect you from attack by the baddies on your left.

3.       This will bring you to the far right of the downed Pelican and the hill with the AA Wraith.  Just keep walking, hugging the wall as you do.  If you come across Grunts behind the downed craft that are shooting at you, quickly take them out and keep walking.

4.       Continue hugging the wall and walking toward the entrance into the canyon forest that eventually leads to the first tower.  Be sure to hug the wall until you are out of range of the Brute Chieftain on the Wraith hill.  There is a spot during the walk before you round the corner that is out in the open a bit and exposes you to the Chieftan for a brief time.  I sometimes bunny hop as I go through this to make it more challenging for him.  I’ve not been shot yet.  If you manage to get around the corner without being shot, you did fine.  If you get killed by a Fuel Rod blast, you didn’t do so well.

5.       You will have to walk to the first tower.  This is probably the most tedious part of this approach, but it saves an enormous amount of time, especially on Heroric and Legendary difficulty.

6.       As you walk, you’ll notice that the turret, bad guys, and Ghosts that are usually waiting for you here have not yet been deployed.  Keep walking until you reach the clearing where you can look down on the Wraith immediately in front of the first tower.  As you walk, you’ll hear the audio clip play re: the AA Wraith and related forces being “neutralized.”  The game has killed them for you, and rather than waiting for the Warthog and Mongoose to be dropped back at the beach, you are almost to the tower when this happens.

I’m certain Bungie designed the map such that the “battle for the Wraith hill” could be bypassed in this way.  That’s why the path on the right edge of the area exists in the first place and provides adequate cover to keep you alive.  And that’s why the AA Wraith is eventually taken out, anyway, and the rest of the level plays normally once you reach the tower. 

Note:  if you cleared the AA Wraith hill yourself and drove to the tower (hopefully in a Warthog), you can jump immediately off the cliff in the Warthog and head straight for the tower entrance.  Bypass the Wraith, the Prowlers, and the Ghosts, and ram the other occupants of the corridor.  If you do this, skip steps 7-15.

7.       As you approach the clearing, switch to your Battle Rifle and zoom it in on the area to the right of the Ghost near the ammo containers.  You’ll see a Grunt about to board the Ghost.  Normally, you come rushing in in a vehicle and can catch him before he takes off with the Ghost.  Since you’re on foot, you’ll have to snipe him with the BR before he does so.  Kill him before he takes the Ghost as you will need it very shortly.

8.       After you kill the Grunt, go to the edge of the plateau overlooking the canyon where the Wraith hovers.  Take it out with your Spartan Laser.  If it’s facing away from you, one shot to its rear should do it; otherwise, you’ll likely need two shots.

9.       Get in the Ghost and move it to be directly adjacent to the ammo container holding the Fuel Rod gun (but don’t get the Fuel Rod yet).  This is very important.  You’ll hear audio instructing you to take out the tower.  This will trigger the three Ghosts in the canyon to come into firing range in the general vicinity of the downed Wraith.  Normally, you probably encounter these guys near the waterfall or near where you currently are.  But taking out the tank and boarding the empty Ghost triggers them to head into the canyon and wait to ambush you.

10.   Using at most one shot each from your Spartan Laser, take out the three Ghosts.  If you were able to take out the Wraith with a single shot, you can afford one miss; otherwise, you can’t.  This is important because you’ll be rushing the tower in just a moment, and you don’t want the little dudes in the Ghosts firing on you as you do.  Like a lot of things when playing for time, it’s important to be as quick as possible without missing.

11.   Once the Ghosts are down, grab the Fuel Rod gun (drop the laser) and jump in the Ghost.  Head down toward the waterfall and around the bend into the canyon.  You are going to rush the tunnel leading into the tower in your Ghost.  Why shouldn’t you just jump off the canyon wall and save time?  Why go through the water at all?  Because you need the checkpoint, and, more importantly, the subsequent exit of the tunnel by the Prowlers to occur, before you rush it.  If you jump off the canyon wall and head straight for the tower, they don’t come out on their own and will happily shoot and ram you when you try to enter the tunnel.

12.   As you approach the tunnel entrance, watch out for the turret up on the plateau to your left.  I will sometimes go ahead and take this out with the laser before I board the Ghost if I have a round left over after dispatching the Wraith and the three Ghosts.  If the turret is still active, just strafe horizontally a bit to the right of the tunnel entrance.  What you’re waiting on here is for the two Prowlers to exit the tunnel and come after you.  Don’t hover immediately in front of the tunnel, as that would allow them and the scads of others in the tunnel to shoot you.  But get close enough so that when they come out, you can immediately boost in behind them.

13.   Once the Prowlers come out after you, boost in behind them and ram the minions in the tunnel.  Be careful because doing so often throws the lightweight Ghost off course.  Ram into the turret in the tunnel and destroy it and splatter as many baddies as you can.  Be careful not to let one of the Brutes hijack your Ghost.  That will result in almost certain death and cost you time.

14.   You will probably see your shields depleted from this little maneuver.  If you do, boost over to the rocky cave-like structure immediately past the door so that you can recover before making a run for the door itself.  This is another of those map features that was obviously put in for people who charge the door like this.  I had never used it before playing this level for time.  I generally commandeer the Wraith and destroy everything in the tunnel before even entering it.

15.   Once you’ve healed, make a run for the door, picking up the Active Camo power-up and the two plasma grenades (as necessary) as you go.  Shoot anyone you have to, but don’t worry about clearing the tunnel entrance.  Your job is to get inside asap.  

16.   Once inside, kill the two or three baddies guarding the entrance to the first room you come to.  Using your Battle Rifle, you should be able to dispatch them in no time.

17.   Next approach the room entrance and enable Active Cammo, then run through the middle of the room to the door behind it.  If possible, take out the Brute as you go.  If he’s facing away from you, simply melee him.  If he’s facing you, knock down his shield with your Fuel Rod gun, then shoot him once in the head with the BR to kill him.  Regardless, keep moving as your invisibility will run out before you reach the door, and the Grunts and assorted baddies in the room won’t take kindly to your presence. 

Note:  alternatively, you can take the left corridor and jump from the stacked Covenant ammo cans up through the window and on to the second story of the building.  This will let you immediately proceed to the elevator and bypass all the bad guys in between.  However, keep in mind that this means that you’ll face these very same bad guys when exiting the tower.  Jumping through the window is usually faster, but on Heroic and Legendary, it can then be difficult to get out of the tower alive, so the difference is usually a wash.

18.   Run through the door and take out anyone immediately inside.  Often, there are three Grunts immediately inside the door.  Three headshots, and you should be done with them.

19.   Run up the ramp and shoot the exploding canisters in the center of the room.  This will kill most of the baddies in the room.

20.   Continue on to the ramp on the far side (your left) of the room.  Kill anyone you find there and enter the antechamber at the top of the ramp.

21.   Repeating what you did in the earlier room, take out the Brute.  Either Fuel Rod once followed by a BR to the head (a variation on the old plasma pistol, BR combo) or melee.  The reason you want to take out these Brutes now is that you’ll have to face them when exiting the tower if you don’t.

22.   As you run through the room and take out the Brute, continue on through to the elevator.  Keep moving as the Grunts and assorted other baddies will be shooting at you.  Engage the elevator, and, as you ascend, take out as many of the bad guys you’re leaving behind as you can.  You’ll face the remaining ones when exiting the tower.

23.   Up in the tower, the Fuel Rod gun is your friend.  Unless you’ve enabled skulls, two shots on any guy in the room will take him out, but don’t waste your ammo.  You’ll need a good 4-5 rounds for the next tower, so don’t waste them.  You’ve got 15 rounds, so don’t burn more than 10 in this room.  Remember that once a Brute’s shields are down, a single shot to the head with the BR will take him out.  Also, don’t forget you have grenades.

24.   You will immediately be charged by two Brutes.  I like to stick them with spike grenades, myself (there are two in the right corner of the room on the floor), but use whatever works for you.  Quickly take them out and proceed to the room proper.

25.   Inside the room, begin by taking out the Chieftain if you can.  A good Fuel Rod blast followed by a BR shot to the head shoot do it.  You will have two other Brutes shooting Brute Shots at you while you move through the room, so be careful.  Dispatch everyone in the room as quickly as possible, then hit the switch as the audio clip instructs.

26.   Taking out the Chieftain early has the advantage of yielding an Invincible power-up pretty often.  This is very nice to have when exiting the next tower, so pick it up if he drops it.  I’ve noticed that you have a better chance of this if he has not yet enabled invincibility himself (glows all white).  Also grab the Gravity Hammer (trade out your Battle Rifle—you won’t need it for awhile).

27.   Engage the elevator and head back downstairs.  The main thing to look out for as you exit the tower is being stuck by a grenade.  If the Grunts massed near the door are near enough to each other to be worth it, jump in the middle of them and hit one with your Gravity Hammer to kill a bunch of them at once.  Style points are always nice to have, even when playing for speed.

28.   Outside, grab the Mongoose, the fastest vehicle in the game, and don’t wait for any passengers.  Head back out to the beach as instructed.  Drive full throttle the whole way and avoid obstacles. As you near the beach, you’ll see some of the bad guys deployed that weren’t there earlier when you walked to the tower.  Just drive right past them—don’t stop for anything.

The next section involves getting from the beach to the third tower (you skip the second one because the Arbiter and friends took it down).  The key here is to move as quickly as possible.  The Hornet’s purpose here is not to help you rack up kills but rather to get you safely to the next tower as quickly as possible.

29.   Grab the first Hornet you come to and don’t wait for anyone to join you.  You’re not concerned about racking up kills with the Hornet—it’s just your transportation to the next tower.

30.   Fly to the next tower without engaging the Banshees or Phantom as you go.  If one of them gets directly in front of you to where your reticle turns red without requiring your to deviate in order to shoot them, go ahead and squeeze off a missile or two.  There’s nothing wrong with scoring more points, but you don’t want it to cost you time or draw you into a protracted air battle just to stay alive.

31.   Since I’m not varying my course horizontally much, I usually vary my altitude a bit in order to keep from being an easy target for an enterprising Banshee.  This keeps me on course without burning a lot of time off the clock.

32.   As you near the third tower, you’ll pass a mountainous, rocky outcropping to your right that stretches high into the sky.   It has a notch missing from the top of it just large enough for your Hornet to pass through.  Fly through this notch, then hug the wall as you head toward the tower.  This is a natural shield that will protect you from the Banshees behind you.  They will have to follow you to the tower in order to shoot at you, and most won’t.

33.   At the tower, land the Hornet directly in front of the right tunnel entrance.  Turn the Hornet sideways to your right before landing if possible—this will allow it to serve as a shield against the guys behind you.  Don’t worry about taking out the Wraiths or anyone else, just get landed and quickly head down the tunnel.

34.   Immediately in front of the door leading into the tunnel, you’ll encounter several Brutes guarding it.  Quickly dispatch them with a combination of Fuel Rod blasts and grenades.  Don’t take too long or the bad guys behind you will begin attacking.  Dispatch the Brutes and get inside.  Try to reserve a Fuel Rod round or two for use inside the tower.

35.   Once inside the tower, head immediately to the corridor on the left (or right—doesn’t matter) of the room.  The Drones will follow you and mass directly in front of you.  Either run into the middle of them, then leap up and hit one of them with the Gravity Hammer or shoot a Fuel Rod blast right into the mass of them.  Done correctly, most if not all of them will drop.  A second Hammer swing or Fuel Rod blast will take out the remaining mass if necessary. 

36.   Hurry to the door immediately behind the room.  If the Hunters are blocking you, retreat back into the corridor, enter the center room through one of the windows between the corridor and the room, and, again, head for the door.  Use this tactic (being a weenie) rather than directly engaging the Hunters.  You don’t have time to die, and you don’t have time to waste taking them out in the usual way.

37.   Once you’re through the door, you’ll see a pack of Brutes enter the foyer in front of you from the far (to your right) side.  Use a combination of grenades and Fuel Rod blasts to kill most of them, then jump through the opening beyond the ramp in the center of the foyer that allows you to bypass the corridor and antechamber where they’ve massed. 

38.   Avoid engaging them and head straight for the elevator.

39.   Your two problems at this point are the remaining Brutes behind you and the Drones you will encounter on the elevator itself.  Dispatch the Drones by leaping into the mass of them above your head and hitting one with the Gravity Hammer.  This will kill most of them.  Repeat as necessary. 

40.   If you didn’t get the Invincibility power-up in the first tower but have another one, now would be a good time to use it.  If you have the Invincibility power-up, save it for when you exit this tower.  If you have a Bubble Shield or Portable Cover, deploy it to avoid the Brutes and their Maulers.  If you’ve got a Regenerator, you might deploy it here to keep the Brutes (and possibly Hunters if they followed you) from killing you as easily.  Also, remember that you can take cover behind the elevator mechanism itself.  But the main thing to do here in order to stay alive is to engage the elevator as quickly as possible.  If you do, you’ll soon be out of range of the guys in the base of the tower—at least for now.

41.   Once you’ve ascended to the top of the tower, you’ll encounter four invisible Brutes as well as a Chieftain manning a Plasma Cannon.  If you have ammo in your Fuel Rod, take out as many as possible with it.  When you run out, trade it out for the Needler in the corner ammo container.  A combination of grenades and Needler rounds should dispatch the invisible guys very quickly.  Try to take them out such that at least some of the incendiary grenades they each drop are not detonated by the Needler explosions you’re ripping them apart with.  These come in handy for taking out the Chieftain manning the Plasma Cannon and the Flood you’ll encounter when you exit the room.

42.   Take out the Chieftain and hit the switch as instructed by the audio clip.  I’ve found that a single incendiary grenade can take him out on Normal difficulty.  On Heroic and Legendary, you’ll need to do more.

43.   Once you flip the switch, the Flood descends on you.  Head through the center of the room back to the elevator.  Don’t waste time killing any of them unless you have to.  Jump over/run under them as necessary until you reach the elevator and can engage it.  If you must take them out, use your Gravity Hammer as it will inflict the most damage in as little time as possible.

44.   Once the elevator has finished descending into the base of the tower, you will encounter the Flood and anyone you left behind before you ascended.  It’s possible that the Hunters will be there waiting for you, and it’s also possible that a stray Drone or two will be there.  These leftover enemies will likely be behind you, happily shooting you in the back as you exit the elevator.  The Flood will be in front of you, between you and the door, and also to the side and behind you.

45.   Run for the door, taking out any Flood you come across as necessary.

46.   As you approach the door, pause for a split second to let it open.  Often, there will be a phalanx of Brutes immediately in the threshold as it opens.  You don’t want to run into them and let them immediately begin beating on you and stealing your health.  Pause for a split sec as you approach the door (it will open on its own), then rush them (as necessary) and take them all out with your Gravity Hammer.

47.   Next, head up the right side corridor toward the green Phantom firing on the bad guys.  Remember that Invincibility power-up you (hopefully) grabbed earlier?  Engage it here if necessary to get out of the tower alive.  You’ll likely encounter both Flood and Brutes as you go.  Kill as many as you have to on your way out of the tower.  If possible, trade out your Hammer for a Battle Rifle on the floor of the right corridor as you run.

48.   As you head toward the green Phantom, you’ll happen upon a small ramp leading out of the tower structure down toward left.  There you’ll see a Gauss Warthog.  Jump in it.  If you successfully grabbed a Battle Rifle and you’re playing on Normal (or Easy), take off.  If not, you’ll need to do a couple of other things before leaving.  Jumping in the Warthog will trigger the marines up on the tower base to follow you.  Soon, you’ll be joined by a passenger and a gunner.  After they get in, get out of the Warthog and run back toward the ramp, into the mass of marines coming toward you.  You are looking for one with a Battle Rifle.  There will be at least one.  Trade your Needler for his BR—you’ll need it in the last section of the level.  Get back in the Warthog and head out.  Do this quickly as you don’t want an NPC taking your hog.  (And don’t grab the Scorpion—it’s too slow—remember:  you’re playing for time).

This next section involves navigating around a snowy mountain to a valley outside the scene of the final battle in the level—the citadel—where you must destroy two Scarabs.  The key here is to move as quickly as possible and don’t let any of the other vehicles ram you or flip you over.

49.   Rush through the snowy level toward the area where you take on the Scarabs.  There are no shortcuts—just blaze through there and let your gunner take out the bad guys you encounter.  In the YouTube video above, you’ll see that I actually get killed by my gunner because the idiot shoots a Ghost that has just rammed us en route.  The Ghost is immediately in front of us, and when my gunner Gausses him, it blows up the Warthog, killing me.  I wasn’t happy, but was so far ahead on time, I was pretty sure I could still hit the bonus.

50.   When your reach the Scarab valley, jump in a Hornet and fly straight to the back of one of the Scarabs (I usually take the one on the left, but it doesn’t really matter which).  Ignore everything else as much as possible and simply gun for the light above the Scarab’s tail section until you’ve blown off its back cover, then shoot the exposed reactor core until you destroy the Scarab.  Don’t wait for it to actually detonate—head for the other Scarab immediately and repeat the procedure.  Once you’ve taken out the second scarab, head for the top of the ramp leading into the citadel and land the Hornet. 

51.   You’ll soon be joined by the Arbiter and 343 Guilty Spark.  When the Arbiter starts to tell Spark to enable the bridge, immediately fly the Hornet to the door leading into the citadel and wait for the bridge to materialize beneath you.  When the bridge materializes, get out of the Hornet and go inside.  This is faster than walking over the bridge and will save you some time.

This last section is where you face the Covenant one last time, then fight the Flood to get out of the citadel.  You go through three sections of the citadel, then backtrack through them to finish the level.  The key here is to move as quickly as possible—time will likely be of the essence—and avoid getting killed.  As with most of Halo, strategically wielding the right weapons at the right time can make the difference between success and death.

52.   Continue walking toward the inner door inside the citadel.  Eventually, the Arbiter will be teleported forward to join you.  You’ll then have to sit through a Cortana clip (God, I hate these), followed by a cut scene.  Skip through the cut scene and get ready to battle the Covenant one last time.

53.   Inside the next room, on either side of the end of the causeway, two Grunts will be positioned with Fuel Rod guns.  They will continue to rain down terror on you and your Flood allies until you take them out, so start by doing that.  That’s why you needed to trade for the Battle Rifle earlier.  You should be able to easily snipe them both, then proceed to take out the remaining Covenant forces as your proceed down the causeway.  You’ll encounter a Brute at the end of the room, near the door.  Stick him with a grenade or nail him with your Gravity Hammer and proceed to the area near the door where the two Fuel Rod Grunts were.  Pick up the first Fuel Rod gun, quickly reload it, then run over the other one to pick up as much ammo as possible.  If you encountered and killed a third Fuel Rod Grunt (sometimes they come through the door as you approach it), obviously you’ll want to grab that ammo, too.  Proceed through the door to the next room.

54.   You’ll run into Brutes with jetpacks in the next room.  Take them out with a combination of grenades and Fuel Rod blasts and proceed on through the room.  For a couple of reasons, it’s helpful to hang back a bit at first and let the Flood take the brunt of the Brutes’ onslaught.  One, they like to fly over and get behind you, effectively flanking you, and attack you from front and back simultaneously.  Two, many of them are carrying Covenant Carbines, and these can drain your shields/health quickly.  Hang back, let them attack the Flood, then take them out with Fuel Rod and grenade blasts.

55.   You’ll encounter a Chieftain with a Gravity Hammer of his own near the door.  Take him out, preferably before he engages invincibility himself and preferably via a headshot.  If he drops an Invincibility power-up, pick it up.

56.   Proceed on through the next room, hit the switch on the bridge at the end, then turn around and backtrack through the citadel to battle your former Flood allies.

57.   Jump over as many of these guys as you can, engaging as few of them as possible.  You will likely run out of Fuel Rod ammo during this run, so trade it out for a Needler as you go and use that as necessary as you backtrack.

58.   You’ll have no choice but to engage the Flood at the doors between the rooms, as they like to mass there.  Use your Gravity Hammer to clear the doors and let you proceed through.  I also like to toss grenades up on the doors themselves as I approach in order to provide a nice surprise to the Flood baddies who like to pour out when I get there.

59.   Engage your Invincibility power-up if you have it and if your health is getting perilously low as you head for the end of the level.  You’ll be getting shot in the back a lot, so this will probably be necessary.  Wait as long as possible before engaging it, though, as it may run out before you reach the end of the level, and, take it from someone who knows, it’s a real drag to get killed this close to getting the bonus.

60.   Proceed on back through the level until you reach the chute where you jump down to finish the level.  If all goes well, you should beat the 20-minute mark.