Site Review – Halo Mill Proving Grounds

This weekend, I was invited along to the UK Airsoft Ladies (UKAL) first meetup event at Halo Mill, near York. It’s a site I’ve heard a lot about, as some of the regulars at my local site play there, and it has a big reputation and yet I’d never been, so it was a great opportunity to tick it off the list.

Heading down with Callsign Bubba, we met a few friends the night before to camp and have some social prior to game day which is becoming the norm at the moment, giving us time together outside of the game instead of during. Tents are pitched in the grassy car park which means having to be packed up and cleared by 7am, which seemed early but players did start arriving earlier than I’ve seen at most sites. The lack of running water on site wasn’t ideal for washing, or indeed styling the hair, but it’s part of the camping experience so that’s a minor issue.

The safe zone at Halo Mill is very impressive. A huge indoor area with enough tables and seating for absolutely every player there. There’s plenty of kit and food available in the main room and an always-on chrono area just outside it leading into the game zone. All good so far. We’re given a safety brief and then handed maps and an objectives list while the game brief is delivered, but thanks to a few noisy groups of players I can’t hear exactly what’s going on and imagine it’s the same for others too.

The game day plan runs on the same structure as I’ve played England games before, a list of timed objectives to be held during the course of the day. There’s no lunch break, you pop in to resupply as and when needed so the game doesn’t stop. It seems very straightforward. Guns are chrono’d before entering the site but in reality, I noticed most players just walked straight past the chrono booth and in.

Entering the site, it’s a woodland dominated by a large bridge structure in the middle that connects nothing to nothing (it’s just off the ground). I don’t really understand it as a centrepiece – there’s a moat around it and you’re not allowed underneath, making it a twisting tunnel to be fought over from one end to the other. Essentially, pushing players down a corridor at each other. Maybe one for the cqb players. Across the rest of the site are paintball style barricades, trenches, stagnant standing water that attracted a lot of flies, and a scattering of water butts plus a downed aircraft. It’s not a bad site, smaller than I had anticipated but with potential for some good games.

My first mistake of the day was to leave the sniper kit at home in favour of testing out an M81/Tricolour desert loadout with my most reliable M4 that never lets me down. It did, feeding only half the bb’s and leaving me a bit short having not brought a backup. But, I persevered. The idea was to be able to join in with all the action and have more of a social day instead of disappearing into the terrain. At one point I did even borrow an SRS from Ghille Sniper Girl just to be able to get out in the woods with a bolt action, but it too was suffering many technical issues.

The first half hour went well, although we started later than the first objective should have been finished which was a little confusing but there were some good firefights and coordination through radios (I said friends earlier, they’re teammates too so we’re organised). However, another hour in and of the 144 players booked on, it starts to feel like a 20 vs 20 out on site as players start to filter back into the safe zone. One objective sits so close to the safezone entrance it becomes difficult to pick out which players are actually in game and which are going in and out. It’s becoming apparent as I look around that a lot of players aren’t using the maps given, and more don’t seem to know what objective they’re meant to be going for, and the game starts to collapse a bit into random firefights. I don’t know if this is the norm for Halo Mill, but a friend observes the four marshals huddled next to the bridge sharing jokes and I wonder if the game is set up the way it is because it’s easier to marshal (just follow the sheet and we’ll watch). Dead players are asked to click a counter in their respawn to record deaths. Initially there was a marshal controlling that but disappeared later.

Myself, Bubba, Jon and Alex are veterans of this game format from the England setup and it’s easy for us because we’re used to it, but clearly, it doesn’t suit all the many varied players on site and most seem very lost. Observing the final objectives during the afternoon with fellow sniper Dan Toone, one player in the middle of a standoff between the two teams does realise that they’re fighting over the wrong objective at the wrong time and shouts up, and both teams move off. It pretty much summed up the whole day, and there were a lot of disgruntled comments as we all packed up. Although it has been a trip out of sorts, it just wasn’t a positive experience.

Now, as site reviews go there will always be good days and bad days, and I’m sure there are lots of good reviews out there of Halo Mill from the players that go regularly and enjoy it, but I have to be honest and say it as I’ve seen it, and I don’t think any of us will be back.

On the plus side, I’ve had some fantastic detailed chats with Dan and Bubba about all things sniping which promises some excellent projects for this year, from guns to camo and possibly even some special events. But more on those another time…

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