After Halo 2 was released in November of 2004, some gamers slaved away on Xbox Live getting their Halo 2 ranking up to an obscene number only to have it all wiped away when Bungie reset all the stats in May of this year. If you were one of these people left frustrated, sad, and alone, Im happy to announce that Bungie has released the Halo 2: Multiplayer Map Pack that features 9 new multiplayer maps, a variety of game play improvements, and a handful of special videos. The expansion pack should brighten your day and give you cause to get back in the saddle and recapture that spectacular ranking.
The 9 maps are a diverse group, and there is something for everyone. Each map has a unique environment from the small swamp area called Backwash to the large sunny island called Relic youll likely find something to enjoy. Heres a rundown of the maps:
Backwash is a smaller map that is set in a swamp with a light fog. The fog makes for some wickedly cool lighting effects, and limits your visibility. It is a terrific map for slayer battles, or small team based objective games. By default there is invisibility pick up on the map, as well as a sword. The invisibility coupled with the fog makes for ample opportunities to sneak up on your unsuspecting opponent. Backwash is sure to please fans of smaller maps, and was one of my favorites.
Terminal is a medium to large sized map that is in an urban environment set in the middle of a train track complete with moving train. There is also a multi-level parking garage nearby to gain strategic positioning on your opponent. There are several vehicles on the map, such as the Wraith, Ghost, and Warthog. Its a decent map for team-based objective games, and is one of the more visually engaging maps. My one complaint is that its fairly cluttered and tight in the middle, making it difficult to utilize the many vehicles littered around the map effectively.
Sanctuary is a medium sized map with a base on each end and a structure in the middle. It is set in the Delta Temple area (as seen in the single player campaign) and has a Mayan ruins feeling to it. There are no vehicles, but a great variety of weapons, from the energy sword to the sniper rifle. Its an all purpose map that is good for just about any game type and party size.
Gemini is a smaller map set in the covenant world of High Charity. It is somewhat similar to Midship, a map originally included with Halo 2. It is mostly indoor, but has some outdoor areas as well. Bungie based this map off of Duality, which first appeared in their game, Marathon. It has a tree set on one end of the map, and a statue of a Covenant prophet on the other. This map works excellent for slayer matches with 2-4 players as there are not many places to hide. Most of the weapons found on the map are suited for close combat like the energy sword, shotgun, and brute shot.
Relic is one of the biggest maps in the pack. It is set on a sunny island setting I half expected to find Tecmos DOA girls playing beach volleyball somewhere on the island. There is a large base in the middle of the island surrounded by several rocks which are great to hide behind. This maps is primarily for large team based games, and it works very well for that. There are plenty of routes from one base to the other, leading to a variety of strategies each team can use. It has a great open feel to it, and fans of larger maps should enjoy Relic.
Warlock is a map many of you may have already played as it has been available as a free download on XBL for about a month now. It is the smallest map available, and is a remade version of Wizard from Halo 1. It serves its purpose decent for 2-4 player type games but, I largely found Wizard to be one of the more lackluster maps included in this new set as there just isnt much going on, and the environment is bland.
Turf is a map in an urban setting, and is designed for medium to large sized battles. There are lots of streets, alleyways, and building tops to explore. There are two bases and a few vehicles. Like Terminal, this is a visually engaging map that is fun to explore. Turf has a lot of tight corridors and pathways, which makes the vehicles useless, except for driving directly from base to base. It is a great map for Territory battles and most team-based objectives.
Containment is a large snow covered map with 2 bases, one on each end (this is the other map that was offered for free last month through XBL). Like Relic, it is another big level. However, Containment is a substantially more complex at it has 2 large bases and caves along each side of the map. Its not very hard to get turned around or lose your opponent. Almost all of the vehicles make an appearance the tank, Banshee, ghost, and Warthog. Containment was a little too large and complex for my taste, but fans of 16 player CTF and slayer matches should enjoy the challenge.
Elongation is a retooled map from Halo 1 called the Longest. Unlike the lackluster retooling of Wizard, Elongations improvements make the map better and more fun. The most notable change is two conveyer belts running along each corridor with large crates on it. This makes for interesting places to hide, and makes it easier to get to the upper level as you can simply jump on any moving crate to get to the top. With no energy sword, rocket launcher, or sniper rifle, this map is terrific for old school deathmatches. For added fun, pop back in Halo 1 and check out the Longest just to see how much substantial improvement was made to the visuals between Halo 1 and 2. The improvements to texturing and lighting effects are simply amazing in comparison.
The improvements to the gameplay are mostly subtle, but very welcome. The melee attack has been improved, and you can now knock your opponent out with a single strike. Other improvements include an increase in the grenade blast radius and slight tweaking to a few of the weapons. Cheating was also addressed and various glitches that were being exploited by dirty players were fixed.
Perhaps my favorite improvement is the Double Team game type, in which you and a friend can take on another team of 2 gamers at various things like slayer, CTF, and oddball. Its a unique game style that plays much different than the larger team based games, and adds a whole new dimension.
Included in the expansion pack are a few new videos, one of which is a brand new cut scene that fits into the Halo 2 single player story. Graphically speaking, it is much prettier than the scenes found in the single player campaign as it is not rendered completely from the in game engine. The video does not involve any of the main characters from the campaign, and details the events of a few marines that crash land to Earth that the Master Chief later runs into. Its interesting, but does not add much to the game or story. Another video is a straightforward behind the scenes documentary that shows off the new maps by talking to each of the 9 Bungie teams that created them. There are a few other video extras, such as a very interesting E3 video for Halo 1 in 2000, which shows a lot of things Bungie had planned, but cut in the final version such as herds of strange creatures roaming the Halo surface, an energy sword (which made it into Halo 2), and some truly horrid voice acting (Master Chief has a high nasally voice).
Overall I liked the expansion maps much more than the original set that came with Halo 2. Bungie did a tremendous job of creating 9 maps that represent diverse environments and game types. There is something for everyone in these maps. These maps, along with the interesting videos, and improved game play make this expansion pack well worth the price tag that sits under $20, and will give you reason to keep playing Halo 2 for at least a few more months.