Review: Hey, more of a good thing sounds good to me.
Check out Glenn's first look at the AutoUpdate and new maps here
It's hard to argue with the success that Halo 2 has enjoyed over the last eight months since its release. From its behemoth-sized initial day of sales to the record-breaking numbers put up for online games played, Halo 2 has made huge inroads for the Xbox and its online service. However, this success hasn't been achieved through smoke and mirrors or undeserved hype ? on the contrary. The gameplay and style of Halo 2 easily justifies the accolades and financial rewards, and the game continues to entertain with its multiplayer hijinks, even now. For these reasons, it's good to see that Bungie continues to support the game with the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack expansion disc. While this disc won't flesh out Halo 2's ending or fix some minor single-player annoyances, it does add quite a bit to the multiplayer experience for those with Xbox Live and also for those without.
The Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack comes with the 9 new multiplayer maps, a video featurette on the making of these new maps, a new cinematic featuring elites and marines, plus some extra trailers. Since I have previously reviewed the first four maps that were available over Xbox Live (and on this disc), I will mainly focus on the 5 new maps. All of these maps can be used in games over Xbox Live, as well as for split screen and LAN action. It should be noted that the maps can all be currently downloaded off of Xbox Live, and eventually they will all be free downloads (the last five currently require some money). The other notable addition to this disc is the inclusion of an auto update that changes quite a bit of the way Halo 2 plays. I have talked about this previously ? with the first four maps ? but to sum up, the auto update makes melee attacks more powerful, gives frag grenades a shorter fuse, delivers a boost in power to plasma grenades, and slightly tweaks (in both directions) the damage of certain weapons. The end result is a game that is a bit more refined, allowing for combat to feel even more fluid and not as routine, especially since confrontations previously were won by a very limited number of weapon combos, usually consisting of a dual wield ? not the case anymore. Obviously, the primary audience for the expansion disc is those who do not have Xbox Live and they will be able to use this patch for offline matches, which should freshen up their experience if they've been playing for a while.
As for the new maps, there certainly are some standouts in the bunch. Terminal
is one of the five new maps, and it is perfectly suited for some 4 vs. 4 or 8 vs. 8 confrontations. Featuring an asymmetrical design and plenty of buildings, the map calls to mind Zanzibar for its assault style of gameplay. Another touted feature on the map is the bullet train that speeds by every 30 seconds; not only does this look cool (albeit with a slightly low-res graphic for the train), but it can create some hairy battles on top of the tracks as you fight for the sword or overshield, try and escape with the flag, or just take the risk of driving a vehicle in the vicinity. The use of roads and cityscapes is also welcome for the online arena, as this type of terrain hadn't been utilized for the multiplayer experience, until now.
is the other ?large? map in the new five, and it takes place on an island in the middle of the ocean. Featuring a large obelisk that serves as a base for the red team, the map is perfect for some Single-Flag CTF, Assault or Slayer BR, as you have enough space for medium range confrontations, but also some vehicular mayhem. Speaking of vehicles, they play a key role on this map, as the defense gets a Ghost to help patrol the perimeter of the ?relic,? but the offense gets a Warthog that can be used to traverse the rocky terrain to either make an assault on the base or head for the rockets. There is also a sniper tower for the defense, but this is likely to be a target for the attackers so its uses may be limited. The other cool feature on the map is a teleporter in the back of the base; it can be activated by pressing a switch, but once it is, it becomes a double-edged sword, as the offense can enter the base quickly (from the beach), but the defence can prevent a flag score (or spawn camp) right back the other way. This is a great looking map that has some smart design choices.
Another map is Backwash
, a throwback to 343 Guilty Spark from the Halo: CE campaign. Taking place in a fog-ridden swamp, the map spawns each team in a ?cubby hole? on each side of the map and then has them warring in the middle, which features downed trees, slight depressions in the earth, and one structure that houses the sword and several grav-lifts. There are some nice touches on the map, such as the aforementioned fog (which creates some cool surprise moments) and the inclusion of 343 Guilty Spark himself (he buzzes around the map). The map will likely be used for Slayer and Territories, but can obviously work for all gametypes ? Oddball, anyone? The visuals and audio have obviously been pumped up for this map, as you get some great lighting and fog effects, as well as some excellent ambient sound for the boggy environment you inhabit.
references some of the later levels of the Halo 2 campaign, with Covenant installations serving as the battle arena. A fairly small map that is made even smaller by the presence of a teleporter, this metallic environment will be primarily used for Classic CTF and Slayer, but Oddball and King of the Hill could be inspired choices, as well. There are plenty of Covenant doorways leading to all the side paths in this map, plus there are two wacky objects for hiding behind or sniping on top of ? one is a tree and the other a large prophet statue. This map isn't that complicated or that original, but will serve as a change of pace from Lockout or Beaver Creek.
The final map of the new five is Elongation
, essentially a remake of Longest from Halo: CE. Basically just one long hallway, the map has two huge conveyor belts going each way down the map. You can use the boxes on these conveyors as cover, which is actually pretty cool as you can crouch and stay off of radar, but sill advance on an enemy. Instead of ladders featured in Longest, there are now ramps leading to the upper level of the map. These higher areas are great for attacking people from above and also for eluding pursuers who chase you downstairs. This map seems meant for Slayer, but I could see some CTF variants becoming quite fun. Another great feature is that the map doesn't have any ?whore? weapons, so you won't see swords, rockets or snipers flying around ? man, that's nice for once.
The other four maps on the disc were all covered in my previous feature, but I will quickly outline them here. Turf
has you battling in the streets of New Mombassa and features a downed Scarab, swinging doors, a Warthog, and some great
rooftop battling. This map finds its stride with Territories, CTF, and Slayer. Warlock
is a remake of Halo: CE's Wizard, and the map retains many of the original's qualities. The map is completely symmetrical, which makes the battles in Slayer and CTF all the more balanced and fun. The use of sound and visual effects in this map is also stellar. Sanctuary
is another symmetrical map, but this one is made of brick and mortar and seems directly pulled from the Halo 2 campaign. The map has two bases (each with turrets), some side areas, and a great middle structure for duelling over the sword. Some odd spawning does occur on this map, but it still is a fun change of pace. The final map of the ?original? four is Containment
and this board is meant for Big Team Battle all the way. Somewhat reminiscent of Sidewinder from Halo: CE, this snow-covered sprawl features two humongous bases and a large trench that connects the two. All the vehicles get to shine here, and the CTF games are great fun.
Graphically, all of the maps hold up quite well to the standard set by the initial set in the Halo 2 disc, and many of the maps actually add a little more detail to some areas. For instance, the buildings and window reflections on Turf are a cool effect, and many of the streets in this New Mombassa locale all show some age. Terminal is another great looking city map, and the amount of variance displayed, whether it's the train, the buildings, the cars, the roads or whatever, all looks very sharp. Not all maps are huge improvements, as Gemini and Sanctuary seem to prove, but every map at least toes the line that was established by the quality of the original maps.
The audio also holds up very up well, which is great seeing as Halo 2's audio was fantastic. Many maps feature some good ambient sounds, especially maps like Containment and Warlock, which feature wind and water-dripping sound effects, respectively. There's also some funny audio in Terminal, as you'll hear announcements about station happenings and train schedules as your trying to massacre the opposition. The audio was already phenomenal and it has remained that way for these new maps.
The actual disc features several extras, all of them being movies of some sort. The extended featurette provides context and insight into what went into making the maps on the disc and gives details on how each one was developed and re-tooled. This is a cool little extra for people who appreciate the hard work that goes into games of this size. The extra cutscene on the disc features some marines and an elite, and it is entitled, ?A Day at the Beach? ? good fun, here. There are also two trailers included: the badass E3 2000 trailer for Halo: CE (when it was on PC), and the Halo 2 trailer that got people all jacked up a couple of years back. None of these extras are amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but they all add a bit more value to the pack and are worth a look.
So, as the saying goes, one of the best just got better. You've got some great new maps that will eventually be put into matchmaking for competitive battles (for now they are just for custom matches and preview playlists, but some are in actual matchmaking as of now), and each one adds some new locations for battle in the online arena. Paying for them over Live or actually buying the disc will cost about the same (unless you wait until they're free), but there is plenty of value here if you still enjoy the online experience (or offline multiplayer) of Halo 2.