Release Date: July 5, 2005
Buy 'HALO 2 MULTIPLAYER MAP PACK': Xbox
When Halo 2 debuted, it established a much stronger team dynamic than its predecessor and introduced some changes in how weapons work, making it more of a strategy-oriented title than one that relied on "twitch" play. You can't please everyone all of the time, so of course, this gave way to complaints. The original Halo was too focused on the pistol; since it was essentially the best weapon in the game, it ensured that everyone was viable in almost all situations right off the bat. In Halo 2, the pistol was changed to such an extent that it was no longer a jack of all trades, and you usually don't even start with it anyway. Starting with the SMG ensured that finding the right weapons for the map was one of the top priorities.
Players weren't just displeased about the pistols; if you dared to venture into the bungie.net boards, you were guaranteed to be inundated with post after post about anything and everything under the sun: the sword/pistol/shotgun is too strong, the sniper rifle kills too easily, etc. One of the most common gripes was a combination of fully charged plasma shot and then a battle rifle shot, which is a viable tactic from close- to medium-/long-range. Someone well-versed in that combination would often kill their target before their target realized they had been shot at. Another thing worth noticing is that while the Needler was never complained about, the Brute Shot was outright never used.
However, as much as people complained about balance/imbalance between the weapons, they complained far more about the rampant cheating, and rightfully so. For a few months, I could not play more than five games without coming across someone cheating, whether it was the dummy glitch to appear invisible while capturing a flag, standby to stop everyone in their tracks, or even telemetry glitches to place the bomb in unreachable spots.
Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack contains more new maps than anyone expected to see, some special content, and the update that was designed to fix the most bothersome of problems facing the title. Of course, you already have the update if you're online, and if you aren't online, then chances are you don't have to deal with much cheating. The other changes involved in the update are designed to balance out the game and make it more enjoyable across the board, including switching to human-only weapons on certain maps in order to remove the plasma pistol and battle rifle combo. Grenades have had their damage increased as well as their radius for explosion, and the brute shot also gained a bit in damage and explosion radius. Melee attacks have been increased to make it more rewarding to run up and clobber someone in the face with your rifle, and finally, the pistol was toned down quite a bit for some generally unknown reason.
Some of the gameplay changes seemed to come from left field, and others appeared to be odd solutions to annoying problems. Yet despite the many changes made to the core of the system, what really made the game seem new and fresh is the maps. While changing the way a weapon works can change a few strategies, having a new map creates dozens of other tactics, and now we are looking at a total of nine brand-spanking new maps.
Sanctuary is an outdoor-based stage built around what looks to be the ruins of some ancient temple. It is symmetrically designed, hosting two open bases with a large number of entrances, and the two bases are separated by a structure with spanning walls and central circular building. The center of the building contains the only sword, and the walls provide great positions to press forward on the offense. The symmetrical design and balanced weapon placement (both sides have snipers from the start) make this a great map for team-based objective games.
Warlock is another stage built around ruins, and it also happens to be one of the original Halo map remakes. It's another symmetrical design, and it's also one of the old circular style maps. It has space for four bases and is one of the smaller maps so it plays well for small teams of two to three players. Otherwise, with heavy shotgun and battle rifle placement, this one can get messy fast.
Turf looks to be set on Earth in a very urban area complete with buildings, windows, lots of dumpsters and a gigantic alien space ship. Despite being a somewhat large stage, it is so heavily laden with buildings that it almost plays like a small stage. The combat is most often close-quarters, as the fighting takes place in streets and alley ways. Some of the most entertaining King of the Hill matches I ever played were on this stage.
Containment almost reminds me of a day in the Swiss Alps, only with huge military compounds, sniper rifles and aliens. The two opposing bases have multiple entries including a drawbridge-style gate which happens to have a "garage door button" outside of the base and within relatively easy access. This is unquestionably a large stage for big team fights and objective games. It also incorporates an interesting type of movable and highly explosive "landmine." With a bit of strategic placement, you can make anyone regret approaching the button of your base.
Terminal is an aptly named Earth-bound map. One of its most comment-worthy features is an extremely fast train which periodically speeds across the tracks, destroying anything and everyone who happens to get in the way. Being of an asymmetrical design, this one takes a bit more getting used to, but it plays wonderfully for medium to large teams. There are two bases, each of which has a Warthog, and one of the bases has a Ghost, while the other hosts a Spectre.
Elongation is another of the old Halo remakes based on the map we all knew and loved called Longest. Of course, it's not very similar to Longest as we knew it because now there are conveyer belts carrying boxes down the long, narrow corridors. The boxes provide a form of moving cover, as well as platforms from which you can jump to the higher levels. In the olden days, this stage used to be all about who could keep the high ground, but it's more balanced now.
Relic is an odd one – an open and spacious small beach stage. It has a relatively small footprint, but the generally spacious design makes it feel a bit larger than it is. It features a nice little sniping tower and a fairly defendable base, and it leads to some epic Capture the Flag matches. Due to the general layout, this map is a sniper's heaven.
Backwash is another deceptively interesting stage with a basic design; it's a swamp level and is extremely reminiscent of the swamps in Halo CE. The design features a couple of towers and a building, but the swamps are full of trees and a dense fog. In fact, the fog is so dense that failure to watch your radar could easily mean you run right into someone, startle, fire a bunch, and then turn and run into someone else. This map is great fun for a small team deathmatch and most objective games.
Gemini looks like it could have been ripped right from the later stages of the Halo 2 campaign. It has the same half circle style doors, statues of prophets, and that nifty purple color everywhere. There is a large Grav lift which reminds me of Colossus and a number of ramps and teleporters strewn about. It plays in a fairly straightforward manner and honestly doesn't stand out for any game type. Of all the new stages, this one has left me with the least favorable impression.
Halo 2 with the map pack is still unquestionably Halo 2; it's a lot more of the same thing that so many of us love. These stages, while providing more variety to the game, don't really stand out from the ones packaged with it a year ago. Each stage has been carefully and meticulously crafted in order to provide fun gameplay in all of the game types, and in this instance, more of the same is just more of a good thing. While I might occasionally wonder what a map designed purely for Assault would be like, I won't be complaining about what I got.
The map pack also contains some nice little bonuses which I am sure were included to help justify its cost. Of the videos, the one I found the most useful was the "making of" commentary, where the developers discussed a bit about the maps while showing a presentation of them. I never really had the desire to watch such a feature, but after watching it for a brief time, I found myself somewhat engrossed. The information they provided about the maps gave a bit of insight as to their intent when building them and how they felt that they turned out. There is also a cut scene from the game titled "Another day at the beach," showing a small portion of what happens to a Marine Corps when their drop ship gets shot down. My personal favorite of the extras was the 5.1 audio check focused upon an extremely sprightly grunt who bounces around hollering through your speakers and a decidedly less sprightly hunter that bellows out through your bass channel. There are also a couple of trailers which most of the die hard fans have already seen, such as the unveiling at the E3 Expo.
This map pack was designed with two types of people in mind: the people who love Halo 2 but have been unable to play online, and those who love Halo 2 so much that they must have everything that has anything to do with it. If you are an avid player and online, chances are that you downloaded the maps the second they were available. If you're a casual player who isn't in a rush to play the new maps, keep in mind that all of them will be available for free download in a few months.