Bungie confirms Halo 2 expansion

Map pack will feature nine new multiplayer battlegrounds; Live users will get first shot at four maps beginning in April; retail version hits shelves June 28.

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Call it Halo 2: Combat Expanded. After much speculation, Bungie today announced plans to release an expansion for its popular first-person shooter, Halo 2. It will not, however, contain a single-player portion that many hoped might wrap up Halo 2's abrupt campaign mode ending.

The additional content, appropriately called Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack, will contain nine multiplayer maps of varying shapes and sizes. Xbox Live users will have the chance to start fragging one another on four of the maps in late April. Two of the maps will be free, and the other two will be available for $5.99. The remaining five maps will be downloadable for $11.99 on June 28.

Those Halo fanatics who still prefer their multiplayer old-school, via LAN, needn't worry: The entire collection will be available in a packaged retail version on June 28, for $19.99. The retail version will also come with a few bonuses. There will be an "animated side story" detailing events from the single-player portion of Halo 2, set in New Mombosa. There will also be a documentary focusing on the map designers, strategies for playing on the new maps, and detailed overviews of each battleground. The disc will also contain all Halo 2 updates and fixes, as well as, presumably, the first bonus map, Foundation. This particular bonus map was unlockable and later released to the masses over Xbox Live. Bungie has also discussed putting in "possibly one or two other little treats."

Gamers who aren't thrilled about shelling out some coin for additional content will still get the opportunity to play the maps...later. The entire collection will be made absolutely free via download "by late summer."

The first batch of maps to be released over Xbox Live will be titled Containment, Warlock, Sanctuary, and Turf. Each map was created after Halo 2's release last November, and each isn't of your typical "one base on one side and another base on the other" architecture.

The first of the two free maps, Containment, is a large playing field in the frozen tundra of Delta Halo. "One of the largest Halo maps ever," Containment gives Spartans and Elites the option of navigating the terrain by chugging around in vehicles or hoofing it to the many teleporters. A switch in the middle of the playing field, completely exposed to potential snipers, opens vehicle access to the looming bases, similar to the gate in Zanzibar. Containment was designed for large battles, with capture the flag specifically in mind.

Warlock, the second of the two free maps, is loosely based on the map Wizard, which appeared in the original Halo. Built from the ground up to take advantage of Halo 2's graphics engine, Warlock is a small- to medium-sized map with four-way symmetry, making it perfect for such games as four-team territories. The map has a castlelike quality to it, with a shrine jutting up from the middle of the field.

Turf is an urban map set in Old Mambosa. The streets are lined with storefronts, complete with playable interiors, and a catwalk system above the streets, which can be manipulated, thus making this map two-tiered. The initial development on Turf was handled with capture the flag and territories in mind, but Bungie has deemed it "surprisingly flexible."

The final map in the April bunch is Sanctuary. This map, on the surface, looks awfully similar to the stone Covenant stronghold set in the mountain from the single-player game. The map is focused on team-oriented play and features several creeks, pools, and waterfalls.

Little is known about the five remaining maps, save for their names: Terminal, Elongation, Gemini, Backwash, and Relic.

Once available, the free maps will be integrated into the Xbox Live matchmaking sets, and the two premium maps will have their own playlists (for those gamers who bought them). As all the maps become universally available, they'll be integrated into the matchmaking system. In addition, Bungie will be altering the current playlists and will introduce an entirely new two-on-two playlist.

Halo 2 is rated "M" for Mature and retails for $49.99. For more information on the game, read GameSpot's full review.

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