Back in April, we delivered the word on Bungie's plans for a large-scale update to Halo 2's multiplayer structure that would include nine new maps, a host of "Halo 2 1.1" balance changes and bug fixes, and even a full leaderboard reset. Since then, the first four maps--Turf, Containment, Sanctuary, and Warlock--have been made available on Xbox Live, and with all the attendant changes it's safe to say Halo 2 multiplayer is a different game today than it was just a couple of months ago.
Now the second round of five maps is close to being released, as is the $19.99 retail disc that will contain all nine maps, the 1.1 update, and some other nice goodies for the true Halo fan. Last time, we told you we'd be back to fill you in on the rest of the maps and other bonus features on the disc, and hey, we're not ones to go back on our word. So without further ado, here's a look at each of the new maps coming soon to an Xbox near you.
Perhaps our most raucous and chaotic matches at Bungie were had on this map, which was due in no small part to the high-speed train that comes roaring through more frequently than anyone caught on its tracks would like. Terminal is a New Mombasa train station that's laid out in asymmetrical fashion and was described by a Bungie rep as "Zanzibar plus," in reference to its suitability for attack-and-defend game types. There are a number of wraiths on offer here--but luckily there are also rocket launchers to counteract them.
Check out some gameplay footage of Terminal in action
Relic is a great outdoor map set on an island with a massive templelike structure situated right in the middle. This is an asymmetrical and medium-sized map, making it ideal for one-flag capture the flag or assault matches, though we recall some frenzied sniper-only slayer action here too. The most interesting aspect of Relic is its teleporters, which actually have to be activated by the attacking team in order to ease invasion of the enemy position. A combination of a wrecked Albatross dropship and some natural rock formations provides lots of places to find cover on the slopes surrounding the temple.
Check out some gameplay footage of Relic in action
You might recognize Elongation the first time you play it, and that's because it's actually a reworked version of that old Halo classic, Longest. This is basically one long corridor that has a continuously moving conveyor belt running down its length. There are also cargo-storage rooms set off to each side, and running through these will give you access to elevated catwalks that cut across the main passageway. Elongation is set on a space station, so you get the occasional glimpse of Earth glistening out there in the blackness before some chump rounds a corner and guts you with his energy sword.
Check out some gameplay footage of Elongation in action
Backwash is one of the most atmospheric maps in the whole of the Multiplayer Map Pack, and it's also one of the most intimate. It's set in a pretty nasty-looking green swamp and is made for just a few players (tight-knit slayer matches work well here). This map has some cool aesthetic elements, such as the thick green haze that hangs in the air or the Librarian-like Forerunner bots that you'll occasionally notice humming (literally) overhead. Backwash was especially fun for slayer because it's harder for people to see you coming here--until it's too late.
Check out some gameplay footage of Backwash in action
Here's something you don't see as much of in the Halo games--an inside look at the Covenant's most intimate settings. Gemini is set in the prophets' anteroom and has an appropriately otherworldly, holy sort of vibe going on. There are teleporters scattered around to make the action more chaotic, and since this is a small map, it's good for games like slayer with just a few people. It's destined to be a little-known fact that Gemini is actually based on Duality, a map from Bungie's old Macintosh classic Marathon. Talk about a blast from the past.
Check out some gameplay footage of Gemini in action
But wait, there's more! While these maps will all be downloadable over Xbox Live soon, the retail Multiplayer Map Pack disc will also have some tasty content to make it worth your while to plunk down your hard-earned change. The first item is a short documentary that focuses on the making of the nine maps that are being added to the Halo 2 canon. This roughly 12-minute film features an engaging talk with the members of the team who worked on the maps, and it is very much in the same vein as the one included in the limited collectors' edition of Halo 2 (albeit a bit more lighthearted).
Having bypassed the crushing pressure of creating a sequel to the undisputed king of Xbox games, the Bungie crew in the short film is considerably looser and obviously having a good old time working on the new maps. Though you might not think there's a lot to say about making the new maps, the mini-documentary offers some interesting insights--related to everything from backstory details to art-asset minutiae--which should really please fans and also provide a nice postscript to the CE documentary.
The other extra on the disc is a new cinematic that ties into Halo 2's story called "Another Day at the Beach." We expect this one will have an even greater draw for fans of the game (despite a running time of only around three minutes), since it fills you in on one of the many stories that takes place concurrently with the main action in Halo 2. The action here is set in the familiar locale of Hotel Zanzibar seen in the early part of the game and follows the further exploits of the group of marines who were onboard the Pelican dropship that was shot down during the early moments of the Covenant invasion of Earth.
Although the segment doesn't offer any earth-shattering revelations along the lines of the Arbiter being Master Chief's father, it provides a nice dose of the human moments that have given the Halo story a lasting impact with its fans. "Another Day at the Beach" was rendered frame by frame using the Halo 2 engine, so while the in-game assets are instantly recognizable, Bungie has been able to bump up the resolution and considerably improve the lighting and other graphical effects relative to what you've seen in Halo 2.
Recently, Microsoft confirmed that the new maps (and consequently, the disc) would be delayed a week to July 5. But that delay is merely a pittance considering how much new content you're looking at here. And Bungie is being generous with it, too; if you don't feel like ponying up for the maps on Live or via the disc, all nine of them will be free at some point in the future, possibly by the end of the summer. Happy slaying.