The Halo 3 multiplayer train will be getting some more gas in its engine next week when Microsoft and Bungie release the Legendary Map Pack, a trio of new maps that are all but guaranteed to find themselves in heavy play rotation. The new content adds one original map, Ghost Town, and two reimagined fan favorites, new takes on the classic Sidewinder and Lockout maps, into the mix. On top of that, the new maps come with some very cool new content to play with in Forge mode. We took a trip to Bungie's Kirkland offices last week to try out the goods and are excited by what's coming.
Our visit consisted of play sessions kicked off by overviews of each of the maps by Bungie staff, who offered some choice bits of information on their design and, more importantly, weapon placement. The first map we tried out was Blackout, an update of Lockout from Halo 2. The claustrophobic map hasn't changed that much--it was already solidly designed. Fans who clocked in chunks of time on the level will be pleased to know that, for the most part, the map plays pretty much the same. You'll still be running around the tightly laid-out vertical map with upper and lower areas prime for carnage. The slight tweaks that have been made--offering a bit more room to sneak around and the addition of Halo 3 weapons such as the bubble shield, power drain, and regenerator--don't change the feel too much. You're still going to be racing for the sword and shotgun, which the team made sure to keep in their usual spots. Staying true to the familiar feel of the original Lockout map was one of the team's priorities, given how popular it originally was. However, as cool as the update is, we're actually more excited about the possibilities open to the map in Forge mode, thanks to the addition of some new items you can use to tweak the map to your liking. You'll get access to large, immovable objects such as crates and a door you can place to actually carve up the already-tight space.
The second map we checked out was the original map Ghost Town, an evil, complicated addition to the Halo 3 mix. The level is set a ways from the jungle area you explore on Sierra 117, which is where you kick off Halo 3's single-player campaign. The battleground is a bombed-out water facility that's seen better days since being abandoned 50 or 60 years ago. The level is a quirky mix of tight quarters, some open areas, and multiple entrances, which makes it quite a chore to defend. The weapon placement keeps things even more interesting with a brute shot, sniper rifle, and active camouflage laying about. Bungie even threw in a mongoose which, despite the often-tight quarters, can be pretty effective at stirring up trouble. You'll be able to further tweak out the area in Forge mode with objects that let you create sniper perches that will ensure you'll be able to cause all manner of trouble for your foes.
The third and final map, Avalanche, is a reimagined version of the original Halo's Sidewinder map. The level is set on a forerunner construct with bases on each side that Bungie has tweaked to allow for more mayhem. You'll find ramps and multiple paths to reach the top of each base, two-way teleporters, man cannons, and snowy versions of the hornet, warthog, mongoose, and scorpion tank. You'll find bubble shields, rockets, Spartan lasers, active camouflage, and brute shots peppered around to make life interesting. A new side path and tweaked exits should help keep veteran players on their toes for a while as they get down the level's nuances. We both love and loathe the fact that you can use a man cannon and zip right up to the top of an enemy base (if you don't get shot out of the air on the way up) to snatch their flag in capture-the-flag matches. Finally, the level's unique items in Forge mode make it possible to craft a crude minibase on the snowfield, which is cool.
While we've touched a bit on the new content for Forge mode for each of the levels, the coolest for many is likely to be the new filters you can use. As you're tinkering away with creating the perfect level, you'll get access to a handful of "special FX" objects that, when dropped, will put a unique color filter over the whole map. While you'll be able to use the new objects only on the Legendary maps, they offer an interesting way to change the look of a level, which should make for some slick movies.
Based on what we played, the Legendary Map Pack content should be well worth its 800 Microsoft point price tag. The two old-school maps are a welcome addition to Halo 3's stellar multiplayer, and the original map offers a fun challenge to master. The additional Forge items and their effects bring some very cool flair to map creation as well. We're interested to see what the community does with them in the long haul, considering the creative stuff we've seen already. If you're a fan of Halo 3, the Legendary Map Pack is more than worth a look. Look for the pack to hit Xbox Live Marketplace next week on April 15.