You've read our hands-on impressions of Halo's impressive single-player modes, but there's much more to the game than that. As you might expect from a first-person shooter of such high profile, Halo also includes an extensive multiplayer mode. You can go head-to-head with one Xbox and one copy of the game with up to four players on a split screen. For 16-player LAN games, you'll need four consoles and four copies of the game, but organizing something of this sort will be well worth the effort. There's also a cooperative mode that allows two players to play through the game's story mode. The staying power of any first-person shooter relies on its multiplayer modes, and Halo features a wealth of options that will keep most anyone busy for weeks.
The rules of combat that must be adhered to while playing the story mode also apply in the multiplayer modes. You may only carry two weapons at a time, so if you want to pick up an especially explosive armament, you'll likely have to drop one of your other weapons. This also brings a great deal of strategy into the gameplay, as you will have to choose the weapons you carry very carefully. Often it's the layout of the map that will dictate which weapons should be carried in order to be successful. Another offensive threat that is a big part of Halo's multiplayer experience is the grenade. Grenades are always mapped to the left trigger button, and their easy access encourages using them liberally. Being able to precisely chuck a grenade is often as important as being an accurate shot. Plasma grenades stick where they land and will even plant themselves on other players before exploding with a huge blue flash. Fragment grenades are of the traditional land-and-slide variety, but they can become tricky in mazes of corridors. If a player commits suicide, there is a delay before respawning takes place. With each additional suicide, the time before respawning increases.
Halo's deathmatch includes 26 preset options to choose from. Some of the modes include deathmatch, races, capture the flag, last man standing, endurance tests, tag, king of the hill, invasion, and several varieties of each. In all 26 modes, statistics are tracked for kills, assists, and deaths and may be saved to a player profile. In the near-final version we received, there is no option to include bots. This can make a big difference if you want to play one of the game's larger maps but are short on friends. If you choose to play a LAN game, each Xbox is plugged into an Ethernet port and one console is designated as the server where the game options are selected. All 13 maps and 26 preset scenarios are available in LAN mode, and when playing with large numbers of people, the vehicles start to come into play. Several of the maps in the game are designed with the vehicles in mind and feature wide-open areas with plenty of room to gain a head of steam. Three players can fit into the jeeps at once. One player drives, another sits in the passenger seat, and a third mans the gun turret at the rear of the vehicle. Which position a player takes in the vehicle is dependent upon where he or she enters the vehicle by pressing the X button.
There are 13 different selectable maps included in Halo's multiplayer mode, and each comes with a recommendation on how many players the map was designed for. Like the locales in Halo's story mode, the multiplayer maps feature a wide range of environments. Here's a quick rundown of each map.
Hang 'Em High: This map is a large open room littered with small pyramid-shaped pillars to play hide-and-seek behind. Ducking behind the pillars while dodging and returning fire can be a great deal of fun. There are also several walkways spanning and circling the room to launch offensives from.
Sidewinder: Taking place outdoors, Sidewinder has plenty of room to hop into one of the vehicles and start running over some enemies. There are also some nice peaks to camp out on and take out vehicles with a rocket launcher.
Rat Race: This claustrophobic map is adorned in tan stucco and features a maze of winding corridors. Players must use the radar to keep track of enemies lurking around corners, and an itchy trigger finger is a necessity. Grenades also work well in this map because players often panic and run themselves into compromising positions.
Chill Out: With fog-filled floors and soft colors, chill out is the warmest map in the game. But don't let its appearance fool you. It's designed in such a way that a variety of strategies are feasible. There are high perches to drop grenades from, slits in walls to snipe though, and open areas to let the ammo fly.
Battle Creek: Featuring a mix of both indoor and outdoor areas, this map is excellent for those who like to use Halo's entire arsenal. The indoor sections look similar to the Temple level from GoldenEye 007, and outside it's a tropical jungle environment.
Longest: Consisting primarily of steel, this map appears to be an alien fortress trimmed with neon lights and striking colored lighting. This map is one of the most cramped in the game, so it's wise to try and get up high so you can drop grenades on unwitting enemies below.
Chiron TL34: A hazardous materials complex trimmed with black and gold stripes, the corridors in this map allow only limited movement. Thankfully, there are plenty of warps to escape through when the action becomes too intense. The warps also basically nullify the use of the radar because as soon as you get a bead on someone, he or she teleports to another area.
Prisoner: This level consists primarily of one large room with a network of catwalks and platforms suspended high above the floor. There's a cloaking power-up hidden in a structure on the floor and sniper rifles up higher in the room to use to pick off the opposition.
Boarding Action: This map represents some of the best fun to be had playing with rocket launchers. The level is basically a ship that has been split in half, and the two halves drift a score of yards away from each other in space. If you fall off the edge, it means instant death, and the volley of rockets from one side to the other is guaranteed to provide chaos.
Derelict: This indoor map includes few corridors and rooms, which facilitates constant confrontation. Consequently, it's also one of the most fun maps to play. It's not out of the ordinary to spawn right in front of the enemy while playing this map, so you must constantly stay on your toes.
Wizard: This map is just one large room with warp doors around its diameter. The center of the room houses a large stone structure that is good for camping or taking cover. A network of catwalks around the room's perimeter makes fighting in this map a multilevel affair.
Blood Gulch: This outdoor map is great for a game of capture the flag due to its sprawling terrain. Save for a few rolling hills, it's a straight shot from one base to the other, which amounts to a great deal of confrontation between the two teams. With no real cover to speak of, this map is only for the brave.
Damnation: This futuristic level is composed of purple and pink pastels. Yet another cramped map, it's perfect for a small amount of players or for those who like their deathmatches hectic. Finding the hidden rocket launcher is the key to this level, as securing it and finding a safe spot up high makes it easy to rack up the kills on helpless foes below.
Playing deathmatch in Halo is always a stimulating experience from a graphical perspective thanks to all the small details in the game. Enemies remain in the levels for a short period of time after being killed, and if an explosion occurs near them, they will fly into the air with their limbs flailing. Levels remain scorched from rockets, and bullet holes will stay in walls until the match ends. Lighting is used to illuminate the environments, but it can also tip you off to an enemy's location when you see his or her flashlight shining on a wall. The frame rates while playing multiplayer have been improved when compared with the previous builds of Halo we've played, but the game will still occasionally stutter when walking near steaming vents, even with just two windows being displayed. This problem also has a tendency to occur in the cooperative mode. While playing with four windows, the detail is cut back slightly and the frame rate manages to hover around 30fps with only an occasional dip.
Halo's multiplayer mode is almost a game in itself with the ability to play as a team, frag friends in a deathmatch, or join forces in the cooperative mode. First-person shooters are often judged by the longevity they provide through multiplayer options, and in this regard, Halo looks like it will provide just as many hours of fun after the story mode has been thoroughly beaten.