Let's get ready for Halo 4. By no means are these blurbs in-depth critical analyses, just quick, cursory overviews. All selections were made mostly with high level play in mind. I judge on map design and how that map design relates to the game mechanics of whichever Halo game it came from; I do not take into consideration the mechanics on their own merit. This is my opinion through an objective lens, but still my opinion.
#55: Rat's Nest / Large / Halo 3 / Rat's Nest is a race track, not a Halo map. If you manage to shut down the race track surrounding the map, the actual innards of the building make for a pretty decent objective-based, small-medium map.
#54: Sandbox / Various / Halo 3 / The same things I said about Foundry more or less apply here. More freedom was allowed, but it was still pretty restrictive with what you were able to create. Not many maps created with Sandbox ended up being worthwhile aside from gag maps. It was also more pleasant to look at than Foundry, but since everything had a dark glare, it still looked pretty ugly.
#53: Citadel / Small / Halo 3 / Citadel plays like a scratched Halo: CE map. There's no telling how it would have played in a different Halo game, but for Halo 3, it just didn't play too well. Still, I have a soft spot for simple, symmetrical maps. Bungie could have at least added some design quirks to make it nice to look at, though.
#52: Rat Race / Small / Halo: CE / While Rat Race is probably the most aesthetically boring Halo map of all-time, the simple design is actually solid for competitive gameplay. It is by no means a setter of any type of standard, but a solid filler map. A lot of matches on Rat Race came down to baiting out the enemy team, and then flanking them in corridors via the portal. It was always a risk-based map, which was really fun. If they could find a way to spice up the design just a little bit, without losing the essence of it, I would love to see a remake.
#51: Sidewinder / Large / Halo: CE and Halo 3 (Avalanche) / Normally, the differences between the original and the remake are great enough to warrant separate placements on the list, but if I did they would likely fall back-to-back regardless. I'd like to say that the reason so many large maps are on the bottom side of this list is because I don't like them, but that's simply not the case. Most large maps just aren't balanced enough to warrant a high placement. Most corners of Sidewinder/Avalanche are completely underutilized or simply ineffective to occupy. The map design itself is wonderful, and at times beautiful, but only about half of the map is used.
#50: Sword Base / Small / Halo: Reach / Within the first year of Halo: Reach's life cycle, I considered Sword Base the worst Halo map in the series. After the balance tweaks ands were made to the game, however, I learned to appreciate certain aspects of the map. Much like Standoff in Halo 3 (Prisoner and Construct, as well), Sword Base controls the gameplay itself and forces an apartheid in nearly every single game by making top control absolutely essential. While these types of matches are not my favorite, they do provide a welcome change of pace every once in a while.
#49: High Ground / Medium / Halo 3 / The best map from the original Halo 3 Beta is still pretty lackluster in the grand scheme of things. Like Zanzibar before it, High Ground was built with objective game types in mind, and while objective gametypes do work best for it, the translation for slayer is actually pretty smooth. Still, there is nothing that really makes the map stand out, and games tended to become very predictable. It did have a pretty diverse array of power-ups and power weapons, which always appeals to players. Still, it was so easy to abuse spawn traps most of the time.
#48: Hang 'Em High / Medium / Halo: CE, Halo 2 (Tombstone), and Halo: Reach (High Noon) / This is sure to be a surprise. Hang 'Em High was instantly my favorite map back when I first played Combat Evolved, but as the years went on the design just became irritating. First of all, the map is not balanced for anything apart from Slayer, and even then it's a stretch. It did necessitate co-ordinated pushes and team work to distend the lines and acquire power weapons, but more often than not it turned into a banal shoot-cover-shoot-cover stand off. It just became too boring and monotonous. Of course, everyone loves spawn-sniping on it. Believe it or not, my favorite iteration of this map was the Halo 2 variant, Tombstone. The Reach variant just added more tunnels to hide in, and thus, even more stalemate battles.
#47: Anchor 9 / Small / Halo: Reach / Much like Rat's Nest, Anchor 9 is equal parts good and bad. Just about everything apart from the anti-gravity docks make for a really solid symmetrical map worthy of competitive play. Due to the fact that you couldn't conveniently excise those docks, Anchor 9's full potential was never reached. Anti-gravity sections are one of the worst things to come out of Halo's multiplayer. They are a gimmick, and do nothing for high-level play but restrict potential. Battles become too focused on the outside and middle building, as opposed to the two opposing bases.
#46: Tempest / Medium / Halo: Reach / I'll admit, most of my viewpoint on this map comes from the fact that it is just really pleasing to look at. What we have is a very open map with a ton of unused stuff. There are just too many options to consider when either defending or going on the offensive. In that way, the design suffocates the player, adding a constant barrage of stress. This is a strength and a weakness. The gameplay was not that balanced because of how unrestricted the map was, and matches kind of played out like Call of Duty matches, with half of the people camping in trivial places and the other half doing really unpredictable things. This was just the type of gameplay that the map forced. Still, Tempest was actually really fun for casual objective-based matches, especially Capture the Flag.
#45: Waterworks / Large / Halo 2 / Waterworks is the ultimate troll map. It was definitely the dark horse of the on-disc maps. The design was actually pretty simple, but the freedom of placement that Halo 2 tended to allow morphed the way this map played out. It rarely ever played like it was supposed to, with people flying and jumping to all sorts of crazy spots. Waterworks instilled a sense of dread and paranoia in the player, constantly double-checking corners and hiding spots due to the darkness of the map and other players' tendencies to camp in beguiling places. All of these things, again, were both a strength and a weakness. They ramped up the fun factor while hurting the competitiveness.
#44: Longshore / Large / Halo 3 / Longshore was an awkward beast of a map. Matches on this map tended to be very chaotic, and there was no position that was really safe. One couldn't camp for very long without feeling the consequences of the map (and spawn) design. A lot of games on Longshore became battles for the offensive base, which was pretty unique. The dock portion of the map was sadly underutilized, but still I'm a sucker for port-themed maps. Longshore also had the rare attribute of being a large map that was great for Oddball. A solid map, just nothing too special.
#43: Coagulation / Large / Halo 2 / Coagulation is a remake, but it added enough to Blood Gulch to really alter the way that the games played out. Games usually played out like they did on Damnation from Halo: CE, except it just doesn't work nearly as well on a large map. Essentially, everything was useless except the rockets and the sniper rifles (which is already a problem) with long stalemates being intermittently broken by poking with the aforementioned weapons. You were kind of forced to adopt a vehicular playstyle in larger games. In smaller games, Coagulation was among the worst maps to play. 4 vs. 4 Team Slayer on Coagulation usually resulted in 16-13 games; big wastes of time. Still, it was a fan favorite.
#42: Isolation / Medium / Halo 3 / Isolation was just a cool design. Very open on the top level, and very convoluted on the bottom level. Isolation was more fun on objective-based gametypes due to how much coordination it took to infiltrate a base. Even as a casual map, I often preferred playing it to competitive maps, just because of how fun it tended to be. King of the Hill was also great on here, and, surprisingly, casual Free-for-Alls.
#41: Standoff / Large / Halo 3 / Standoff is a rare large map that actually plays better with less people. The apartheid, literally demarcated by a "dry river" in the center of the map, turned the map into a constant tug of war. Flag captures and bomb plants were rare, just because of how much team coordination was necessary to poke through that middle section and slowly suffocate the enemy base. It often took two or three waves of enemies spawning to garner a successful flag capture, which was an extremely cool dynamic for a Halo map to have. It was like pushing through a striated defense system and strategically pushing your way to the objective. This entire dynamic gets buried when you introduce more players, however, and vehicles were just too overpowered when they were present. Standoff was also beautiful to look at.