It’s tough to top the Noble Map Pack, a collection of all things classically Halo: Reach, and to be honest I was concerned it was a feat that could not be accomplished. But I have faith in 343 Industries, as well as Bungie, and the latest round of Halo: Reach maps certainly do not disappoint. This three-pack of two multiplayer-centric maps and one Firefight-only arena fit together like pieces of a puzzle to both tell a story and keep us pulling off Killtaculars one after another, and even though the game’s been out for quite some time now, it looks like things can only get better with each subsequent map pack release.
As previously mentioned, these maps tell a story set in three stages: the beginning of battle, where the tides begin to tip in the Covenant’s favor, and the end of everything, as seen with Covenant vessels glassing the entire planet. The first map, the Firefight-only Unearthed, serves as the “discovery” point in the story. It’s a large refinery, a mostly rocky desert area where several buildings lay dormant. It’s quite dusky, resembling an excavation site — perhaps workers were previously uncovering Forerunner technology. You can see what looks like a large meteor crater where part of the meteor is poking out of the ground — of course, you can only see large sets of spikes. As far as the lore goes, this probably would have taken place toward the beginning of the Covenant invasion. Right off the bat you’ll note that there is a fantastic opportunity for vehicular slaughter. There’s a simple-to-follow route around the outside of the excavation site, where you can circle around the interior of map and outside of it. This worked well when attempting to group up several different waves for quick extermination, and an easy visual point to refer to when playing with teammates for regrouping and planning.
Beyond the track, you don’t seem to get cornered very often, as there is plenty of room to move around in combat and adequate cover throughout. However, as far as the inside structures go I wouldn’t advise staying inside very long — there are very large doors that you can hardly keep anyone from coming in from. A low-grav room inside houses structure that should be connected to a platform and when entering or exiting low-gravity there are shield doors that transition you to normal gravity. They seem to be malfunctioning, so they don’t stop bullets and you may shoot straight through them. It’s an interesting touch, and as the “calm before the storm” map, an interesting tension-builder, as you can almost feel what’s coming next. Personally I enjoyed the intimacy of this map more than the subsequent multiplayer affairs, perhaps because it felt very much like an incident that could have been seen in-game.
Next, if we continue to picture the map pack as a miniature story-driven campaign as 343 Industries intended, we have Highlands, easily the biggest map of the three. It’s quite a large refinery that hasn’t quite suffered any damage, a UNSC SPARTAN training facility where two Covenant cruisers float overhead, slowly glassing mountains behind you. It’s clear the battle is starting to tip in the Covenant’s favor. You can tell that all inhabitants have been condemned to the fate we know that unravels in the campaign. As far as structures go, there are five major building areas. It’s all about point control as far as being able to clear buildings out, and you’ll find yourself relying heavily on vehicles. This map is gigantic — I found that it made a great playground for CTF games, with so much terrain to cover. As far as landmarks go, a crashed Pelican rests toward the center of the map. Covenant cruisers loom in the background; one firing a beam of energy toward the planet, inviting destruction. Interestingly enough, one side of the map is blessed with clear skies and beautiful clouds, while the other side is a harrowing picture of the heavens turning a smoky orange from all the rising flames of destruction. If Unearthed was the beginning ofthe battle, Highlands shows us where things begin to go awry.
In the end, if we continue to analyze the tale that’s unfolding, we have Condemned, my favorite multiplayer map released via DLC so far, as it successfully conveys the hopelessness and futility of the fight for Reach. Condemned is a UNSC station with a few open areas – a warehouse housing a Sabre, a hull breach complete with another low-grav section, and plenty of intertwining, tight corridors which makes close quarters combat frantic. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Condemned lies outside, with one of the rooms allowing you to peer out at a UNSC frigate locked in combat with a Covenant corvette. You can watch sections of the space station swirl, hovering above Reach as more than half the planet has been glassed. Most of the surface now resembles hot, flowing magma.
Taking an air jet will launch you on top of the Sabre, with a rocket launcher in the center of the low-grav section. As far as matchmaking battles, Slayer will have hectic and chaotic battles, especially good for King of the Hill variants. A column in the center of the room is home to a control point, a hill where you need to stand in the section, but there are at least five different ways you can get shot while trying to control the point. Combined with the mazelike mixture of hallways and other corridors, you’ll have your work cut out for you in any team-based objective match. I felt that Condemned resembled Anchor 9 somewhat, showing off the vast, depressing expanse of space and the battle raging on outside, and for this I was eager to play this map over and over. And thus the story ends with Condemned, though certainly not the positive ending anyone would want.
The Defiant Map Pack is an interesting addition to your growing arsenal of Reach maps, and seeing the story play out simply by way of art direction, I can certainly understand why it is titled thus. No matter which of the three maps you’re playing on you can feel the defiant attitude of the UNSC against the Covenant, trying to hold out for one last stand, yet failing in the end. And you’ll feel it too as you battle across these unique landscapes. I may not play Halo: Reach on a regular basis right now, but these will keep me coming back, even if only to relive the story on a less epic basis. It’s well worth the Microsoft points if you’re ready to come back to some fantastic multiplayer, especially if you have some friends in tow…just don’t expect to be smiling through all the violence that’s going on around you.
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Microsoft Game Studios