Bit of a weird one this. Sure, we've reviewed standalone mission discs for other shooter franchises in the past, but the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack marks the first time we've truly reviewed a sole expansion pack like this one. Gamers with Xbox Live have had access to four of these maps (two free, two as Premium Content, but currently also free) for the last few months, but MS has now released a retail version of the pack for players who are lovin' the LAN (the five new maps are available to download on their own over Live for £7.99 if you already have the other four). Obviously, any game type and conceivable weapon set apply to virtually every map, though when reviewing each one we played the modes we thought the most suited to that map.
A bastard child of the Longest map in the first Halo, only with two conveyor belts moving along each corridor in opposite directions. These carry a series of cargo crates, which make excellent portable cover. It's dead easy to hop onto a crate then up onto the ledges above, making scrambling for cover dead easy. Get caught out in the corridors below though, and it's like sprouting fins and being shot at in a wooden liquid container. Although the moving crates do offer some degree of cover, they can often get in the way when you're trying to dash into one of the numerous alcoves littered either side.
Probably the most atmospheric and unbelievably tense map, this is set in Halo's swamp environment. A two-tiered compound forms the centre of a cruelly claustrophobic, dark and dingy bowl. Gnarly trees and rotting trunks scattered around offer some degree of cover, though we found the best way to play was to charge round in a blind rage, always keeping on the move.
Because of all the mist, visibility is severely limited - if you're holding the Plasma Sword you'll dominate this map, though that doesn't come without consequence; the glow of the blade will give away your position to others from a fair distance away. This accentuated sense of atmosphere really works, and the fine balance of the pros and cons of using the sword add a significant amount to the mix.
Floating above the Covenant planet High Charity, this is a truly gorgeous map. Another tight and claustrophobic experience, a large open area in the centre of the map makes this excellent for fast and frantic games of Slayer. It can be frustrating to spawn on the outside of the structure, particularly when you can hear the kill-tastic slaughtering going on inside, but quick access via a multitude of doors and ramps get players right back in there. The sword will spawn right in the centre of the middle tree - again, the fine balance of risk versus reward for retrieving it is adequately addressed.
An absolutely beautiful game environment, this brings back memories of Ivory Tower. Tranquil areas of beach and sea surround a large structure in the centre of the map, and the generous amount of terrain happily accommodates vehicles. Crashed ships provide plenty of ammo and weapons too, so you're never caught short on the beach. Particularly suited to Team Slayer with snipers, a floating lookout platform is a great vantage point, though it's far too easy to be picked off by anyone else with a sniper rifle, no matter where their location on the map. Playing CTF could be something of an issue here as well, as there are far too many quick and easy routes around the outside of the main structure.
This is the one; the map we spent an absolute age tearing chunks out of each other on. Fairly hefty in size, and set in a shiny and clean-looking New Mombasa, we found it best suited to large-scale Team CTF or Slayer. Apart from the central canyon, a warren of paths and tunnels run the length of the map down either side, which is an absolute godsend when sneaky, covert gameplay is involved. The crowning glory of this map is the high-speed bullet train that continually runs along the accompanying monorail at rooftop level. Get caught on the tracks (this usually happens while trying to reach the grail-like Plasma Sword) and your character will get splattered as the train piles into him. Very cool, and also amazingly frustrating at the same time.