Last Thursday I hauled my lazy ass to Bungietowne on an invite from the Halo 3 DLC team to try out some of the new maps to be made available in the Heroic Map Pack, up for grabs next week on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Fortunately for me, I hadn't let slip that I'm easily the worst Halo player on staff, and that Call of Duty 4 had effectively nullified any skill I had with the game, but I'm guessing that my secret was out by hour 5 of getting my face pounded into the mud by the other seasoned Halo vets -- including some of the developers. How the hell is that fair? Playing against Steve Cotton was like being served brutality on toast.
Anyway, I spent the better part of a day getting acquainted with the new digs, and have drawn up a report which you can find after the jump, plus a bit of eye candy besides. You like Forge, sport? Not nearly as much as you will when you get your hands on Foundry.
Represented in the Heroic Pack's three maps is a good bit of variety, a little something for everyone. At Bungie's studios in Kirkland, the team showed off all three maps and had us run a gauntlet of each in a variety of gametypes to get a sense of their best applications. Fancy yourself some big team battles and lots of ground to cover? Rat's Nest is for you. Is your itchy trigger finger best served by a bit of customization? Foundry's got you covered. And for those lads who like their blood-letting a little up close and personal, there's Standoff. All in all, a great day. Thanks to Bungie for the free food!
Alright, fine, I'll run 'em down proper. Jeez.
First in our introductions to the new content was Standoff, a sort of compressed Blood Gulch situated in Africa aside some pretty brilliant vistas of a sprawling UNSC satellite array. While it was created for smaller 4v4 objective-based games and tends to serve best in such a configuration, the map functions on a few different levels that make it a versatile experience in bigger slaughters, too.
Two heavily-fortified bunkers lie a straight shot from one another across a field and serve as team spawn points arms depots for your assaults on the opposing team. Between them, some rolling terrain peppered with boulders to make things a little messy in the main corridor. Almost perfectly symmetrical but for a tree or two, Standoff also makes room for wide flanks and plenty of backroads to your objective, and includes a handful of vehicles to make the already short distance between the two bases even shorter -- the trip literally takes three seconds by Mongoose. Turrets mounted atop either base and a load of armaments stocked inside ensure that getting your ass up the hill will be no easy task.
At first glance may seem "deceptively large", as the developers put it. Don't let the massive skybox fool you; though there's no clear enclosure (read: big-ass cliffs or fences), Standoff is a pretty small theater and can get extremely hairy in larger battles. The straight-shot "corridor" connecting the two bases and the boulders that populate them is a little too narrow for the Mongoose and Warthog alike, so larger-scale warfare tends to unfold on the outsides of the map and in front of the bases while infantry makes their death march up the middle. The two Warthogs are absolutely essential for crowd control, which makes the Spartan laser (one in the center of the map) and rocket launcher (one per base) critical to fending off your opponents and gaining ground further towards their base.
But what makes Standoff a real joy to play is the absence of sniper rifles, which make a bit of sense in a larger Blood Gulch-esque map but not so much in the confined quarters of this latest evolution. Without the worry of a set of crosshairs eternally locked on your skull, your chances of surviving on foot are upgraded from absolute certain death to yeah, you'll probably get killed, but who knows. The biggest threat to infantry remains a manned Warthog and the gun turret on top of the base, but hey, at least you stand half a chance -- with enough chaos flaring up around you, a single player can actually get close enough to cause a little havoc in a matter of seconds.
In a lot of ways, skirmishes in Standoff tend to unfold on two fronts -- the outside and the central corridor -- with a little interplay besides. Again, the map is best suited for team objective play -- single flag CTF is a load of fun -- but it works in standard slayer, too. Standoff was a big hit among the journalists present at the event and had a lot of us screaming orders at one another while trying to control the chaos around us. Awesome map.
What might appear at first glance to be a simple indoor slaughter arena is likely the most rewarding experience offered in the first round of Halo 3 DLC. Foundry is another small map -- about half the size of The Pit -- which, on default settings, provides some tight corridors for combat with lots of high ground atop UNSC shipping crates scattered throughout the indoor arena. But where Foundry really takes off is in the Forge; beneath all that crap hides one of the most malleable foundations for map creation yet available.
Just about every terrain feature in Foundry is movable and removable in the Forge, and stripped bare of its contents the Foundry is essentially a big empty warehouse with two raised platform areas joined by a back hallway. By arranging the crates, wall partitions and other objects you can essentially construct any map you like: a big, open arena with vehicles; a tightly-knit network of passages for close-quarters combat; tall bridges spanning the entirety of the arena for the high ground advantage. With Foundry, the possibilities of the Forge go beyond mere tinkering and into the realm of design proper, and there's a whole lot of crap you can do with it.
For example, during our playtest, one of the devs stripped the map, partitioned off the raised landing areas, put down a pair of gates as goals, spawned a soccer ball (a new item available in the Forge for just such an occasion) and gave us all gravity hammers and invulnerability. We had to stick to the honor system to keep score, but what unfolded was essentially Halo Gravity Soccer Riot, which ought to be Bungie's next production, if the response was any indication. Big, stupid fun.
On default settings and terrain placement, Foundry is a great Slayer map and also serves well for team-based tactical objective play, but feels a smidge bland compared to Standoff. But the default settings are most certainly not the goal of Foundry; the aim is to equip players with the tools necessary to make whatever batshit insane level they might conjure up. Forge aficionados will definitely want to check this one out.
That "two levels of play" dynamic I mentioned with Standoff returns for Rat's Nest, but on a much grander scale. Built for big team battles ranging anywhere from 6-16 players, Rat's Nest is an indoor nightmare that features two base areas rather close to one another, encompassed by a wide vehicle track that runs around (and between) the spawn points. To get a sense of it, think of it this way: the track runs in a sort of figure eight, the base areas being on the inside of the circular bits -- with me? Yeah? Okay, good. Dimensions ain't my thing.
The track, one big loop, is basically where the vehicles will live during the majority of your fights in Rat's Nest. A set of Warthogs and Mongooses will keep things moving fast on the outside, and will provide easy access to the enemy stronghold provided that their forces are tied up in the inner corridors. Flag points can be reached via two paths -- the outer loop and the inner "spine" that connects the spawn points together -- both of which will be key choke points to control if you want to keep a grip on the flow of combat.
The map is huge, and the sense of scale is most easily recognized on a team objective match, the first of which we played was Territory. It's a long, long way from one end of the map to the other to fend off attackers looking to capture your territory points, and as such our forces were quickly divided and easily mowed down, particularly where the outer loop and the spine coupled near the top- and bottom-middle of the map.
Though Rat's Nest is pretty massive, things tend to get chaotic fairly quickly thanks to the key strategic choke points and the need to keep a handle on 'em. Of the three maps included in the Heroic Pack, Rat's Nest is almost certainly the best suited for team objective games, but also makes for a great game of Infection, if you're nasty that way. The straight-and-narrow Slayer players might look elsewhere, but for us tactical nerds, Rat's Nest is a great time.
Your Money's Worth
Ten bucks for three maps might seem a little steep, but the value you can wring out of the Heroic Map Pack very much depends on what sort of player you are. Those looking for a new sandbox to screw around with in Forge should run -- do not walk -- to hurl your money at Halo 3's latest DLC, as Foundry is the sort of map that really demonstrates what Forge should have been from initial release. For the game's most hardcore players the purchase may be a no-brainer, but for casual lumps like yours truly, the game's built-in setup might be satisfactory for your online needs without these three.
Standoff was a big selling point for me and filled what I thought was a void in Halo 3's multiplayer lineup: a simple, straightforward skirmish layout that offers a few different approaches despite its relatively wee size. If in doubt, give it a shot at a buddy's place and see if the Heroic Pack is worth cost of admission to you.