Friday, March 27, 2015

Top 5 Multiplayer Maps in Halo 2

My picks for the five best multiplayer maps from each of the Bungie-developed Halo titles continues with Halo 2, the game that is primarily responsible for my getting hooked on the video game series and its groundbreaking online multiplayer. Halo 2 was important not just for me as a gamer, but for console gaming as a whole. It was one of the first games to realize the full potential that online gaming on a home console had, with specialized matchmaking playlists, the ability to organize clans with friends, and the option to host custom game modes. My heyday with Halo 2 took place during my high school years, not long after its original release. To this day, I still consider Halo 2 to have the best overall multiplayer experience of any of the games in the franchise, a feat which is due in no small part to the wonderful selection of maps that were shipped with the game, as well as those that were later made available as downloadable content. With the other Halo titles, narrowing the multiplayer maps down to a mere five was relatively easy. But the consistently high quality in the design of Halo 2’s multiplayer maps made this process far and away the most challenging portion in writing this series of articles. While the five below certainly stand out as being among my all-time favorite Halo multiplayer maps, know that nearly every other Halo 2 map still stands as a strong accomplishment in my eyes.

#5 – Terminal: I’ve long been a fan of maps that incorporate vehicles into their layout, but do not rely expressly upon them for a lone gimmick. Terminal is one such map, falling somewhere between medium and large-scale, and allowing players to traverse its urban environment a few different ways. As previously mentioned, a couple of vehicles will spawn at the respective bases, and depending on the game type, can result in either one team attempting to defend their prized flag with the slow heavy shots of a Wraith, or the more agile dances of Warthog versus Ghost. A parking structure provides a good vantage point for snipers to pick off opponents from a nearby base, though the open nature of the parking structure coupled with the fact that the shotgun spawn point is located just down ramp means that snipers need to be ready to abandon said post at a moment’s notice. The more open spaces near the opposite base and the train station tend to host most of the close-quarters firefights, though players need to be aware of the lightning-fast trains that come barreling through from time to time, potentially running them over as one of the few active stage hazards worked into a Halo multiplayer map. And of course, the muffled chatter over the station's loudspeakers give Terminal an extra dash of personality.

#4 – Turf: A map great for Team Slayer, Swat, and Rumble Pit matches, Turf combined many elements of its close-quarters predecessors like Ivory Tower and Lockout, and placed them in a narrow urban environment. The map is, oddly enough, set up on something of an angle, with one of the far corners being a more open street level spawn point for Turf’s lone Warthog, while the complete opposite end of the map has, perhaps fittingly, a complete opposite setup, with tight corners, small archways to hide behind, and a handful of very small raised areas to gain a birds-eye-view of the action below. The difference between the raised sections in Turf and those in other maps, is that here, they only grant you so much of a visual leg-up on the competition. Crevices that offer you the best opportunity to spring a surprise attack on an opposing player can just as easily be death traps if a player spots you and decides to lob a grenade up into your tiny hiding space. Meanwhile, the raised ridge that runs along the inside of the streets provides a better view of everything and everyone below, but leaves you exposed from practically all sides.

#3 – Midship: Classic Halo map design at its finest, Midship is a jack-of-all-trades death pit. Its rounded small interior makes for fast-paced Slayer matches, while the outlying ramps and lifts ensure that players will have to keep a close eye on their radar at all times. Three pillars in the center, along with rounded roof covers on opposite ends of the map provide limited cover, and though the bowl-shaped center does offer the most direct route from one team’s base to the other, flag and bomb handlers should be wary of the excessive amount of fire they will call upon themselves the moment they are spotted.

#2 – Headlong: With the updated graphical capabilities of Halo 2 came more impressive level details, many of which carried over from the single player missions into the multiplayer maps. The warm glow of New Mombassa’s industrial environment makes for one of the most aesthetically impressive large-scale maps in the Halo series. The grungy construction site of Headlong has plenty of different pathways that capitalize on both big-team vehicular carnage and smaller-scale tactical matches. Headlong’s handling of four-on-four sniper matches is arguably unmatched by any other Halo map to date, as the varying heights of the different structures and the many corridors and stairwells of each perpetuates a tense air of uncertainty, with players constantly scanning the area for foes, wary that remaining in one spot for too long will make them an easy target.

#1 – Relic: While not all large-scale maps in the Halo games are made equal, Relic stands out as a map that - despite appearances - works beautifully with many different gametypes. The giant central structure offers up some of the most intense, strategic, and just plain fun objective matches – more specifically, Capture the Flag and Assault. While one team spawns within the raised structure and must use its limited fortifications to their advantage in defending the far edge objective point, the other team pushes forward from the beach, able to collect power weapons along the way and even lay down fire upon foes from a hovering sniper nest. Relic does typically spawn a few vehicles, but they serve greater purpose as transport to the central structure rather than for full-on assaults against enemy team members. Making a daring escape from the fortress as you carry the flag in the passenger seat of a Warthog is an exhilarating experience, one that few other maps of this size have managed to evoke so consistently.

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