Monday, March 14, 2011

Feeling Defiant

Reach has fallen. The glassing has begun. No weapons we unearth now can save us from the Covenant.

But despite all that, Certain Affinity and 343 Industries have banded together to bring us three brand new play spaces for Halo Reach: Highlands, Condemned, and the brand new Firefight map, Unearthed.

For their first map pack as the new hands controlling the Halo series we've all grown to love, Certain Affinity decided to offer up three vastly different settings for their new maps.

Highlands takes place in a humongous two-base (somewhat/functionally) symmetrical map, on the planet Reach with the Covenant glassing the planet in the background. Condemned takes place upon a defunct UNSC space station, with the dying planet below, and Covenant/UNSC ships battling it out in space outside the station. Unearthed takes place upon a massive dig site.

If you like Big Team, Highlands is the map for you. Each side is given a Sniper, a set of Rockets and a Warthog to work with, guaranteed, with a quick jump to the middle (through a one-way teleporter, of course) where one may also secure a Shotgun.

Neutral, contestable weapons include two Ghosts, a Grenade Launcher, and two more power weapons connected by a two-way teleporter: the Spartan Laser and the Plasma Launcher. The map will definitely help to fill up that craving for a larger vehicular BTB map not dominated from the skies.

All in all, the play space is beautiful -- it's got a similar style to the Firefight map Overlook, with a sort of moss-covered, pastoral pallet. The map feels like a painting, with intricate detail that allows the player a freedom from ever feeling lost, even if he or she has never played the map before.

The map is similar in size to Hemorrhage (possibly larger), but the sight lines are segmented in such a way that it makes the map feel even larger. Individual skill will definitely be displayed even in the 8v8 contests of Big Team, as some important zones of control will not be prone to bumrushing with a few spare hands. A well-placed grenade (or two) and a solid DMR can quickly turn a 1v2 in a choke point into a victory for the outnumbered.

The flag spawns, in objective, atop a three-story tower with each floor giving access to a lift to take you to the top floor, where the Sniper may also be found. From here, the player may make the daring choice to pull the flag further into the base (in a style similar to Avalanche) in order to run the flag out through the Portal that leaps to roughly mid-map. Alternatively, the player can attempt to zerg the flag across the map, or coordinate with a teammate for a pick-up to beat a hasty retreat.

The downed Pelican in the center of the map houses the Grenade Launcher, which will be important for stopping the ghosts that may be given free reign over the map with it's much more refined sight lines. Being caught in the open without rockets or armor lock is likely to be paramount to leaving the skin of your face to melt upon the Covenant speeder's plasma cannons.

All in all, the map feels as though it will bring a complete package of gameplay. There's enough open air to have larger scale firefights, while there's also enough to break view to allow for stealthy play, and enough room-to-room combat to allow an individual's skill to shine.

Up next we have the smaller of the matchmaking maps, Condemned. I use the word smaller lightly, as it's one of the largest non-Big Team maps I've had the pleasure of playing on.

The atmosphere of the abandoned space station is not a happy one -- although there's plenty of light to allow you to see where you're going, the backdrop is a constant reminder of how alone you are.

The indoor map sports a low-gravity section in the center, where Rockets are mounted upon the station's generator. The low-gravity section is marked by a new implementation from Certain Affinity -- rather than using shield doors as the other two low gravity maps (and countless other maps) have used in the past, the marker is more akin to Halo Reach's Hills and Territories marker, a mostly transparent barrier that does not block your weapons.

On either side of the Low-Grav section outside the higher doors, Snipers may be found. These Snipers are in direct cross positions, with both having a nearly direct sightline on each other. Players looking for awesome plays will probably gravitate to this area of the map. The sliver of hope to Snipe a player from across the map's longest sightline lives here.

Moving clockwise from Blue Base, a few hallways lead the player from Blue Sniper to the Sword spawn. Much of this area is sealed off, but it sports an excellent view of the planet below.

Continuing clockwise, the player may find one of the lower entrances to the low-grav center, as well as eventually finding the Shotgun. While neither of these weapons are outright given to one of the two teams in a 4v4 based off spawn, the sword and shotgun are favored toward the blue and red sides, respectively. However, with the contours of the map, it's possible neither could hold onto them for long.

From here, you pass by the Red team's spawning area, past it's Sniper (as I said, it is across from the Blue Sniper), then down a flight of stairs to the docking bay, where a disabled, partially dismantled Sabre serves as a battle platform.

Although this area does not sport any power weapons, it is the shorter path between the two bases if you venture around the map, and features a very aesthetically interesting combat space. The Sabre can be accessed from a jump up on the nose, a lift onto one wing, or from a platform adjacent to the opposite wing, and serves as a hub between those areas, as well as a power position to cut anyone trying to reinforce from their respective bases on the shorter path.

The map's derelict pallet gives a certain hollow feel to the entire map -- leading me to believe it could make for a very excellent zombie space. Not that I play Living Dead gametypes. I don't. But the thought of being locked onto an abandoned space station with zombies, with no hope of escape, and no true hideout? It sounds like fun to me.

The map is well-suited to free for all, due to its size and the risky paths to cross the map to the desired power weapons. Players will find contests over the central hill in a Crazy King gametype to be quite fun. You just can't get angry when you're floating through space. You just can't.

The map could potentially also sport 6v6 gametypes as well. It's much larger than the majority of other skirmish-sized maps, so there's plenty of room for splitting up your team across the map. But don't get separated from your battle buddy...because in space, no one can hear you scream. (Well, except the other 5 guys with microphones on your team.)

Anyone who likes to stray away from Big Team will probably find themselves playing Condemned often. It suits just about any matchmaking playstyle one could imagine, short of Grifball, and allows for very dynamic gameplay.

That brings us to the last of the three maps, and the first of its category to be included in DLC for a primary Halo game: Unearthed, a Firefight map.

Now, I'm normally not a Firefight kind of guy. I never really get into fighting wave after wave of grunts and jackals with a pre-programmed AI when I could be out trying to out-think a human with the other controller.

But even I have to take a step back and applaud Unearthed.

It's a VERY open map, with a ton of freedom of movement. There's maneuverability room for the map's lone Rocket Hog (don't waste it!) as well as for the Wraiths which are periodically dropped for you to snatch from their operators' hands.

Although drops frequently occur on the open outskirts of the map, some occur upon a landing pad that attaches to the mining facility. The interior portion of the map is still rather open, both in spirit, and in choice. Tons of cleverly placed paths to the upper floor can be found to those who look for them, and the aware Firefight player will always be able to find a way to escape a chasing Suicide Grunt.

Cliffs surround the map, meaning there is one complaint I am allowed to voice: BRAGLRGJAELBKJARLKGAERGakl FOCUS RIFLE SKIRMISHERS!

Of course, I only say that in the frustration of having those things tickle me to death with their Baconator Beam countless times. The truth is, it is an excellent obstacle for the tunnel visioned Firefight players to overcome.

Visually, the map is equally astounding to those before it. The backdrop lends a sense of epicness which I never thought could be dug out of such a deserted map. Puns definitely intended.

If you loved Firefight in ODST, you'll love Unearthed.
If you love Firefight in Halo Reach, you'll love Unearthed.
If you don't really care for Firefight at all, you should still play Unearthed, because chances are you'll love it too.

There are several subtle nuances to its design that, as an aspiring game designer myself, just cause me to grin happily and say "I like this."

There's not much to say about the map that I haven't already said, as the Firefight experience is still much the same. But you'll find yourself enjoying the repeated runs of the Rocket Warthog over and over as you play the map. Because let's face it, why NOT ride in a Warthog that fires six rockets at a time?

There are supposed to be some screenshots with this article, but unfortunately for anyone who was looking forward to my first Audley Enough article with imagery, the screenshots I took are considered Classified Intel, and cannot be shared as of yet. Hopefully I can have them uploaded by the time the maps go live, so anyone on the fence about the maps who happens to read this article will have to say "That looks awesome, I'm going to buy it."

If you are on the fence about the maps, get off the fence. Go get the maps (when they're released). If you've got time to sit here reading a blog by some random guy who writes about League of Legends in his Halo blog, then you've got time that SHOULD be spent playing Halo on the new maps with a group of friends. And heck, you may have time to finally go get that Firefight achievement you're still aiming for. With Unearthed letting you roam free on a Rocket Hog, you really don't have an excuse NOT to anymore.

Audley Enough, some of you still won't be convinced. So I have but one thing left to say (which is supposed to be my catch phrase): No, shut up, you're wrong. Get the new maps. They're FUN.

1 comment:

  1. Loved your thoughts and comments about the new maps. Can't wait to download them tomorrow!