A month has passed since the release of the quite superb 2nd instalment in a series of three DLC releases for 343 Industries super smash shooter Halo 4. A month is a long time in shooter land, it seems, so 343 and Certain Affinity (who you can read our interview with here) have just the solution for your shooter fatigue – the final instalment; The Castle Map Pack. Castle follows in the footsteps of its DLC forbears, bringing with it a trio of open air spaces in which you can practice your best killing face. I fear mine is frighteningly similar to my poop face, which probably tells you something peculiar about me.
The first theatre of destruction for us to analyse is the aptly named Outcast, which is set amongst the warrens and caverns of an alien world. Halo 4 maps, like heavy metal song titles, take their names from the teenage book of dark stereotypes, it seems. Outcast’s setting is akin to a Hollywood movie vision of Mars, its iron rich rust coloured earth a picture of alien tranquillity. Set amongst the red coloured landscape are a few familiar UNSC props, bases that hang out of cliff faces, with tunnels at the rear that link to other parts of the map. Outcast is very well balanced, and this is something that features in all three of the Castle maps. A well designed map will often have a flow to it, featuring pathways and options that lead the player around the environment effortlessly as they seek out the next kill. Outcast has that magic ingredient in spades, its mixture of small rat runs and open vehicle friendly tracks balance brilliantly to create a dynamic and enjoyable place to make death. The map seems to have been built with Team Slayer in mind, and for that purpose it seems perfect. However, with its selection of bases and rabbit holes, it works equally as well in King of the Hill and Extraction game variants.
Second in line to get a look at our kill faces is Perdition, which is set in an urban area recently evacuated because of a thermal reactor that has decided not to play ball. I probably don’t need to tell you what Perdition looks like, since it’s set in an ‘urban area’. Yes, that means all the standard LEGO inspired Halo fare: lots of ramps, buildings that have no discernible purpose, and lots of grey. So much grey. Suffice it to say, Perdition is the weak link in this particular DLC pack. Where Outcast excels in creating an area that is enjoyable to mess about in, Perdition feels cold and stagnant. Its use of verticality could be seen as a strong point, but its haphazard layout leaves little in the way of sight line for those wanting to zoom in and pick people off. That might just be my personal taste, since I love a good headshot, but those that prefer to melee will feel right at home on Perdition’s grey, plastic streets. Capture the Flag sticks out as the better mode for this map.
Our last map, Daybreak sees a return to form both in terms of its layout and its aesthetic. Located on an unnamed fertile world, the locale is currently being used solely as a military staging area. It also happens to be the Castle Map Pack’s finest offering, with its medium size and old school feel tickling my shooter senses in a way that makes me very excited. While it follows the free-flowing design style of the other two maps, it is largely symmetrical in nature. The map features two big bases (akin to those seen in the famous Blood Gulch, amongst others), divided by a beautifully designed natural rock bridge. Flanking the bases are huge cliff faces, with archways and rat runs criss-crossing their surface to create a series of player flashpoints. Daybreak is my pick of the bunch because it works equally well in all situations, because it is just a damn good place to play Halo. The map suits a variety of playing styles, those that like to snipe will stick to the hills and close to the rocks, while those that prefer things up close and personal will stalk the bases and skulk around in one of the caves. Of course, Daybreak is the perfect Capture the Flag companion, but I had a blast on just about every game variant I tried out on Daybreak, it is just that good.
VERDICT: The Castle Map Pack ends the Halo 4 life-cycle on something of a high. Two of its maps, Daybreak and Outcast respectively, offer a chance for fans of the game to re-engage with the title and really enjoy a pair of quite superb maps. Yes, the package isn’t 100% amazing, since Perdition is a real dog of a map, so much so that I wonder why it was included in the package at all. However, the standard of the other two maps is such that the Castle Map Pack should be considered a thoroughly worthwhile purchase for the Halo Hardcore.
EXCELLENT. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.