A few months on, and I still stand by my opinion that Halo: Reach is the best multiplayer Halo to date - though I still get maddeningly incensed enough to bite the controller in half every time I end up with a streak of buggering assists. But despite the commendable design efforts with Bungie's latest and greatest, I'm still inexplicably drawn towards Call of Duty. Yes: I'm a fair-weather Halo player.
If Bungie is looking to woo me back with some spangly new maps, then, I can safely say I'm theirs for another few weeks - or at least until I hit Lt Colonel - and I'll pay 800 points for the privilege, too. Three maps are pumped fresh into your hard drive for the Microsoft monies, nicely bolstering the nine which shipped on the disc. Unlike many of the pre-existing maps, here Bungie has produced bespoke arenas with no correlation to the single-player campaign. To be fair, Treyarch did the same with Call of Duty: Black Ops and managed to pump out a roster of 14. Still, it's all a bit horses for courses - let's just say both games are far better than Medal of Honor, and move on.
We'll start with Breakpoint, which serves as both the pack's highlight and its largest map. The action is based in and around a UNSC science facility built to tap into ancient Forerunner technology, peaking in a giant mass of mechanical tendrils splayed across the bottom of a ridge. It looks good, too: I spent a good few seconds standing at the rear of a long-range sniper pack on the nobbly, frost-encrusted mountains taking in the view - the kind of breathtaking vista shot Bungie has a pitch-perfect knack at pulling off every now and then.
Breakpoint is big. Like, really big - it's been designed primarily as an Invasion map. It works well in Big Team Battle, too, with a pleasing circuit to lap around again and again in vehicles. The massive, open skies are kept busy with Banshees and a Falcon, and on the ground a Warthog dukes it out with Ghosts and Wraiths. While snipers take desperate pot-shots at one another outside, those who prefer their action up-close-and-personal weave in and around the base's labyrinthine tubes and tunnels to get the drop on any group too foolish to check their flanks.
It's a great map, but you'll want to be careful when creeping around. Wide open spaces mean there's often a full 360 degrees of potential assault to take into consideration.
Tempest is a slightly smaller affair, making it perfect for your average game of Team Slayer. With sandy beaches, craggy rocks and angular Forerunner geometry, it's clearly trading off the old 'Halo ring' sort of vibe. A shallow river encircles the map, and if you look a bit further and you might get a whiff of the National Trust, only with Mongooses, sniper rifles and (often purportedly ironic) tea-bagging. As for ramping up the death-dealing, adjacent machinegun encampments peek over a central canyon, which serves as the map's main point of conflict.
Everything's still a bit too open to bust out the shotgun, although if you manage to sprint around and catch the enemy unaware then the world is your oyster - I'll stick with the DMR though, thanks. There are also plenty of dreaded crannies here, which give people plenty of opportunity to duck out of view just before you can pop out that all-important finishing shot. Which is all part of the fun, I'm told. Gits.
Finally we've got Anchor 9, which is small and has one of those whooshy outer space sections. We're on a pristine UNSC space station now, with networks of homogenous terminals and Future Grey, and it's all gone a bit thin corridors and action-packed blasting. Be warned: death comes quickly on Anchor 9, and turning down a corridor after respawning means you'll usually run face-first into somebody else's elbow.
Anchor 9 is one of the more action-packed maps, and at times it feels like it's tapping into the spirit of Unreal Tournament. The trick, at least if you play anything like me, is to successfully navigate all the cheeky little catwalks scattered around. You're usually lit up like a Christmas tree when doing so, but it puts you in a fairly advantageous vantage point to rack up some decent kills. Which, at the end of the day, is all anybody wants.
For something that's essentially supposed to function as a fresh injection of spirit into Reach's online community, at least until everyone gets re-distracted by Black Ops or Bad Company 2, I am starting to find Bungie's nonchalance regarding playlists a little grating. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that, for the next few days at least, I couldn't really give a toss about how great Powerhouse is; I want new maps, all the time.
All the early adopters are herded into the "DLC Grab Bag" playlist, where you get to play a mix of Slayer and Objective modes (read: everyone will vote for Big Team Slayer on Breakpoint every single chance they get) until you've got enough Credits in the bank to buy real estate on the frigging Moon. In the wider context of Halo: Reach there are a great many playlist options to dip into, but early adopters of this pack are robbed of that flexibility. Would it really have been too much to ask for more choice with the DLC playlists, at least? And how on Earth am I supposed to easily get that Achievement for playing Boardwalk on Invasion?
Speaking of Achievements, there are 250 more of Microsoft's addictive-but-ultimately-worthless numbers to be had. Some are easier than others: I bagged a shotgun double kill and long-range DMR takedown to bank a cool 100 points within about half an hour of blowing the dust off the Reach disc. Getting a double kill from the grave, however, will probably take a lot longer.
There's little doubt in my mind that the Noble Map Pack gives the branches of the Halo: Reach gameplay tree a jolly good shake, allowing players a bit of a fresh frolic in some fancy new surroundings. If the mere thought of hearing bloop bloop bloop bloop bloop is enough to bring you out in hives, or you're only interested in hitting Prestige 4 over in the other game, then you'd probably want to steer clear for a while. The rest of us, however, might finally be able to stick around long enough to get that dapper Lt. Colonel badge.