Lesson: Map Diversity
Teacher: Lost Planet
Substitutes: GRAW 2; Gears of War
Before Halo, console shooters were - for the most part - confined to narrow hallways, blocky corners and one-story height. We ran around our generic multiplayer prisons like homicidal rats in a maze, turning corner after corner and, when space occasionally allowed, jumping from platform to platform.
Halo set us free, opening wide vistas of natural, realistic terrain to battle upon. The same map could include a mountainous ridge, a vast lake and a multi-level building. We could explore these expansive environments with ease, too, thanks to zippy vehicles and instant teleports helpfully littered throughout.
But now other games have taken that playground mentality and run with it. In Lost Planet, for example, a single map can take hours to fully explore. Horizontally, it will span several football fields. Vertically, it will stretch from the top of a ten-story building to the bottom of a cavernous tunnel network. Everywhere in between will be dark nooks and underwater crannies... only instead of hiding lightweight jeeps, they'll hide gargantuan mechs with heavy firepower.
Suddenly, the Halo 3 beta's largest interiors - the one-room hideouts on Snowbound - seem awfully restrictive. As do the relatively short lengths of Valhalla and the ironically low heights of High Ground.
Lost Planet's combat arenas also take risks thematically. A snowy valley matches the game's setting, but what about a canyon strewn with waterfalls and rope bridges? Or, in the downloadable content, an urban office complex? These maps don't make a lick of sense, but they're a refreshing change of pace. Halo should feel equally free to let loose and break rules. Not every map has to look like it was tripped straight out of the single player campaign.
Not every map has to take place in broad daylight, either. As Gears of War has proven with its gloomily omnipresent rainfall and GRAW 2 has proven with its beautifully drenched sunsets, killing your friends is much more epic with the proper atmosphere.