Review: Halo 4 'Castle Map Pack' favors simplicity over flair and it works
343 Industries have taken a bold approach to Halo 4 DLC – an approach marked by minimal flare and a significant amount of trust in the players. TV spots and maximum preview exposure have gone by the wayside, especially in comparison to Halo’s first-person shooter counterparts, in favor of simply releasing the DLC and letting the fans feed on it. To be fair, it’s an approach that seems to have worked. Heck, Halo 4 as a whole has worked, and fans will be thrilled to know that this statement includes the title’s latest DLC release, the Castle Map Pack.
Simplicity is an appropriate word to use when describing the Castle Map Pack. It’s not chock-full of unnecessary content. In fact, it’s merely three maps for 800 MSP, but these maps return the series to its original form by spotlighting gameplay over visual flare.
The first map I had the chance to explore was “Daybreak.” While the map itself certainly has enough visual flash to satisfy the most keen-eyed fans, it’s impressive thanks in part to its three-tiered structure that sits most exquisitely within its rugged highland biome. This arrangement includes a lengthy vantage point for snipers and other ranged weapons to battle upon, and a ground-level combat zone that’s feverishly deadly near the middle of the map.
But perhaps what sets Daybreak apart is its ability to include vehicular combat in what could have easily been a mid-to-close-range map. Warthogs, Banshees, and other weapons of mass destruction are strewn about at each team’s spawn area, and they're easily accessible throughout the outer “ring” of the map.
What makes this addition so welcoming is the fact that nearly every battle can become connected in a flash. Players fighting within the center of the map can get the drop on an enemy Warthog via a winding path, while snipers can perch up next to mountain wall and take out both without hesitation. When it comes down to it, Daybreak fuses together everything fun about Halo and churns out a map that’s absolutely brilliant for all game modes (though it’s best experienced in Capture the Flag.)
After Daybreak, I was tossed into what seemed to be a bad driver’s worst nightmare, “Outcast.” Outcast is shining example of the simplicity that I alluded to earlier in this review, as it’s not about visual triumphs whatsoever, but what’s systematically fun about a good Halo map. The logistics of Outcast are winding, as you're tossed “into the warrens, canyons and arches of an alien edifice,” in the words of 343 Industries.
At a macro level, Outcast is an enormous map, but on the level that players play on, it’s seemingly tight thanks to a clutter of rock walls and ledges. This principle creates an exciting tone for Outcast, as players zigzag down a trail and then back up again, while drivers attempt to maneuver throughout the map’s confines without accidently committing suicide by totaling their vehicle.
The balance is handled exceptionally well, and while it’s certainly accessible across all of Halo 4 game modes, it’s absolutely, one hundred percent made for Capture the Flag. Whatever mode you’re playing on, and however you play Outcast, you’ll find yourself coming back over and over, and that’s the mark of an excellent Halo map.
And rounding out the Castle Map Pack is Perdition. I don’t write up a rousing introduction for Perdition, because its presence and tone resonate exactly how I introduced it: “Oh, and here’s Perdition.” It’s not that the map itself is bad; the issue is that it misses a number of opportunities to take players back to the days of “Hang ‘em High” and other notable “factory” series maps.
More so, Perdition’s urban sprawl setting just isn’t that intriguing. This may be due to the map’s grey aesthetic and concrete backdrop, but I believe it fails to strike a stimulating chord because it’s nearly an open warehouse with a few rooms and ramps. Otherwise, it’s wide-open with little verticality. That’s disappointing because if Perdition had the verticality of, say, Hang ‘em High, I'm pretty sure it would have instantly become a fan favorite.
Players who are into Team Snipers, or ranged weapons at all, will find Perdition to be excellent for racking up kills in little time. Otherwise, it’s an addition to Halo 4 that will likely get skipped over.
If there were any remaining questions on the topic of 343 Industries’ ability to handle the Halo series, I imagine that the Castle Map Pack answers them. These three maps are ideally what Bungie had in mind with Halo multiplayer from the beginning, and while there’s nothing completely new to be found in the Castle Map Pack, there’s no question that the Castle Map Pack is a very good addition to the Halo 4 name, and a resounding end to the Halo 4 War Games Pass.