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Halo Maps Ranked: 20-11

Let's get ready for Halo 4. By no means are these blurbs in-depth critical analyses, just quick, cursory overviews. All selections were made mostly with high level play in mind. I judge on map design and how that map design relates to the game mechanics of whichever Halo game it came from; I do not take into consideration the mechanics on their own merit. PC maps and forged maps are not present. Feel free to post how much better your favorite shooter is than Halo.
1Ghost Town

#20: Small-Medium / Halo 3 / Ghost Town is another personal favorite map. As a sucker for green-ish, jungly maps, the color scheme and aesthetic style is exceptional. It's somewhat like an asymmetrical Sanctuary, and that can only be a plus. As an asymmetrical map, it isn't ideal for multi-flag, but pretty much every other gametype, including Oddball, King of the Hill, and Free-For-All, was enjoyably playable on it. Ghost Town fosters many different playstyles, and never lets one dominate. An all-around balanced and varied map for casual play.

#19: Large / Halo: CE and Halo: Reach (Ridgeline) / I had never played the PC iterations of the Halo games, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Timberland is an exceptional symmetrical big map. Again, Timberland is a big map where one playstyle can't dominate too much. Yes, the sniper is the ultimate weapon to control, but it is not as broken as it is on a map such as Blood Gulch. This is due to all the trees and interruptions in the visual field of the player, and also due to the unpredictability that the map design inspires in other players. You can't camp one area in this map for too long, because every inch of it is used by players, and that is Timberland's ultimate strength. A successful large map, and one of the best in the series.

#18: Small / Halo: Reach / I initially hated the convoluted design of Countdown during my first year of playing Reach, but with help from the patch, I came to love it. My one grope with Countdown has always been that it is extremely difficult to help a team mate in need due to the layered, labyrinthine design. But instead of criticizing it on this point, I've come to praise that it adds a new element to Halo gameplay; an element where you don't only need a co-ordinated rush, but that each member on your team must be able to adequately fend for his or herself to bring a rush to fruition. For casual, non-competitive matches Countdown is very low on the list. The map design and power weapon choice opens the map up to the abuse of armor perks, and the degradation of a fun factor.

#17: Small / Halo 2 / Backwash is a personal favorite map that never reached its full potential. This time it wasn't at the fault of the community or spawns, but because the map couldn't play on XBOX 360s when they came out. Backwash was removed from all matchmaking and I was a sad panda (eh). Backwash is the only Halo map where you don't spawn with grenades on default, and the only Halo map where your visual field is obstructed by fog. This made Backwash matches a matter of wit and instincts. Overall it was incredibly conducive to competitive play, and had the bare bones feel of Rat Race perfected (though it's design is nothing like Rat Race). The center of the map is a claustrophobic clusterfuck, especially in King of the Hill. If I remember correctly, the only power weapon was Active Camouflage, which was extremely necessary to control. Casual games without a Battle Rifle start did not fare as well on Backwash, but such is the fate of most maps that excel in the competitive arena. Multi Flag on Backwash was actually one of my favorite gametypes in Halo 2.

#16: Medium / Halo: Reach / A controversial choice to be sure. Boardwalk perfects the casual map. The fact that a non-competitive map could be one of the best unearths one of the sad truths about Reach: It was usually more fun to play casually as opposed to competitively. Boardwalk is simply one of the most fun maps to come out of Halo in a while. It offered some great angles for fans of sniping (pretty much everyone) and actually provided some pretty balanced objective gameplay. It also had a really slick, smooth look to it. My personal favorite thing about Boardwalk is that the jetpack was completely useless on it, which I contend is the single most broken concept to come out of Halo (if the person using it knows what they are doing). Well, that or the Halo 3 Banshee.

#15: Large / Halo and Halo: Reach (Breakneck) / Headlong is one of the greatest big maps of all-time, and welcomed every single playstyle that you could possibly fashion; not only just to survive, but to thrive. Headlong the best big map for 1 Flag and 1 Bomb games, hands down. It also did very well with Slayer. Like Timberland, every inch of Headlong is usable and often traveled. This is a necessity to be a successful large map. Headlong also has pretty much every weapon or vehicle you could want on it. A great map that appeases all audiences and still plays in a balanced manner.

#14: Medium / Halo 3 / Another personal favorite, the most appealing thing about Orbital is its color scheme. For fans of SWAT, this is perhaps also the best map for that gametype. The snaky corridors of Orbital open up a novel experience within the Halo multiplayer canon. While these hallways are narrow and claustrophobic, they necessitate a more tight-knit type of gameplay in team games. A team isn't so easily able to split up without some type of power weapon and traveling in a pack is nearly necessary for a successful match. I personally welcomed this alteration to the Halo formula, as too often games were easily won with a single player doing the brunt of the work. Not that I mind the latter type of play, but a switch-up is always nice, especially for more novice players. Orbital is an accessible map and bridges the gap for less-skilled players without alienating veterans (unlike Halo: Reach's bloom).

Terminal - #13: Medium-Large / Halo 2 / Pretty much everything that applies to Headlong applies to Terminal. Terminal, after all, is more or less a mini-Headlong with a few alterations to perfect the recipe. I will state that Terminal is the best medium-sized map in the Halo register. Like Headlong, it is the perfect map for 1 Flag and 1 Bomb games. Where Terminal has the edge, however, is with Slayer games. The map design itself is also more varied. The train was a successful novelty that added environmental hazard to the map. Terminal was also the first map to feature a portion of the map that was only (easily) reachable by spawning there in the parking lot attic. Terminal matches were almost always close, and always fun. Terminal is playable with just about any number of players, to add to its strengths.

#12: Small / Halo: Reach / Zealot follows a basic formula for a great competitive Halo map: Small and symmetrical with a middle ring. It's like a hybrid of Midship and Derelict, and as predictable as that design is, it absolutely works as a competitive arena. Zealot is the map to test your mettle in Halo: Reach. Every game type is playable on it, and as a matter of fact, Zealot is that only acceptable map for 1 vs. 1 and FFA play. Thankfully we were able to block off the lifts into the anti-gravity zone on top of the map, as that section completely ruins the gameplay. With that said, Zealot is one of few competitive maps that actually works well in casual games. Not as well, of course, but it is more than playable. Another strength of Zealot is that it actually provides a lot of cover for players, which is sometimes unusual in small, symmetrical maps. There are a lot of ways to save your ass.

#11: Large / Halo: Reach / Four Reach maps in the Top 20 Halo maps was not something I envisioned going into this project. It's not entirely surprising, either. While Reach brought us some of the worst, most uninspired maps in the series' history, it also brought us some of the best. The highlight of these being Highlands. One of the great tragedies of Reach is that not many people bought the Defiant map pack and played Highlands. Either it was too much to fork over $10 for two maps, or their interest was long-gone at that point. Either way, Highlands was 343 Studios making a statement: Halo multiplayer is in good hands with them. This is another big map where every playstyle could thrive, and every corner of the map was efficiently usable. Highlands was also distinctly beautiful, from the brush-stroked pink skies to the fervent green of the battlefield. Highlands was a home run for 343 Studios and the funnest map to play in Halo: Reach.
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