Version tested Xbox 360
This, we're led to believe, is the end: the final set of downloadable maps for Halo 3. Despite the game's continuing success on Xbox Live, Bungie reckons there's enough meat on those multiplayer bones to keep us all going. So, with the possible exception of some new stuff (unconfirmed, as yet) in Halo 3: ODST later this year, the Mythic Map Pack is the swansong for Halo 3 multiplayer.
Of course, that doesn't mean that the end is nigh for Halo 3 itself, whose player population remains robust (even at off-peak times, I was able to fill up games on the Mythic maps almost instantly). And it's not even the end of "new" content, in a sense, because player-created Forge maps will continue to appear for many months if not years. In fact, one third of the Mythic Map Pack is aimed at encouraging Forge. Sandbox is a smaller version of the gigantic desert map Sandtrap, and it boasts pretty much the most customisable Forge layout we've seen so far.
Every ramp, surface and structure in the map is a Forge object, which means that creators can wipe the slate completely clean and build a new level as they see fit. Although the default layout is played out entirely at ground level (albeit with plenty of fortifications, ramps and so on, creating a two-base layout that's ideal for CTF-type games), there's also a basement and a sky level for creators to mess about with if they need a bit more verticality.
It's the most flexible map yet for Forge and while I'm not exactly an expert map creator myself, it's fascinating to see some of the ingenious designs that others are coming up with. PC gamers might roll their eyes at console folks getting excited about the ability to move the furniture - after all, some of us have been downloading new maps since Doom - but this feature, in a console FPS, is still exciting even now, and one would hope other developers have taken note of its potential for extending the longevity and popularity of the multiplayer game.
In terms of straightforward, out-of-the-box play, Sandbox isn't a bad level to add to the rotation. Like its big brother Sandtrap, it's got a selection of vehicles to mess around with, but it's an incredibly open level on which you can see directly from one base to the other, allowing effective sniping from side to side with the carbines. It shouldn't work, but it does - there's just enough cover to keep things from getting too frustrating.
The other two maps in the Mythic pack are altogether more conventional, but each represents a slightly different type of gameplay. Assembly is set in a gargantuan Covenant factory (there's a suspended belt far overhead carrying Scarab body parts around), but despite the setting, it's one of Halo 3's tightest levels yet. It's almost claustrophobic. Organised on a small, complex platform around a central core, it's got two levels connected by ramps at various points, and a somewhat open central area housing the Gravity Hammer.
This is Halo 3 going back to the genre's Quakeworld roots - a fast, tight, intense level which manages to simultaneously grant decent visibility across the level while keeping you in tightly controlled spaces where you'll regularly turn corners and find yourself staring right into the barrel of a gun. It sounds ideal for Slayer, and it is - but it really comes into its own in team matches, where the perfectly symmetrical layout delivers balance and enough chokepoints to keep games with even a small number of players interesting.