PAX 2008: Halo 3 Assembly hands-on

As part of their Penny Arcade Expo presence, team Bungie lifted the mysterious curtain on their latest Halo 3 multiplayer map called Purple Reign Assembly, giving PAX attendees a new map to frolic about in. But knowing that it isn't a Midship, Gemini or any other Halo map remake, the big question is whether or not Assembly plays splendidly or if it is any fun at all. And we're pleased to tell you that, yes, it's an unbelievably well designed map that ranks high among our Halo 3 favorites. Impressions after the break.

First, let's get a few Assembly informative bits out of the way. Bungie did not and refused to talk about any specifics regarding Assembly including how it'll be released, when it'll be released or even if it's paid content. Knowing that info, let's jump into our hands-on impressions.

Assembly is a medium, medium-large sized space with plenty of room for 4v4 multiplayer matches of Slayer, Oddball, CTF or even King of the Hill matches making it a very versatile map. As far as cosmetics are concerned, Assembly is a true Covenant looking map with plenty of reflective purple walls to navigate through, greenish yellow grav lifts to launch you towards the heavens and gray walkways to ... uhhh, walk on. The coolest part of the map's look is the Covenant Cruiser that hovers overhead and is seemingly assembling some kind of Covenant structure. Hence the map's name.

Taking a look at the map layout itself, the best way we can describe its unqiue characteristics is by comparing it to a few other Halo maps even though it was made very clear that Assembly is NOT a remake or inspiration map. To us though, Assembly is a bit like Midship, Ascension and Gridlock combined. It's a circular multi-level Covenant map (Midship) that uses a central multi-tiered focused layout (Warlock) where players call fall off the outer ledge or jump from outer platform to outer platform (Ascension). Collectively speaking, it's a medium sized circular experience with numerous nooks and crannies on the outside, ramps and lifts on the inner rim, a few towers on the sides and a central structure where the action seems to always be focused towards.

After playing a few rounds, we were intrigued by some of the map's "features" including the central most lower part of the map that houses the Gravity Hammer. It's an interesting location because the Hammer is surrounded by four explosive fusion cores and a few times we saw players toss in a grenade or two on an unsuspecting Hammer-whore which only resulted in a severely weakened Hammer-whore. Speaking of Assembly's central location, on the upper most level players will spot active camouflage floating in some sort of super charged light beam. This too is a perfect place to chuck grenades into to rack up a few double (or triple) kills. We also loved the map's outer towers where jumping along the wall and navigating up towards the platforms is encouraged and those who make it up alive will be treated with rockets. Explosively useful rockets at that.

Now you ask, how does it play? Surprisingly enough, Assembly may be our favorite Halo 3 multiplayer map yet. It's a nice mix of close quarters combat, open long range combat and risk versus reward scenarios that you don't see too much in other maps. At times it's chaotic, other times you'll feel like you're stalking your prey and at other times you'll wonder why you can't walk ten feet without being loaded full of BR bullets. Honestly, Assembly is a very well designed map.

After surviving the reading that was required by the wall of text, we're sure you want some visually entertaining Assembly footage. You're in luck! Here's over a minute and a half of some off-screen Halo 3 Assembly gameplay footage set to musical deliciousness that is Benny Hill. Enjoy.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.