May 12, 2007 - Three maps are playable in the http://xbox360.ign.com/objects/734/734817.html beta: High Ground, Snowbound, and Valhalla. We've spent half a day playing the Halo 3 beta and exploring its maps. We have a report card on each.

High Ground
Basic Layout: High Ground is an asymmetrical arena with a base on the top of the hill and a path leading down to water, where the attacking team begins their assault. There is a Mongoose for anybody that wants to ride it here, just as there is at the heart of the base. As the attacking team moves up, the path widens and a few trees and caves are introduced for cover. When they reach the base, the main choke point of the map is introduce; a giant wall.

There is one weak point in the wall where attacking players can walk right in, but to get there they'll have to cross an open field that isn't a friendly place to be. Just above the closed door in the wall is a turret that will eat up anybody that walks up to the base without thinking. This turret also covers the one rocket launcher on the map, making the most powerful weapon a tough pickup.

Inside of the base, there are several rooms and staircases that spiral up to platforms where more powerful weapons, such as the Spartan Laser, can be found. The defenders of this base have a huge advantage over their opposition in both firepower and cover.

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Good game types: Single flag CTF, Assault, Territories.

Reminds us of: Zanzibar

Cool things we noticed: An open pipe that can be ducked into on the left side of the base gives attacking players a sly way of getting to the back of the base. Also, the portable grav lift can vault attacking players over the wall and right to the button that needs to be pushed to open the main gate.

Snowbound
Basic Layout: Snowbound has two basic settings; the snow covered but open outside area and the tunnels beneath it. There are two main structures that stick out of the snow which create the best places for teams to get the high ground and work together to rain down death. Around the outer edge of this level are a series of stationary turrets that will activate if you go beyond the ring which will promptly kill you and attribute it to the Guardians. You probably won't wander out there much, but the floaty Ghost that is parked under a little ledge can often get out of control and send you further out of the ring than you had planned.

The underground tunnels have several entrances, all of which are sealed by an ever present force field. These shields can be walked through, but grenades and bullets bounce off of them. The standoffs between these barriers are already epic. Once you do go inside for a fight, grenades and close combat weapons reign supreme.

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Good game types: VIP, Juggernaut, Oddball, Team Crazy King of the Hill, Team Slayer

Reminds us of: The battle for Hoth in Empire Strikes Back.

Cool things we noticed: You can stick a long barrel out of the force fields and fire from the safety of inside. The Power Drainer is a serious force down in the tunnels.

Valhalla
Basic Layout: Valhalla is a large, symmetrical map with a base on either end. A creek bisects the swelling hills and shows off the one part of Halo3 that is, believe it or not, beautiful: The water. Valhalla sports gorgeous, realistic water. In fact, get shot out of the air and fall in the water and you're dead body will float a moment before losing buoyancy. On either side of the canyon are small underpasses that provide protection from snipers.

The only aspect to disrupt the symmetry of Valhalla is the small rise on the eastern side. Here a machinegun turret overlooks the creek and can prove valuable real estate in object-based games such as CTF.

Of course, the famed feature of Valhalla are the man cannons equipped in both bases. These wonderful creations propel a Spartan or a vehicle 50 feet in the air. It's an aerial ballet that often ends in satisfying kills -- either for the flying Spartan or a shooter on the ground.

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Good game types: 2-Flag CTF, Assault, Crazy King of the Hill, Territories

Reminds us of: Blood Gulch

Cool things we noticed: We noticed the man cannon, of course. It's easily the most ridiculous thing to appear in Halo. Yes, even more ridiculous than the Gravemind. Beyond the launcher, there's the turret on the Eastern side of the map. While it's useful to man the turret from its planted position, by hitting the X button, you can dislodge the turret and carry it manually. You'll move slowly, but you will kick some serious ass.

Valhalla is similar to Blood Gulch, but might prove superior. In Blood Gulch, it often turned into a crazy battle of wild Warthogs dodging incoming rockets. In Valhalla it's wild Warthogs against missile pods, mobile gun turrets and lasers. Oh yeah, it's a whole new level of insanity.

Thanks to http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/787/787945p1.html for sharing the news with us!