I hear three consecutive beeps, and I tense up. I used to believe this reaction was thanks to Mario Kart 64 or some other Nintendo 64 game. Years later, I realized it was from playing Halo 2 on the weekends when I was younger — and only weekends, because my grade-conscious Latinx parents wanted what was best for me. And while I enjoyed Big Team Battles on sprawling maps like Coagulation and Zanzibar, I loved cutting my teeth in Halo’s smaller arena maps.
My favorite of these was always Lockout. The map was just a large square with four outlying areas. But its simplicity is what makes it the quintessential Halo arena. Designed by Max Hoberman and Chris Carney for Halo 2, the map acts as a crash course in flow, or how a player seamlessly moves through a space. I spent so much time in the icy installation, above a bottomless pit, that I began settling disputes within my friends by playing it together.
Lockout’s simplicity is deceptive. Sure, it’s a basically a few rooms connected by bridges. But its corridors and tight turns push players into a traversal flow state, as players figure out the best routes for attacking and evading enemies. Combatants move in micro circles in order to hunt other players, going up and down three levels as they check for powerful weapons and account for varied enemy sightlines.
Moving through the arena requires weighing strategic options. There are multiple routes to get to the Battle Rifle tower, for example. Checking the energy sword location on your way to that landmark could mean jumping from the main square on the second level, and taking the ramp up, then returning to the course you started on and continuing to hunt. In contrast, you could take a more conservative approach, going along the lower level to avoid being caught in the open space of the main square.
Lockout also worked especially well for players who mastered the original Halo series’ various jumps, making the map even more of a playground. Risk-takers could move quickly through levels by taking leaps between walkways above the infinite abyss. An expert would just maneuver through the primary hardpoints, such as the gravity lift or the Sniper Tower. These points doubled as significant orientation markers for adept players, adding to the interconnectedness of the arena.
As Bungie and 343 Industries added more Halo maps to each installment of the franchise, I kept looking for the next Lockout. But I never found a multi-player map that could match how good the original felt to play. Even after its remake in Halo 3 as Blackout, I missed the cooler hues of the original map. And though Certain Affinity made minor changes for Halo 2: Anniversary’s Lockdown — like extending the Elbow below the Grav Lift with additional cover — it still didn’t give me the same rush that I was looking for.
Listen: I love The Rig, Midship, and The Pit. But they don’t trigger those same youthful brainwaves I craved when I jumped into Lockout. Maybe I’ll just have to accept that Lockout is always in the Halo conversation because its flow is perfect. I don’t think I’ll find something like it for a while.