This past week Activision released its second set of downloadable content (DLC) for Call of Duty: Black Ops, aptly titled “Escalation”. This map pack includes four new multiplayer maps and a new Zombie level as well. It is only available on Xbox Live at this point and costs around 15 bucks (1200 points). This may likely be the last of the DLC for Black Ops as around this time of year Activision starts ramping up the hype machine for the next Call of Duty Installment. Besides Modern Warfare 2 only saw two sets of DLC map packs, so it is reasonable to assume we will only see two this time around as well. If this is the last of the DLC for Black Ops, the gang at Treyarch is signing out with a bang as this next round of DLC only serves to enhance the already stellar Black Ops online experience.
Just like the previous map pack, “Escalation” doesn’t come cheap. If you have already picked up the previous map pack and plan on downloading the new one, then do the math. You will have invested a fair amount of coin into the game. But make no bones about it “Escalation” is intended for gamers who play Black Ops more than once every few months. It is for the online gamer who has an invested a decent amount of time into the Black Ops online experience. This being said, if you have set the game aside for the past couple of months, and are looking for reason to dive ‘balls deep’ into the game again, then “Escalation” is a great excuse to get back online again.
As I mentioned at the top, “Escalation” includes 4 new multiplayer maps: “Zoo”, “Hotel”, “Convoy”, “Stockpile” and one new zombie map named “Call of the Dead”. The new Zombie map isn’t just any Zombie map either. This map is based on the movies by George A. Romero who is considered a god in the Zombie movie genre, but I will get to the Zombie map later below. The game’s new multiplayer maps however play out the same way as the rest of the games multiplayer maps. None of the maps are retreads or reimagined versions of original maps. All the maps are original, and they are not exactly small either. I would characterize the maps as medium to large, offering up more opportunities for snipers to hunker down and pick you off. Each map is quite a bit different than the other so the variance is quite nice. You can play the maps against other CoD gamers or play them in co-op mode in Combat Training. The maps are all visually stunning, as expected, and well balanced. This means that no one particular spawn spot has an advantage over another.
Once you download the maps (which took some time this time as it appears the Xbox Live network was having some slow-downs on release day) you will notice once again that they are placed in a Map Pack menu screen. Unfortunately, none of the maps were cycled through the main multiplayer modes. Meaning you have to play the new maps exclusively unless you jump out of the “Escalation” map pack menu. This is fine for now, but eventually I would hope they cycle the maps with the other maps in the game.
The first map I had a chance to play was “Hotel.” Is a medium to large sized map that features plenty of tight corners around the perimeter. It is arguably the most visually appealing of the new maps. The map, as you would guess, takes place in a Cuban hotel resort like setting. Obviously, the facilities have been abandoned so you and all other online CoD’ers are free to shoot up a storm. The middle of the map features an empty pool with a casino on one end of the map and a conference room area on the other side. In this map you will make your way through a steamy sauna, bath houses, gazebos, outdoor showers, and an outdoor cabana. There are sniping spots on either end of the map overlooking the main area. I was frequently picked-off by those sniping suckers which made for some frustrating moments. Nevertheless, you are vulnerable if you remain perched in those sniping spots for any length of time. At the end of the day, “Hotel” was my favorite of the new maps and I am certain it will be for many others as well.
The next map I played was “Convoy.” This map features a rundown and broken overpass and elevated walkways. The map features convoy trucks located throughout the map that provide for some great cover and fantastic explosions. Much like “Hotel” there are opportunities for sniping on those elevated walkways. ‘Run and Gun’ strategists will have some success if they stay away from the middle of the map, but for the most part long range gunners do well in this map. Visually, it is an appealing map but nothing that will leave you awestruck as so many other Call of Duty multiplayer maps have in the past. This being said, it was a map I had a lot of success so there is something to be said about that.
Next up, “Zoo” is set in an abandoned Russian zoo. This is arguably the busiest map of the bunch as the level of detail is simply stunning. The contrast in colours and the detail with each of the abandoned animal exhibits is rendered is very cool. Sorry folks, you will not be able to mow down any livestock but there are plenty of opportunities to mow down your opponents. This is a mid-sized map which features virtually no hiding spots for snipers. There is an old monorail track which circles about half of the map, which provides for some nice sniping spots but you are very vulnerable on the track. At its core, this is a ‘run and gun’ map in every sense of the word and it is a hoot.
Last but not least, when it comes to the multiplayer maps, is “Stockpile.” Out of all the maps it is arguably the most forgettable and unfortunately it is another dreaded snow map. This is a medium to large sized map. This map features some nice landscapes and buildings scattered throughout but otherwise I found nothing incredibly original or innovative with this map.
For those of you who enjoy Zombie Mode, the Map Pack includes a new zombie level called “Call of the Dead”. This is not just any zombie level as prior to actually launching into a game, some popular characters from action and horror films past and present make an appearance. Danny Trejo, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Robert Englund and Michael Rooker all appear in the opening cut scene as animated characters. It is a slick opening and very cool to hear all the actors lending their voice to the zombie level. The map itself is set on a ship, and instead of Nazi zombies you will face a ship crew that has been turned in the walking dead. It plays out like a typical zombie level but Treyarch did throw in a curveball. A zombiefied version of George A. Romero himself hunts you down with a giant lightning hammer. He slowly comes after you advancig throughout the map. It adds an element of strategy to the game zombie level and made for some intense moments.
Overall I must say Black Ops Escalation Map Pack is worth the purchase for me as I continue to play Black Ops on a semi-regular basis. It breathes some life into the game and should carry me through until the summer slow-down arrives. While there are, as expected, many hardcore COD gamers online, I was surprised to see many newcomers with lower rankings playing the game that had already downloaded the new maps. The new zombie level alone will be a hit with zombie fans as this will arguably be the most challenging zombie map to date. At the end of the day I would RECOMMEND online Xbox 360 gamers download the map pack as the new content is not bad value for the buck.