Game Review: Call Of Duty: Black Ops – First Strike
Release: 2/1/2011 (Xbox 360); 3/3/2011 (PS3); TBA (PC)
Genre: First Person Shooter
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 (PC to be announced at a future date)
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15)
ESRB Rating: M
Call of Duty: Black Ops has become one of the most successful Xbox 360 titles, amassing over $1 billion worldwide (across all platforms) in a very short time (only Avatar has amassed as much money is as short a time), so it should come as no surprise that the first Map Pack is available so soon. Adding 4 multiplayer maps and one Zombie map, First Strike appears to bring a decent amount to the table for the same price as their previous offerings. What’s nice here is the maps are all new (no rehashes from previous titles) so you will have to bring your A game to get up to speed quick on what you’re encountering. For this review, we’ll take an in-depth look at each of the maps and how they play so that when you pick this pack up, you’ll be able to hit the ground running.
Set up in Germany (duh) along the border of East and West Germany, you will this map features a variety of combat scenarios for all player types. One of my two favorites, this map has interior close combat areas and tight alleyways, as well as moderate range areas and long range sniper spots. There’s high and low vantage points, and in objective based game modes, you will often find yourself trying to capture a spot in the middle of the map, which is must be defended on all sides from assault. While the aesthetics are nice, the main takeaway from this map is a large kill-zone that runs between the two walls (and highlighted clearly both on radar and with on-screen cues). While it may seem faster to run between the wall walkways, you will likely find your death at the hands of auto-turrets if you try. I made several attempts to cross and can tell you, without some assistance, you will die every time. You’ll need to burn some well placed smoke if you want to take advantage of the cut-through. Otherwise the board is a decent size; not so large that you will go long without seeing people, but not so small you can’t get time to set up. There was some sniping going on in this map, but not a ton of camping, as so much of this board is out in the open. It’s not exactly graphically stimulating, with drab streets in the dead of winter, but little touches (one side is industrial, the other commercial) add up to a great sense of atmosphere. You’ll always want to vote for this one. Rating: 8/10
When I first read about this board, I was psyched; a smallish map involving a hockey arena (note: stadium != arena), perfect for my run-and-gun style. Then I played it. It’s mostly outdoors, with about a quarter of the stadium playable. Yes, you can shoot an oversized hockey puck into the net if you have the time. No, it won’t score a goal. Yes, this is still moderately fun. Back to the map, the biggest issue I have with this map is the number of areas to corner camp. While I understand corner-camping is usually a temporary nuisance until the maps are learned and you know where to look, there are just an abundance of corners on this map. Sadly, this also leads to an abundance of camping. There are 3 sniper perches at various spots in the map that provide a view over most of the area, and there are some close quarter combat pinch points if you try to stay out of the main area, but I just felt this map didn’t quite live up to the potential it had. Graphically, the map is nicely detailed and bright, so you can admire the scenery when getting popped by yet another corner camper for the 12th time. Good medium to short range map, just don’t go in thinking run-and-gun or you’ll get murdered. Rating: 6/10
Another snow map, Discovery is a long and narrow map that devolves into several pinch points. There is good sniping to be had on this map, but fortunately there are ways to avoid the snipers if you follow certain routes. Of course, those routes will end up being hotly contested and are often close quarters, so be ready for some close to medium ranged combat. This map also features some destructible environments in the form of three bridges. You’ll likely never actually catch someone on the bridge, but destroying them can cause people to get cornered, or be forced into a jump they might not make. There’s some opportunity for corner camping on this map, but generally traffic moves fairly well, with contested hot zones outside the sniper’s view. You should also get a medal if you can run from one end of the map to the other on the long platform that connects the two spawns. It’s the fastest way, but it’s in the open to snipers, and pretty much everyone else with a pulse. Think of it like Berlin Wall without the auto-turrets; sure you could make it across with some help, but you’re probably better off trying a different route. The board has some nice details but, with the snow backdrop, it gets a little washed out. Rating: 7/10
Rain. This is the first thing you’ll notice, and it will make spotting movement a little tougher since you have so much movement on screen already. Fortunately, it’s not interactive (it does not get in your eyes or jam your gun), so once you get used to it, it’s more just static. Kowloon ends up as the other of my two favorites mainly because it again offers good balance between run-and-gun, camping and sniping. This ends up being a battle over a few pinch points, and on this map there are several ways to go to get to the same spot, so you don’t have to fall into predictable patterns to get there. Things can feel a little claustrophobic as you go through the tight alleys between buildings or even tighter interiors. Being on rooftops, you will have to make jumps from one building to the next at times, adding a sense of danger to the mix. Some excellent chases can be had here, as people dart in and out of corners and buildings, you can lose your pursuer if you’re quick enough. The other draw to this map is the zipline, but to be honest, you’ll likely avoid using it once you die a few times on it. In objective based games you might get away with it once in a while, but generally, hopping on one is a fast way to meet bullets as you fly helplessly through the air. Still, the map is good fun, and traffic tends to move well, focusing in on a few hubs that offer good vantage points over several areas of the map. It’s also a good size, similar to Berlin Wall; large enough to establish yourself, but not so large you won’t see anyone. Rating: 9/10.
Ascension is the zombie map included in this map-pack, and is an excellent addition to the zombie offerings. Quick on the humor, you’ll immediately warm to the characters as they belittle their creators for putting them in such a predictable situation, but that’s soon forgotten as the zombies start pouring in. Set in cold-war Russia at the site of what appears to be a nuclear launch testing facility, you will work your way through indoor and outdoor environments. The outdoor areas are a nice touch; things are still tight, but you almost breathe a little easier seeing open sky for a little while. There are a variety of traps that can be activated (or sometimes just go on their own) to help you thin out the numbers, but this batch of zombies is a tough one; even with the outdoor areas you will find yourself quickly overwhelmed as zombies scale the walls to get behind you. Be ready to move, and bring some competent friends, because you’ll need all the help you can get. The environments are great, with great humor as well, so if you’ve enjoyed zombies so far, you’re in for a real treat with this one. I won’t spoil some of the later surprises and weapons you get; suffice to say, you’ll like them. Rating: 9/10.
The only thing left to say is what this map pack isn’t; an expansion pack. You do not receive any new perks, weapons, character levels, or prestige levels in this map pack, so those looking to extend the game in this way may want to wait for the next offering. This is strictly 5 maps (4 if you don’t play zombies), and no expanding on the single player campaign. There’s also no expansion of game modes (Aside from a “First Strike” filter that will let you play a limited selection of game types only on First Strike maps). The game handles matchmaking well; if you are in a party with all First Strike enabled members, you’ll only join games of the same. If you have people without the pack in your party, you’ll also only join similar setups; this prevents people who have the pack from being matched up with people who don’t (unless voluntarily doing so in a party).
vttym’s take: All that being said, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this map pack just wasn’t a sum of its parts; it has some really cool maps and neat elements, but it all felt a little been there, done that to me. Yes, there are new maps and yes, everyone will have them, but I didn’t walk away from any of them with a particular “wow.” You know what you’re getting with Call of Duty map-packs; more variety in an effort to extend the life of the multiplayer offerings until the next release. It is nice to see some love being given to snipers with some of these maps, so if that’s your game style, you certainly want to check it out. The interactive elements of the boards are hit-and-miss; I like the thinking behind them, but they often don’t add much to the maps themselves. I’ve seen far worse map packs for the same price; if you enjoyed multiplayer so far, you’ll be wise to pick this up. These are solid, well constructed maps; a safe play for the most part, just don’t expect it to make you love the game if you didn’t already (or were starting to tire of it).
+ More multiplayer maps and a great zombie map
+ Focus on snipers was much needed (without being overpowering)
+ Interactive map elements is a step in the right direction
– Interactive map elements more gimmick than substance
– No added perks, weapons, or modes
Final Score: 7/10
A final treat to you, a grenade throwback kill on Berlin Wall by yours truly: