Game Review: Call Of Duty: Black Ops – Escalation
Release: 5/3/2011 (Xbox 360); 6/3/2011 (PS3); 7/3/2011 (PC)
Genre: First Person Shooter
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Players: 1-4 (2-16 online)
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15)
ESRB Rating: M
Call of Duty: Black Ops continues its dominance over online gameplay hours, and the folks at Treyarch know just how to keep you coming back: more DLC! Just 3 months after the first released DLC, Escalation follows the same formula by offering 5 maps; 4 standard multiplayer maps and a new zombie map. All of the maps are new (no remakes), so everyone will be on a level playing field while figuring out where to go and what to do. Similar to my review for First Strike, I will give you an overview of each map, with what to expect and how it plays, so that you know whether this latest batch will be worth your time and money. I will say up front that these maps offer nothing new in the form of perks or weapons, and only the zombie map has a slight (but good) variation on the gameplay, so if you’ve been underwhelmed so far, this probably won’t make a believer out of you. That being said, on with the maps!
Both teams start on either end of a section of the highway that’s seen better days. A ravaged assortment of military vehicles scatter the area, but players who are quick on the draw can run up and try their luck at some long range pot shots, as both teams, if they run straight, will be in view of each other within seconds. There are sniper perches on either end that provide cover over the center highway section, and for once have rear protection (but are vulnerable below, and can be accessed from two entrances). There are also scramble areas around the outer edge of the map for more up-close combat, featuring a motel and a gas station as landmarks to run through. This map caters to just about all styles of player, is medium sized, and is mostly outdoors (there are some interior sections, but the bulk of the pinchpoints are outside). It’s balanced, and is ideal for objective based playlists. There’s also a couple of little easter eggs in this map, including a wanted poster featuring a 14 year old accused of “pwning n00bs.” Little things like people running through the gas station setting off a bell (which can help a nearby sniper know someone is coming up behind them) make for excellent touches. Rating: 9/10
Touted as the largest map in Black Ops, Hotel actually features both a two-story hotel and two-story casino at opposite ends of the map, and is also well suited for objective based game-types. While the map may be considered large, it’s never without action: movement is funneled into either the center area around a pool and bar, or the outer fringes which are narrow, two level passageways. While the map is very open (hotel and casino aside), you can still fight close to medium range combat if you stay out of the middle area (which is ideal for sniping). I initially thought this board might play like Rainbow 6 when I heard about elevators and hotels, but this is not the case. The elevators are slightly gimmicky (and you generally won’t land a surprise attack in them thanks to a loud “DING” before the door opens; unless you are thinking decoy), but I will say that in one game, me and 3 others on my team piled in and unleashed hell on a room full of bad guys, so it does have some utility (and feeling of awesomeness, I just don’t expect that will work once people become more comfortable with the board). Sides are just slightly imbalanced, since one side has an elevator in the sniper room, while the other has the elevators outside the sniper room, allowing for a little more defensive security. A snipe-fest unless you stay to the edge, it still is a great addition to the collection. Rating: 8/10
This map features another set of interactive elements; a pair of metal doors that can be opened and closed (with a loud audible alarm when such an action occurs). These doors are on either end of a central weapons facility around which the rest of the board takes place. The map basically devolves into a swarming of the building from various points, with spawn points constantly moving around. While some may think the doors are more cosmetic (there are several other entrances that the building can be accessed by), they play a critical role in objective based missions, and can be useful as an alarm of sorts if you’re inside the building and near it. This map has a lot of pinch points and tends to see players moving around the map rather than sniping (there are some areas for sniping, though they are fairly exposed and have limited coverage), so it’s ideal for close to medium range combat. I enjoyed this map the most, but could see where some people might find it a little drab. Rating: 9/10
I will say this up front; your Attack Dogs kill streak is not replaced with Attack Monkeys. Or Attack Elephants. The zoo is, in fact, devoid of any animals (though remains can be found in various spots). A decent medium/large sized map, Zoo actually features a lot of close range combat opportunities despite it’s outside setting. You can move in and out of various exhibits (I particularly liked the reptile house, where you can break the glass and hide inside to pick off others that run through), and use the variety of terrains to disguise your movements. I could see this map, of all the new maps, being the most camped (it wasn’t too bad when I was reviewing this, but I saw the potential for a Stadium-like attitude if people wanted to play it that way). There is an open battlezone in the middle of the map, and a monorail that can be walked on gives a view of the entire play area (at the expense of being completely exposed to enemy fire). You’ll have to figure out for yourself which buildings can and cannot be jumped on; the game does not do a good job of making this intuitive. I also experienced some graphical pop-in on this map; textures would appear slightly low-res as I approached them (they’d be high-res by the time I was close, but it was noticeable). This map has the best atmosphere, but loses out to the others in playability (though it’s still fun). Rating: 7/10.
Call of the Dead
The zombie map Call of the Dead easily steals the show in this pack. It changes up the current zombie formula by adding a constant threat in the form of a persistent and seemingly invincible super zombie that exists from the first round. So in addition to trying to plan your route and kill the waves of typical zombie hordes, you must also manage the lumbering hulk that is always pursuing. And if you should happen to hit it with a stray bullet, you’ll find that your ability to live is reduced considerably. (Pro-tip: don’t shoot it in the first place). This twist aside, there are a ton of easter eggs to be found, and the characters that are featured are also straight out of zombie lore (as seen in the picture above). This map is intense, plays great, and continues the excellent track record of zombie maps in Black Ops. It’s very tough, though, so be prepared to die a lot. Find capable friends, and see what damage you can do. Rating: 10/10.
The only opportunity for this map pack is a minor gripe that existed with First Strike: the lack of game modes for players wanting to just play this set of maps. You’re given the standards of Team Deathmatch, CTF and Search and Destroy, but Hardcore fans will be forced to play through all available maps in hopes of playing some of the new ones. It’s a minor annoyance that doesn’t detract from the maps themselves (or my score), but it seems to be a silly omission from an otherwise solid offering.
vttym’s take: Unlike the First Strike pack, which was good but left a bad taste in my mouth, Escalation features just about everything a Black Ops fan could hope for in a MAP pack (we all want more perks and weapons and levels, but you know going into this that these are just map additions). 4 fun, balanced maps and a zombie map that changes the gameplay slightly to give the experience an even more fast paced feel to it. As I stated from the start, your enjoyment of this pack will directly correlate to your enjoyment of Black Ops as whole; there’s nothing in the multiplayer maps that will change your mind, and the changes in the zombie map aren’t enough to warrant purchasing the pack solely for it. All told, this is a solid addition to the group, and the better of the two offerings for Black Ops currently.
+ Can’t argue with more maps
+ Excellent zombie gameplay tweak (and great characters)
+ Good use of interactive elements in the 2 maps that use them
- Some minor graphical and technical issues (mostly seen in Zoo)
Final Score: 9/10