Call of Duty Black Ops – Annihilation DLC Hands-On

The third Black Ops map pack, Annihilation, hits the market today and I went down to Treyarch to get hands on via a tournament between NBA stars Jason Terry and Rudy Gayand. I also got a chance to speak with Game Design Director David Vonderhaar about the new DLC as well as Josh Olin, Treyarch’s Community Manager about the PC side of things.

The Maps

The thing about the multiplayer maps for Black Ops is that there hasn’t been a bad one yet and with each new pack they just keep getting better. As far as Annihilation goes, this still holds true. The four new maps – Silo, Drive-In, Hazard, and Hanger 18 – will certainly hold different appeal to different play styles and match types, but they’re all solidly built around core tenants that Treyarch has continued to refine over time.

Silo is a relatively open map with some serious choke points tangled in. Count on all ranges of engagements as you move from long open stretches to tight winding interiors up to  tactical (but vulnerable) snipe posts. Silo really seems to support all loadout styles but therefore requires more pre-planning with your teammates if you want to ensure you’re properly outfitted. And while you’re planning, get ready for Silo’s real jab, the first engagements. Teams start very close so having an early plan will pay off.

Like Launch, Silo has multiple rockets that will fly into the sky, shaking the field as they emerge. Timing an aggressive offense during this period is very satisfying as your team’s movements and shots are muffled by the rockets’ fire. Just don’t plan on staying in a nest long without proper coverage. Silo has one of the most vulnerable sniping positions of all the maps.

Drive-In, my personal favorite, puts a big emphasis on fast, aggressive play but includes a few smart design choices that keep the chaos under control. A small-sized symmetrical map, not unlike Nuketown, Drive-In pushes most players to the tight and cluttered side and back routes. And I do mean clutter. There’s one area with a rusty trailer just begging for aggressive Ghosts to hide out.

But eventually everyone is led to the center where a wide open patch dares anyone to cross. This space is bordered by two opposite aerial vantages that both hold a good view of the map. Unlike Nuketown, these longshot accommodating posts are actually very viable positions and can be easily fortified by a cooperative team. Though the majority of Drive-In’s engagements take place up close, don’t count out the value of long-range fighters.

The design of Hangar 18 plays on Area 51 myths and includes a running (but stationary) Blackbird, experimental energy core, futuristic research stations, and plenty more surprises for Treyarch and Call of Duty fans. As far as actual gameplay goes, Hangar 18 holds some interesting decisions. The emphasis is on medium and long range engagements but with the right team you could definitely do some damage with a shotgun. There are a few tight hallways but most areas have a little air. This is where Hangar 18′s uniqueness shows.

Given the size of the actual hangar, the interior locations were actually quite lofty whereas the exteriors felt somewhat confined.  There are definite exceptions to this, but  it holds truer here than any other map. Verticality must be managed in the criss-cross of walkways and don’t be afraid to post on one side of the Blackbird if your team has your back. But lone wolves be warned, the unusual mix of interiors and exteriors will punish players who get caught too far separated from their pack.

The final map, Hazard is loosely based on the World at War map Cliffside. Taking place on a bombed out Cuban golf course, this is one of the weirdest and certainly brightest maps for the game. The center field is huge and wide open. You better have a damn good reason to even step foot on the golf green because there is zero cover once you do. In the front of the course is a double-layered cove-like area that’s darkness compensates somewhat for its openness, making it a potential spot for long-range fighters.

On the opposite side are a series of small buildings that create tight, tense, up-close fire fights. The outer edges of the map are magic. Raised from the center these areas use walls incredibly effectively to create dynamic ranges both horizontally and vertically. One wall can provide cover against a path straight ahead as well as down and to the side. Your team had better have its shit together if you want to own on Hazard. Especially when you inevitably find yourself trying to capture Bravo in Domination.

Whether you prefer fast-paced close-range fights like me, or want to pick off targets from across the map, Annihilation is going to have something for you. Probably within each map. This pack represents an accumulation of knowledge by a team constantly learning. Variety, and therefore dynamic tactics are key here. Now would be a great time to start polishing your team-playing because you’re going to need the help.

From the Game Design Director

David Vonderhaar was kind enough to sit down and answer some of my questions regarding Annihilation and map packs in general.

The big trend I’ve noticed with each of Treyarch’s map packs, and especially Annihilation, is a push toward offering a variety of engagement ranges within each map. Was this a response to player feedback or always part of the grand plan?

The way that it generally works is that we’re trying to get a lot better at knowing going in what kind of engagement ranges that we want to have players fight in. And make sure that we build diversity in the context of the pack, as opposed to the context of a specific map. That was something that, at least for this map pack, when we started planning and started thinking it through, we were very cautious of. Different players like different play styles and different maps… and having variety is important across the game, across an individual pack, or across all three map packs. And it’s very difficult to do well, it requires a lot of foresight. But here [we got] a really good chance with this map pack to do that. And you can feel a difference.

So how does a map get started? Is it in choosing the primary engagement style first and then building a level around this decision?

[That's] where we’re heading. You can start to see it. We’re very concerned about pathing through the map. You want to make sure players can navigate the map in a consistent fashion. You want your main paths, to say, be wider than your flanking paths – tell a vocabulary in a visual story there. And what we’ve learned over time is that we weren’t always good at that. [But] we’ve gotten better at that and it’s become just part of our D.N.A. … So you’re seeing in the map packs this evolution of our thinking, and Annihilation represents exactly what we’re talking about here… And I think anything Treyarch does long-term will be more cognizant of it.

There is clearly already a ton to think about when designing a map, so then how much of a challenge is it to make maps enjoyable in a variety of match types?

It’s a ridiculously tough challenge. TDM (Team Deathmatch) is the most popular game type and we can’t sell that experience short in any way. Maps have traditionally started off with making sure they’re fine with TDM, and then as we start layering in the game modes we start building, say, a destination location or an overwatch location to deal with the game mode’s specific needs… We’re not afraid to say, ‘Look, this map is just never going to work so well in Demolition, so don’t have it in the play list’. We can do that. It’s okay. You can’t be afraid of that kind of thing.

David and the rest of the team are clearly very proud of Black Ops as a whole, its individual map packs, and Annihilation as a final DLC launch. I’d say their pride isn’t misplaced. Sure micro (or not so) transactions are a pain for players but if you like Black Ops multiplayer and you want new and consistently excellent maps, you’ve got to get Annihilation.

Wait, people play Black Ops on PC?

Of course they do! In fact they just got access to the game’s Mod Tools and Treyarch’s Community Manager Josh Olin was able to take a minute with me to talk a little about the PC side of Black Ops.

So what was the reaction to the release?

The fans really wanted it. The modding community is not what it once was… but there still is that very core fan base that likes to tweak and modify so we released the tools that are going to allow them to, basically, make any mod they want. Minus mapping [since] we didn’t release Radiant.

Not quite a response to the question but it’s good to know Treyarch listened to a drive from the fans. So what are they hoping to see come from this?

That’s the thing. You can’t really know. You can’t know what’s going to happen, that’s why you need to make the tools available. The fans, the modders, those guys are the ones that are creative. Those are the guys that are going to blow you away. They’re going to make something you never thought of with your game and you’re just going to be taken aback. The obvious ones though, the ones we’re already seeing are in development – things like realism [and] competitive mods.

What about future tools?

I really couldn’t speak to future projects, but in terms of with Black Ops, if bugs come up, problems come up, we’ll patch them, we’ll fix the tools. We plan on supporting the tools. And I know that our PC team is still investigating Radiant, the potential release of Map Tool. You’ll want to follow me (@JD_2020) and also our PC Director (@PCDev) on Twitter and he’s going to keep everyone updated on the progress of that.

As GameFront readers know, the Mod Tools were released very quietly in a game update. What’s with the lack of hype?

Well, I announced it on Twitter. We announced it on the forums, where the core audience is. There’s no big marketing behind it. It’s not like you can make a trailer for mod tools. But we definitely talked about it and the fans who wanted it, the fans who were looking for it – they definitely knew about it.

Maybe a commercial would be a bit of a stretch but if there’s any publisher that could spare some cash for a little core marketing, it’s Activision.

In the end, the decision is simple. If you’re someone who hates having to buy additions to a retail game after launch, you won’t get this, or any, map pack based on principal. But then again, if you’re that person, you probably didn’t even read this article. So for everyone else, if you’re a fan of Black Ops multiplayer, do yourself a favor and get Annihilation. Just make sure you’re ready to work with a team since these are the most matured and workable maps of all. I’ll see you out there.

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2 Comments on Call of Duty Black Ops – Annihilation DLC Hands-On


On August 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm

how do i play team deathmatch?


On August 26, 2011 at 12:06 pm

how do i play team deathmatch on annihilation maps?