Call of Duty: Black Ops ‘Annihilation’ DLC Review
The maps in it represented some of the best work Treyarch had done so far, finding great balance and variety in each one so that players had a lot to explore and were thrust into a lot of situations, without the feeling that any one class — be it a dual-shotgun-toting sprinter or a 12-year-old sniping savant — could own any of the maps for long periods. The paths and planning of all the maps were just, really, brilliant.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Annihilation (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3, PC)
Release Date: June 28, 2011
And then there was Call of the Dead, Escalation’s Zombies offering, which worked in a celebrity voice cast with the likes of Danny Trejo, Robert Englund, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michael Rooker; a huge map; a really involved Achievement to hunt down; and an unstoppable evil George A. Romero, the father of the modern zombie film and the director behind Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. The whole thing was dripping in awesome and service to horror movie fans and Call of Duty fans alike.
The latest map pack, Annihilation, does pretty well the things that Escalation did well, and there’s nothing to really complain about. The pack is the same price — 1,200 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live, about $14.99 when it launches everywhere else in about a month. But this new pack doesn’t feel like the big step foward that Escalation was over its predecessor, First Strike. Those two packs show a clear and definitive progression in Treyarch’s skill in creating great gaming experiences to keep Black Ops relevant to players, in multiple sphere. Annihilation, while still solid, isn’t nearly as big an improvement — if it’s much of an improvement at all.
Like the other map packs, Annihilation packs four regular multiplayer maps and one Zombies map. The standard maps are another set of 1960s locations, mostly with a strong mix of interior and exterior locations and different various engagement ranges. All four maps are pretty solid, although they also aren’t as remarkable as those in the previous DLC set.
Hazard is probably the most memorable of the four maps, but it’s actually a rework of Call of Duty: World at War’s “Cliffside” map, transplanted onto a golf course and resort. It’s a strong map, although the entire middle is dominated by snipers. Alongside that central run are a few long portions with more cover, where team-based short range battles are possible, but really, the map is built to be a haven for long-range players.
I’m torn on Hazard, because not only is it a beautiful place to fight with a few really great tight spots where battles get heated, but it’s also a map filled with sniper positions with plenty of flanking opportunities. On the one hand, all that sniper dominance is frustrating — the entire center of the map is often rendered off-limits; on the other, any team of two or more making a concerted effort to flank around any given position can do so to great effect. Still, Hazard feels a bit like a one-trick pony, and players who don’t bring ACOG scopes or spend hours training to be crack shots might feel a little frustrated.
A Russian missile site that feels a bit similar to the construction site map in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Silo is much more close quarters than Hazard, with a few good locations for long-range fighting but generally constraining battles to more mid-range encounters. The whole map is littered with interiors and exteriors blending into one another, so it’s filled with corners that make for great ambush locations.
While Hazard is the best-looking map in the pack, Silo is probably the most fun. No player class has an easy time dominating on Silo — a shotgun-sprinter will do well until he finds himself in one of the more open dirt pathways, and a sniper is vulnerable from so many sides that staying put is never a good idea. Silo also feels like it engenders the most strategy of any of the maps, giving players great opportunities to gain the attention of a couple of wayward enemies and lead them into any number of ambushes or traps. No battle is decided before it begins on Silo, largely because the map is put together well so that players who think about what they’re doing — and are willing to beat a strategic retreat now and then — will find great success there.
The weakest map is Hangar 18, largely because it engenders the most frustration. It’s set up a lot like Escalation’s “Stockpile” map, in which there’s a central interior location (a hangar in this case) ringed by outbuildings and pathways that cut in and out of it. The center is a massive hangar that’s split into two levels, with a Blackbird SR-71 sticking out of it. The map is 100-percent flanking situations and getting caught in the back.
Hangar 18 isn’t a map that’s about strategy as much as it is the constant battle over control of the hangar. There are a whole lot of entry points into that area, and fighting has a tendency to take place basically right in the center of it. Passing through the middle is pretty much a terrible idea at all times, but trying to cut through to catch enemies in the back is a toss-up as well. It’s a hard map to do well on, and it tends to encourage camping because moving around it can be so volatile.
Finally, there’s Drive-In, which is similar to “Convoy” from Escalation. It’s half-RV park, half-rest stop, with a large open area overlooked by a sniper nest in the giant drive-in movie screen. The sides of the map, like most of the DLC maps up to now, are longer corridors with lots of different terrain — the rest-stop side has two stores across from one another with lots of tables and debris in between, while the trailer park side has a long trailer with a debris-strewn field behind it.
Drive-in is a weird case, because it has a lot of different kinds of areas — interiors, exteriors, close-quarters combat zones and lots of areas that lend themselves to mid-range — but it also seems easy to dominate with a shotgun-sprint character. Snipers are deadly for a bit, but they’re left pretty vulnerable. Meanwhile, there are just enough blind corners and other close-range locations that sneaky players can do some real damage. The best way to counteract that is to stick with teammates, so if you can make your team work together, Drive-In can be a tactical and fun experience.
“Call of the Dead,” Escalation’s Zombies map, was a huge departure from the norm as far as Zombies maps. It was an even unto itself, and it included so many new hazards and such a labyrinthine, interesting map to play, that it defined that map pack much more than any other part.
Shangri La brings some new things to the table as far as Zombies, and as a setting it’s a cool map. It’s also a little tighter and a little smaller in some ways than many of the other zombies maps, and it feels like it was designed to give players a different kind of challenge than they might be used to with Call of the Dead and the earlier maps. But after the veritable glut of awesome that was Call of the Dead, it feels a touch thin. Yes, there is a cool time-travel related Easter Egg, and Shangri La changes things up with its Raiders of the Lost Ark-style spike traps, but when it comes to new weapons and perks, there don’t seem to be that many.
That’s not a real complaint, it’s more of an observation: Shangri La is cool; it’s also not Call of the Dead. In fact, that applies to all of Annihilation. It’s a strong pack of DLC and fans will likely enjoy it, but it’s not the drop-dead must-purchase that Escalation was. It’s not that Treyarch hasn’t done a solid job here, but it’s like publishing a best-seller and then trying to write a sequel. There’s new material here and it’s worth playing, but there’s not the consistent level of greatness that the last DLC pack showed.
So it breaks down to fandom, really: if you’re itching for more Black Ops, Treyarch won’t disappoint you with Annihilation, and the same goes for die-hard Zombies fans. But more casual players looking for a fix should opt for Escalation first, then Annihilation, and finally First Strike, the original DLC pack, if you really need more to play. It’s not a bad way to spend 1,200 MS points, but it’s not the best Black Ops has to offer, either.
- Diverse levels
- Great atmosphere in all the map packs
- Shangri La Zombies level changes the strategy up some with its size
- Treyarch is clearly still learning and maps are better for the lessons gotten so far
- More room for snipers than previous packs
- Levels aren’t quite as well-balanced as in the last DLC pack
- It’s tough for Shangri La to follow Call of the Dead, which was amazing
- Maps are starting to feel more alike to previous offerings than different
- Level designs aren’t quite as inspired as they were last time, and some of the maps (Hangar 18) are a bit weak
Final Score: 80/100