Call of Duty: Black Ops ‘Escalation’ DLC Review
Five months on from the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Treyarch and Activision have released the second pack of five multiplayer maps for their unstoppable, gajillion-selling title. Fans of Black Ops should be very pleased this time around — Escalation is a phenomenal map pack that, while still a little overpriced at 1,200 Microsoft Points or $14.99 on the Playstation Network, represents some of the best maps available in the game.
Unlike the last map pack to hit Black Ops, Escalation is strangely full of winners. The weakest of the maps, it could be argued, is Stockpile because of its excessive fighting in a centralized location, but for the most part, Escalation’s maps really do raise the bar. They all feel huge, and the pack’s Zombies map stands out as the best yet offered for that mode — that might (almost) be worth the price of admission on its own.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation (PS3 [Reviewed], XBox360, PC)
Release Date: June 10, 2011
Lets tear into each map separately.
Call of the Dead
Treyarch has really gone all out with its latest addition to the Zombies mode, which could be argued is Black Op’s best feature anyway — and this is the best map of that feature. First off, it comes packed with horror movie references, including triple-A voice work from Robert Englund (The A Nightmare on Elm Street series), Danny Trejo (Machete), Sarah Michelle Gellar (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and The Grudge) and Michael Rooker (“The Walking Dead” and Cliffhanger).
And lest we forget the star of the map pack, legendary zombie movie director George A. Romero, who is responsible for the Night of the Living Dead series and for whom the pack is named. He tools around Call of the Dead, itself a mix of Siberian ice flows, a lighthouse and a ship run aground, as an unstoppable juggernaut that goes insane when he’s shot and must be drawn into icy pools and cooled down, lest he run down the players and murder all of them. Romero also carries a big stage light that he uses as an electrified Thor’s hammer, and is an ever-present threat in an already tense game.
Call of the Dead includes a bunch of Easter eggs, including hidden meteorites that can be collected for Achievements and Trophies, and new weapons that change up the gameplay. It’s likely the most challenging map in Black Ops’ growing zombies repertoire and is really based more on completing its confusing and hidden objectives than just making it through as many waves of zombies as possible. It’s huge and complex and its celebrity dialogue adds a lot of humor to the experience. Long story short: Call of the Dead is the best Zombies map so far.
Back in the regular shooting-each-other side of multiplayer are four huge new maps with great balance that also are among the best Black Ops now has to offer. The first among those, and perhaps my new favorite, is Zoo. The map combines great visual atmosphere — a decrepit former attraction falling apart under its own weight in the middle of a stormy Russian city — with lots of interlocking corridors and roundabouts, concentrating fighting into three central straightaways but adding lots of elevated positions, some underground tunnels, and pathways that link all of it together in such a way that strategy is king here.
Lots of fighting in Zoo takes place in a central building, but it’s played best with groups of soldiers marauding its tight pathways through an overhead aquarium, a fake rock animal exhibit and an overhead monorail track. The fighting options are endless on Zoo, and once you understand how everything connects, the map is great fun to play on. It’s spread out enough that there’s a lot of ground to cover, but not so much that finding opponents to kill is too difficult. It also has just the right balance of flanking other players and getting flanked, requiring lone wolf types to be constantly moving or risk assassination.
The weakest of the maps could be Stockpile, although designating any of the four “weakest” is a hard thing to do given their size and breadth. Stockpile has a centralized missile control room that’s surrounded by a huge camp of buildings, creating so many interiors and corners to hide around that it’s fairly daunting. The unfortunate side effect of the outside being so complex is that most of the fighting takes place in that central control room building, and the team that owns that will generally own the match.
Stockpile starts to get great, however, when players venture outside the control room and start, for the most part, ignoring it. Teams can wage some seriously fun skirmishes in the outdoors and it leads to a lot of sprinting around, flanking action and smart tactics. Good players start to realize the best way to rack up a high score without taking a lot of deaths is to roam the exteriors, if you’re smart about it — unless you bring a strong-enough team that you can routinely dominate the central location. That means the map is capable of a mix of tactics that can make it really diverse, provided there are good enough players on it for that to happen.
With a central street in its center flanked by pedestrian crossings and other elevated positions on all sides, Convoy is the exact opposite of Stockpile — you can fight in that central location, but it’s really a bad idea. It also tends to draw the weaker players to the center, where they’re guaranteed to encounter an enemy even though they likely won’t last long, while the rest circle around the town that surrounds Convoy to find a mess of great locations, both interior and exterior. Convoy is, according to its signs, stuck between Los Angeles and Vegas, and throws off perfectly that 1960′s desert oasis vibe.
A diner, a rest stop, a gas station a small park, a trailer park, a motel — the places to take the fighting in Convoy feel almost endless and each section offers a very different kind of play style from the one just a few steps in either direction from it. Essentially, Convoy is a big circle and it’s easy to treat it as such, but Treyarch has infused the map with a lot of love and planning, filling it with great challenges that will keep players finding new ways to dominate one another for quite a while.
Hotel is simply massive. A labyrinthine space with multiple levels, a casino, a poolside area, a spa, and even elevators, it’s easy to get lost in this huge and beautiful map — which is likely why most players confine themselves the big central outdoor section, where they can snipe from elevated positions in two buildings flanking the pool and surrounding structures. That’s okay, because if Hotel only consisted of this outside section and the neighboring interiors, it’d still be a great map. But it also has the huge interior portion that leads to a lot of sneaking, back-stabbing, and strategic claymore placement.
If there’s a flaw with Hotel, it’s that it’s almost too big to be functional. The massive interiors like the casino section rarely have anyone in them, which is a real shame given how great they look and how fun and dynamic fighting within them can be. Even so, learning the interiors can give you shortcuts to a lot of locations to back up teammates or, even better, flank out and surprise other players — which can happen a lot. There’s also the pool area that makes for some great hiding and sniping spots, the spa area that runs parallel to it that dual-shotgun sprinter types will enjoy, and lots of open air to call in attack choppers and napalm strikes. Hotel is made great by its diversity more than any other map (which is surprising, given how diverse they all are).
It’s official — Escalation contains all of my favorite Black Ops maps, from Call of the Dead to Hotel. Stockpile I could take or leave depending on the match, but for the most part I dig all these maps more than the ones that shipped with the game and even more than those that were available with the last DLC pack, First Strike. Treyarch has outdone itself in designing these new locations, and other developers creating multiplayer FPS experiences (DICE) should take notice: this is how you make shooter maps. Make more of these.
- Four huge multiplayer maps
- Great level design from Treyarch — lots of diversity here
- Phenomenal balance and lots of personality in the maps
- New Zombies map packs great voice acting and production values
- Call of the Dead might be the best Zombies map offered so far
- Stockpile map isn’t quite as well-designed as the others
Final Score: 95/100