Call of Duty: Black Ops: First Strike DLC Review

Five new maps make up Black Ops‘ first DLC package, called First Strike. It’s an Xbox Live exclusive (at least for now), and comes with four new standard multiplayer maps and one new Zombies mode map. The Zombie map, Ascension, might be the star of the show, but the other make up a pretty well-rounded add-on package for the year’s biggest game. [Side note: Read this before you download, because if you get a pack with the wrong language data, it won't work.]


Call of Duty: Black Ops: First Strike (XBox360 [Reviewed])
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Feb 01, 2011
MSRP: $15

First Strike includes four new achievements for Zombie mode and runs at 1200 Microsoft points — roughly $15. That breaks down to about $3 per map, which isn’t bad considering their size. All the maps share an attention to detail that’s impressive, as well as a lot of personality. Two of the maps pull locations from the game’s single-player campaign and use it to great advantage. Discovery echoes the large Nazi encampment that Reznov discovers during the flashback mission in Black Ops and Kowloon represents a multiplayer version of the rooftop mission of the same name.

The rest are 60′s-themed, but that’s about where their tie to the rest of the game ends. Still, there’s not much lost — all the maps are designed to provide a different experience when playing, and they do a pretty good job of giving players lots of new places to do battle, with only one feeling like a weak addition to the lineup. Let’s break it down, map for map.

Ascension

First Strike’s Zombie offering is a big map, like all of them, with multiple paths to work through. Instead of a teleporter, it has several rooms that support a lunar lander — a jet powered platform that sort of feels like the Wonkavater. There’s only one found in the map, and you can call it to various rooms for a price, then ride it back to the room where the mission starts.

Instead of the hellhounds found in other maps, Ascension has the addition of “space monkeys” — tiny monkeys that fall out of the sky on satellites that crash into the facility. They’re not especially deadly, but they are hard to see, harder to hit, and carrying a nasty side-effect to their attack: they rob you of the perks you can purchase throughout the map. Seemingly, you can counteract the theft if you can manage to kill all the space monkeys before your perks disappear (they blink f0r a good long time before they vanish), but I was never able to manage it while evaluating Ascension.

From a layout standpoint, the map is marked by several dead-ends. Some of these result in doors which eventually circle back into the interior of the facility, but there are a couple of points where you’ll find yourself in a room with only a single exit other than the lunar lander. It makes for some interesting fighting and strategy, both because you can get easily backed into a corner and because, with proper planning, you can make a decent stand against a zombie horde before evacuating the location and starting fresh somewhere else.

After a few rounds on Ascension, it becomes apparent that this might be one of the more challenging Zombies maps. Tight corridors can make escape difficult, if not impossible, and the space monkeys can seriously hamper your ability to contend with advanced waves when you’re preoccupied by running around trying to find the Juggernog. It’s plenty big, twisting and interesting, and makes a great addition to the solid Zombies map complement already available in the game. Plus, it adds four achievements — one of which requires you to set monkeys on fire.

Kowloon

My favorite map of the pack, Kowloon’s rooftops have the most personality and the coolest network of pathways and buildings. There’s not much of a central path through it at any point, and there are a lot of blind corners and ramps that need to be climbed to reach different locations. There are also a lot of tight walkways and paths — not because they’re closed in, but because they’re so open. You can be walking a thin pathway between rooftops while drawing fire across a large, open swathe of the map — but this isn’t a sniper vehicle, by any means.

Probably the best part of Kowloon is its intricacies. More than once I found myself engaged in battles from inside structures with enemies charging my position. A quick hop out a back window and I was somewhere completely different, it seemed — an alley or a rooftop that could lead me to escape. Even better, though, was the ability to flank around and ambush the unsuspecting attackers. Kowloon has that kind of structure, and its varied levels mean even the widest-open areas are only medium-sized in scale. If you’re shot from a distance or in the back in Kowloon, it’s usually because you were legitimately outsmarted, out-strategized our out-maneuvered.

Discovery

Another map that’s all peaks and valleys, Discovery is based on the arctic Nazi base you fight through in the campaign, and it has a lot of similar locales without being the same. Its defining characteristic is that it’s mostly a straight line, and teams will take turns exchanging fire on, and then capturing and holding down, the central path through the level. The road stretches down from structures at one end, across a chasm bridge, and down to another set of structures, where distance visibility gets lost in a hurry.

Discovery is another great addition to Black Ops’ multiplayer. The map inherently encourages teamwork and strategy — both by a team flexing its muscles over the main thoroughfare by taking high ground positions in buildings around it, and by small groups of players flanking around and getting behind the dug-in guys. Lots of interiors balance out longer-ranged fighting on the ground outside, and elevation changes set the different sections of the map apart from one another. This is another map where team tactics and a good knowledge of a position’s weaknesses will win the day.

Berlin Wall

Essentially one big circle of city streets and buildings, Berlin Wall includes the titular division more or less right down the center of it. That area is marked in red — cross into it, and towers bristling with mounted machine guns mow you down. There’s only a thin swathe between east and west that can be crossed safely.

That relegates all the fighting and travel to taking place on the streets that ring the wall, and Berlin Wall is luckily big enough that this doesn’t feel like you’re always surrounded. Long, mostly open streets will make this one a haven for snipers, although a fair lack of elevated positions will cut down on the irritation of sharpshooters turning streets into impassable corpse-piles.

Berlin Wall felt best when traveled in a roving pack of teammates, securing buildings and taking corners. Three or four fighters together can wreak a fair amount of havoc, especially given that the long corridors allow for all of them to concentrate fire on their targets. A few cars, walls and structures break things up so that grenade launchers aren’t this map’s end-all weapon — in the end, it feels well-balanced.

Stadium

Stadium was the only map in First Strike I didn’t enjoy, and it’s mostly because it’s cramped, round, and hard to see within. Taking place in the area around and outside an abandoned sports arena, the map is a great deal more compact than the other three. It’s mostly oval-shaped, and passing through the center sections generally leaves you exposed from lots of different angles.

So small is Stadium, in fact, that it felt like a map riddled with rear ambushes of the totally unpreventable variety. Enemies will often flank you simply by virtue that it’s difficult for them not to: the whole map is riddled with intersecting paths between walls and around objects that as you’re checking one direction, you’re getting shot from another.

Dual-shotgun-wielding sprinters will have a field day with Stadium — it’s just cramped enough that they’ll constantly be happening on close-range enemies, just spread out enough that they’ll generally be able to sprint to safety if they happen to be the ones on the receiving end of sneaking.

Pros:

  • Lots of big, solid maps with lots of personality
  • Ascension changes up Zombie mode with space monkeys
  • Zombie map pushes combat through tight quarters, adding significant challenge
  • Multiplayer maps mostly have great balance and significant strategic opportunities
  • All the maps are different enough from those currently available that they add value to Black Ops

Cons:

  • Stadium map is weakest of the package and can be a pain to play on
  • None of the maps’ gimmicks really significantly impact gameplay

Final Score: 85/100

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2 Comments on Call of Duty: Black Ops: First Strike DLC Review

Hamguy

On February 5, 2011 at 10:17 am

Let me buy a single map for 3$ and i’ll be fine.

Turkeyguy

On February 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I wish we could go back to the good ol’ call of duty days where all the custom maps were community made. Oh and free.