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Black Ops: Escalation Review

by William Schwartz

The Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation Map Pack contains five all-new maps including “Zoo,Stockpile, Hotel, and Convoy, as well as a new spin on an old favorite with the “Call of the Dead” zombies map.  Available exclusively on Xbox 360 for a limited time, the Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation Map Pack releases May 3rd.  As usual, the downloadable expansion plays to the hardcore Call of Duty fan more so than the part-time player. Fans of the zombies mode that Treyarch has now made famous, will see a brand new take on the existing mode, with new characters, enemies, and powerups.

As the second expansion to the most popular shooter of all time, Escalation does what First Strike couldn’t in a number of areas.  While First Strike may have rekindled your love for the Zombies mode of the game, Escalation re-invents itself not only with a brand spanking new zombies survival mode, but with inspired multiplayer offerings as well. The new maps have a much more tactical feeling to them than the previous download-ables.  For one, they took the interactivity and made it functional. Now instead of having these interactive portions of the map that look cool, they have real tangible and strategical benefits on each map.

For example, the Hotel has strategic locations where you can lock down an elevator which will allow you to control a specific portion of the map.  The map offers benefits for holding this location, such as the ability to see enemies more clearly as they file into choke points.  Each map has this more specific strategy element involved in the gameplay, and it was a much needed paradigmatic shift for the developer.  Aside from the strategical elements for the maps in Escalation, they also look very good.  In First Strike, the maps did have a bit of a dull feeling to them, barring Kowloon.  In Escalation, the maps have a much greater sense of detail and liveliness to them.  All the while still sticking to the Cold War setting of the Black Ops universe, maybe even more so than many of the maps that launched with the title.

As a fan of the zombies mode in Treyarch developed Call of Duty games, I have to say I was sad to see the heroes from the previous iterations of the game fall by the wayside.  This time around, in Call of the Dead, you’ll be controlling a group of monster slayers straight out of the movies.  Danny Trejo, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Robert Englund, and Michael Rooker will be your cast of survivors, and for the most part, it’s fairly standard mechanics. You’ll be doing many of the things that you are used to doing in the zombies mode, you’ll be scouring for ammunition, power-ups, guarding zombie infiltration points, and frantically trying to revive your teammates before overwhelmed.

Call of the Dead differs significantly from previous zombies offerings in one major way.  George Romero is constantly stalking you with an electrified spot light.  What has been a mainstay in the zombies mode for quite some time has been the build up from early levels which were decidedly easy, to an ever increasing difficulty level where you would have your hands full as the game progressed.  In Call of the Dead, the action starts right away.  There’s no build up, you’re thrust into the action with Romero stalking you right out of the gates, zombies coming up from the floors, and the immediate need for upgrades and guns.

It’s different, it’s definitely more challenging than previous iterations because you don’t have the time to set up the game like you could in other versions.  You’ve always got this guy chasing you around the map and electrocuting you.  It adds a new dynamic to the gameplay as Romero’s zombie presence is unrelenting, but once you get in the groove of leading him away from the other survivors, it becomes more clear what you’ll need to do to survive as a unit.  There are quite a few easter eggs as you begin to progress through the mode, so I won’t spoil it for you but the core progression mechanics haven’t changed much.

I never understood why Infinity Ward, and now Treyarch, would release the map packs with such a limited variety of game modes to choose from in the multiplayer component.  For now, if you’re looking to play the new maps you only have a handful of modes that you can play.  One of the more popular gametypes in Black Ops, is the hardcore mode.  Sadly, it’s nowhere to be found in the Escalation Playlist.

They do make up for it by offering a new “Mosh Pit” playlist, but if you’re only into the camping and insta-kills that only hardcore team deathmatch can provide, you’re outta luck…at least for now.

With the map pack being live now for about 8 hours there are some kinks that still need to be worked out in the matchmaking.  The problems don’t necessarily arise on the multiplayer side of things, but in zombies mode, I’ve been having a hard time getting together with others on Xbox Live. Some games will just drop, other times the matchmaking will become stuck searching for a game, before dumping you in a room by yourself.  Private matches seem to be working just fine, so if you can get a good zombie stomping crew together before you get dropped, it’d be wise to stick together, at least for now.

In my opinion, this is one of the best Call of Duty map packs ever. The multiplayer maps are some of the best that have been seen in the franchise.  Regardless of what specs you run as a soldier, there’s a good balance between ranged and CQC.  As wrong as Treyarch could have gone with the changes that have been made to zombies mode, they didn’t.  Actually, they hit the nail right on the head.  The gameplay tweaks have made it a much more frantic and harrowing experience.  The inclusion of Hollywood talent and the one-liners of the new crew, soon make you forget about your favorite characters who have been cast aside.   The extremely well designed multiplayer levels and the addicitive new “Call of the Dead”  are likely to add another 100 hours or so to your Black Ops experience and at $15 bucks that’s quite alot of entertainment.   It’s a must get and the perfect pick-me-up for a game that’s getting a little long in the tooth.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation DLC

  • Available On: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
  • Published By: Activision
  • Developed By: Treyarch
  • Genre: Shooter
  • US Release Date: April 2011
  • Reviewed On: Xbox 360
  • Quote: "The multiplayer maps are some of the best that have been seen in the franchise. Regardless of what specs you run as a soldier, there’s a good balance between ranged and CQC."
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