The juggernaut known as Call of Duty: Black Ops keeps on rolling on with the release of its third downloadable map pack entitled, Annihilation. Like the two before it, this new downloadable content brings four traditional multiplayer maps to the game’s competitive modes, as well as a new cooperative zombies map. Pretty standard content structuring that we’ve come to expect from Activision and developer Treyarch, though it’s these map packs that have done a good job in the past, of infusing new character into the game with creative mechanics and settings. Lets’ hop on a plane, blast some tunes and explore the new additions to the Cold War inspired world.
First off, we’ll take a look at the new zombies map, known as Shangri-la. It’s an interesting take on the dark and gloomy denizens of the undead, as their brain devouring figures are brought out into the light this time around. Taking place amongst Aztec ruins, the map is very different from the indoor (and/or gloomy) confines of previous zombie mode locations. Though it’s pretty obvious from the get go that zombies are very different from vampires, in that the sunlight won’t get them down. It’s swarming time and your team of four is on the menu, whether you like it or not. So, fortify your jungle ruins and pick your favourite gun, so that you may have a sliver of hope. While doing this, watch out for the new shrieker zombies, who will blind you with the wind their mouths emit.
Popular fiction has utilized this setting before for many a scary piece, but this time around it’s a bit different. Not only are you fearing the slow moving corpses with pack-like mentalities, but the environment can also be your foe. Much like in an Indiana Jones temple, there are traps that prohibit you from moving to certain areas, which can also inflict pain unto your digital avatar. These include spikes, trap walls and the like. There’s also a brief mine cart ride should you get that far in this tough mode. Most of the fear still resides with the walking decay but these traps add a new twist, where they can prohibit you from getting away from the brain eaters, or can even take the last of your life force if careful planning isn’t done.
Of course, what jungle setting would be complete without monkeys? Those cute, furry little creatures who like to throw their poop are here in full force. Though they generally try to keep to the shadows, leaving an item sitting for a little while will cause them to stir and attempt a robbery. Shooting one as it takes your stuff will cause an achievement to pop, which is what all of us achievement addicts will be doing. It’s a nice touch that adds a miniscule amount of strategy to the experience, as leaving an item for later use won’t work anymore, unless you guard it with your magazines.
Though it does well in its quest to infuse variety into the zombies mode, Treyarch’s new Shangri-la map doesn’t alter one of the most annoying things about zombies: hit detection. I’ve always found that that particular game mode has lacked proper hit detection, meaning that there are times where I’ll shoot my pistol (or even a shotgun) and the bullets will seem to go through the zombie instead of hitting it. The pistol takes quite a few shots to take down anything, which makes a decent amount of sense considering it’s a weak video game weapon, though it would be nice if there was a sound effect that could indicate the shot’s landing. Despite this nagging issue, I must say that this new take on the popular zombies mode is quite well-designed and unique.
Taking a stroll through the four new multiplayer battlefields present in this pack, we come across several varied landscapes: a 1950s drive-in, a nuclear launch silo, a hangar and the golf course for the rich. Each one presents a different challenge for teams to take on as they battle their foes, characterized by their designs and structure placement. Appearing in its own playlist are the options to walk on, fight on and blow up these maps in a few different game modes: team deathmatch, search and destroy and sabotage. With all four being medium to large in size, they work quite well for these modes.
My personal favourite has to be Hazard, which is an expanded and somewhat re-designed take on one of the game’s single player campaign locations – Cliffside. It’s the aforementioned classy golf course, which sees itself set on a beautiful coastal piece of property, amidst ancient architecture. Shoot, stroll or camp around its many different structures (such as pillars, buildings and arches) and do your best to blend in with the rolling green grass of the golf course in the middle. There’s a sports shop and an upscale bar (which both provide some fun moments) as well as an elevated but shallow pool that is great for sniping. This is a really fun map that changes things up a bit through its different design qualities.
This map caters to both playstyles: that of the oft-marred sniper, and the run and gunner’s marathon routes. It’s a lengthy course that offers hiding spots which are hidden and off the beaten path, though utterly accessible for people who wish to get rid of that annoying guy perched in the back with the long sniper rifle. Balance is key and this map has a properly fitting lock. Excellent design and a creative setting combine to create one of the more memorable Black Ops locations, forming a map that should end up becoming a community favourite.
Drive-In is another interesting location for a shootout (or a Michael Bay-esque explosion fest, depending on the game mode and each team’s style of play). Taking the look and style of a run down, forgotten about and decaying 1950s outdoor drive-in, it’s full of buildings, rust-buckets and rooftop views. Though it doesn’t feature flash or pizazz, this is a tried and true map with pretty good design. There are a lot of areas to fight over, allowing for the battle to be spread out over the entire procession. Plus the odd outhouse full of retro games, such as pinball and World at War machines. It also certainly got released at a great time, to bring a bit of summer air and vacation to the gritty world of Call of Duty.
The idea of having a shootout at a popular drive-in theatre is something that many people have probably thought of. For some reason, it makes great sense. Why? Don’t ask me. For those people, this map exists and it’s pretty good as a whole. It can get sniper heavy with corner buildings that provide a nice rooftop terrace, though it’s tough to properly shut down both entrances to that area, making it easier to get rid of the sniper itch. When you’re not inside the buildings, the map doesn’t feel all that unique apart from its large screen, and it would have been nicer if it was a larger, more country-like spread out in a field or something. The area feels a bit confined, which is too bad, and there’s not enough real-estate to plow through or enough opportunity to battle it out while hiding behind cars.
The other two maps aren’t as interesting as the former three, as they feature basic design that really feels uninspired within the big picture. Hangar-18 sounds pretty good in principle, with its shipping container-filled large environment, containing gigantic hangar, outbuildings and a climbable jet that is for some reason running. However, it’s very basic in design and doesn’t have any personality, which is unfortunate.
Snipers will love this map because of its tall buildings (especially towers) and most of the included combat will occur from long range while outdoors. You really need to know what’s behind your avatar, as well as on the sides because, during the long range warfare, it’s not that difficult for competitors to sneak up on you to take you out. Generally speaking, this map is quite forgettable, though it does an okay job of allowing for confined digitized warfare. Though it does have a couple things that others don’t: a morgue and a research lab.
Silo rounds out the package with its sloping, construction-filled entrapment. This map takes place in Russia at a nuclear missile silo, though it’s more of an outdoor map than an indoor one. There are a lot of pathways to take, filled with debris, tubes and hiding spots, with a centralized silo and some other scattered buildings. In some ways, it’s like the construction map from Modern Warfare 2, in terms of its slopes, pathways and large amounts of debris and dirt. Though it’s basic and doesn’t really set itself apart from the other maps found within the game, it’s decent and does its job. There’s just very little in terms of memorable aspects to be found here. Then again, none of the four maps have creative things like zip-lines, focusing solely on environmental design for interest instead.
With this release, the juggernaut first-person shooter continues to add content and a bit of an infusion of creativity, found within both Shangri-la and Hazard. The other three maps feature the tried and true formula, which works sometimes, but isn’t necessarily a memorable approach to allow for them to be unique or memorable. Though they may not be the most creative extra maps created, those few are still decent and deliver some alright confines for multiplayer warfare in a retro era.
To sum up this map pack, the best thing for me to say is that it’s pretty good. It isn’t the best map pack I’ve ever seen or traversed, but it’s certainly far from bad. For veteran Black Ops fanatics, the Annihilation pack is worth checking out because it gives them more of what they love. Those who just play the game casually will get some fun out of the two aforementioned spectacular maps, but may feel underwhelmed by the other three. You really need to weigh the aforementioned pros and cons based on how much time you individually invest into this popular title, to try to decide if it’s right for you.
Two of the new maps are really creative and the new zombie map is one of the best that the game has to offer. If you're a fan of the online play here, this DLC is worth looking into.