What do you get when you mix one of horror’s greatest pioneers with military warfare? The answer is the Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation Map Pack – the second downloadable pack released for the incredibly popular first-person shooter. Instead of trying to create just another map pack, developer Treyarch went out of their way to make this pack something unique and fresh.
What came out of that brainstorming was an incredibly intelligent idea for a new Zombies mode, entitled Call of the Dead, which complements the four traditional maps included in this one gigabyte download. This pack has something for just about everyone, including die-hard Call of Duty addicts and horror movie aficionados. If your trigger finger is itching for more action and you’re not afraid of things that go bump in the night with appetites to satisfy, then this one is for you.
Taking cues from George A. Romero, the development team worked hard at trying to adapt their smash hit Nazi Zombies formula into a more traditional style that features elements from the zombie master’s films. The result is something different. A mode called Call of the Dead where you fear more than just the reanimated who seek your brains for nourishment.
You fear George – a man who is so seemingly nice that he wouldn’t hurt a kitten in real life has been transformed into a ferocious monster. Word of advice: run. You don’t want to make George angry because, when he gets mad, he unleashes anger like you’ve never witnessed before in a Call of Duty game. Romero is the enemy, but he doesn’t take to your metal bullets like the zombies do. Instead, shooting him results in a powerful attack from the lightning-filled hammer that he carries around, which incapacitates those who are in its line of destruction.
This means that, not only do you have the zombies to worry about, with their ability to pop up anywhere during each of the mode’s rounds, but you also have to steer clear of a gigantic horror movie director who chases you around the environment, wielding a large hammer with a lightning elemental ability. Sounds like a walk in the park, right?
Joining George in this retro-inspired romp are four people who horror fans will be relatively familiar with: Robert Englund (A Nightmare On Elm Street) Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Danny Trejo (Machete) and Michael Rooker (Merle from The Walking Dead). These four unlucky digitized souls are tasked with trying to put an end to Romero’s madness by taking out his unleashed hordes of brain eaters in an attempt to outlast the maniacal cinephile. Each has his or her own one-lined bits of dialogue, which sound quite good and show that they were good decisions for this type of role.
Despite the changes, it still plays a lot like the Zombies mode we’re used to, but the element of having Romero follow you adds a ton of tension to the experience. Not to mention the fact that its arctic setting means that you’ll be spending time running through dangerous and frigid waters to get from one icy landmass to another. If Romero and his fiends won’t get you, the icy waters may.
The key to success is to try to avoid all three as much as possible, using teamwork to make it to the finish line. It’s far from easy. Though, If you’re smart, you may survive this intelligent, creative and unique experience, which is a great moment of geekdom for horror fanatics. The only real downside is the fact that it still features the hit detection issue that is prevalent in all other Treyarch Zombie modes, where even well-placed shots sometimes don’t hit.
Though Call of the Dead is arguably the showpiece of this map pack, there’s a lot more to it than the undead. The Escalation Map Pack also takes you on a trip to a frigid Russian shanty town, the rooftop of a fancy hotel/casino, a 1930s inspired Russian Zoo, and the highway off-ramp that serves as the location where a military convoy was intercepted and destroyed. All four of these maps are playable in the game’s traditional multiplayer mode, though their large sizes prevent them from being available for Free-For-All rounds, which is unfortunate.
The four game modes that are permitted during this trip include team deathmatch, search and destroy, domination and moshpit – a playlist that mixes the different modes and is only available for a limited time. All of the aforementioned game types require large battlefields and that’s exactly what you get here. Those who prefer smaller maps with more close-combat gameplay such as in Nuketown, may want to look elsewhere, as all of these maps are similar in their large structure which entices large-scale warfare. They all do their job well, though it felt like they were almost too big for team deathmatch games – especially the hotel. It was really tough to find people a lot of the time. That could have been due to the rampant camping though.
The most creative map in the package is definitely Zoo, which sends its virtual combatants into a 1930s Russian zoo. Fight your way through wall-to-wall aquariums, animal cages and on the rails of an overhead tram system, as you try to earn enough points to give your team the victory. This map was definitely the best because of its unique setting, creative hiding spots and the fact that it really showed Treyarch thinking outside of the box more than any of the other three included maps. There are great spots for those who enjoy camping, but it also caters to the more movement oriented players. Tons of different routes can be taken to get around to each area, so it doesn’t feel congested at all and is a good example of intelligent map design. Domination mode was excellent on this map, because the flags are in accessible areas that are easy to contest, which led to a lot of great high death toll battles. Of course, no animals are present during the times of conflict, so those who are worried about having the ability to accidentally shoot one need not be worried.
Hotel is another interesting location for battle. Who hasn’t wanted to recreate a gunfight at a swanky (and exotic) hotel and casino? There is a resemblance to the popular High-Rise map from Modern Warfare 2, in the way that each team starts on opposing sides of the battle in a large building. However, this map is much larger, taking up the entire roof of a very big hotel building. On one end is the casino, with some rooftop hotel rooms and a check-in desk on the other. Each has windows, camping spots and some highly-contested areas.
Though most of the action takes place in-between each of them, around the rooftop pool and cabana bar. Outside of the two main buildings are additional catwalks, as well as pipes that you can jump onto to quickly get away from pursuers. Also, it’s probably the only map in the history of the franchise to include working elevators, which can be used to get from one floor to another to evade enemies or try to flank them. Make sure you take a good look into the elevators as you go by because you never know if there’s someone hiding in there who is watching the surrounding area for oncoming traffic.
Though Hotel and Zoo are definitely the best and most memorable maps in this fifteen dollar download, that doesn’t mean that the other two are bad by any means. They just lack the personality and creativity that are both present in the other two. Stockpile is a well-laid out map that is a snapshot of a cold Russian winter set around a small village that houses a large arms and munitions depot. Usually, the battle is spread out over the entire town, but the depot is almost always at the centre of it all. Its large metallic structure and gigantic doors that can be opened and closed allow for some pretty hectic combat.
Catwalks and tight passageways are helpful in finding good vantage points or getting away from foes, though people tend to use them too much in search and destroy or domination. Hopefully that will change because it’s too predictable and gives the other team a great spot to take out a large group of their opposition as they walk out of the corridors into the great room. This map competes with the other two based on its intelligent design, though it’ll take time for people to learn how to properly use its alleyways and buildings. It just misses out on the obvious creativity that went into the aforementioned two.
The last map to be mentioned is Convoy, which centres around a freeway exit where a military convoy has been downed. The two teams battle it out along the highway, with walkways made out of its sign posts to provide high vantage points, as well as the surrounding buildings and businesses. Unfortunately, it’s not as well-designed as the other three and doesn’t ever feel natural in its battle-ready landscape, making it tough to decide how to play on it in team deathmatch.
Its best merit is that its layout works well for domination, because the developers were able to place the flags in varied and interesting locations that can be contested in creative ways. One flag is under the overpass with a downed delivery truck serving as cover, whereas another is in the parking lot of a local motel. Despite its issues, it’s an okay addition to the game, though it will probably be picked the least out of the four. There was potential for it to be better that was never realized, as the high vantage points over the highway are almost always being used by the one team or another, making most avoid the general area.
To conclude, there’s a lot to like about this new pack. Black Ops veterans will be happy with most of the new content that is provided with this download – with the most notable being Zoo, Hotel and Call of the Dead. None of the maps feature the gimmicks that were present in previous additional maps such as the zip-line in Kowloon, but there is a good amount of creativity and intelligent design to be found that makes you forget about those. Though its price point is pretty steep at fifteen dollars American, it’s worth it for those who play the game a lot. Those who only play casually may want to skip it, because its inherent value comes from putting a lot of time into each of its new locations and new mode.
Additionally, horror movie fanatics who idolize George A. Romero or the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show will find great interest in the new Zombies mode, Call of the Dead. Though it doesn’t deviate enough from the general Zombies formula and keeps the main hit detection issue that has been prevalent in the mode since its debut World at War, it’s a nice deviation from the more traditional zombie-filled maps, with a great name that keeps to Romero’s popular Dead Series. Overall, it’s something that is very easy to recommend as it has a lot of replay value and is sure to sell like hotcakes. See you on the battlefield, soldier!
Call of Duty: Black Ops’ Escalation Map Pack was released on May 3, 2011.