For the past few years, I have had a severe love/hate relationship with Call of Duty. None of the mainline entries in the franchise have ever been outright bad, so I usually end up buying them upon launch. However, after a month or so, I tend to forget that I even own the game, and when I do remember, I wonder why I bought it in the first place. After skipping 2014’s Advanced Warfare, I fell back into addiction and picked up Black Ops III upon launch.
Something out of the ordinary happened, though, as I actually found myself returning to Call of Duty: Black Ops III time and time again. Developer Treyarch may not have reinvented the wheel with the title, but it boasts a ton of content and the mechanics remain as consistently solid as ever. And since I decided to go with the PlayStation 4 version this time around, I found myself eagerly anticipating Awakening, the first major piece of DLC for the game.
Like past Call of Duty DLC releases, Awakening features a handful of new multiplayer maps for gamers to kill each other in. Featuring both flashbacks of franchise past and over-the-top level designs, the new locations introduced showcase the level-making prowess that Treyarch has flexed over the course of their time with the series. One of their trademark level designs, the now classic three-lane structure, is on full display in Gauntlet.
Mashing together three distinct locations, Gauntlet shouldn’t work as well as it does. The combination of arctic, jungle and urban environments could have easily felt like three half-assed levels forced to be together. Instead, thanks to the three-lane structure, the environments successfully blend together. This may stem from the fact that all three areas are basically tunnels, with little emphasis on using aerial attacks. It’s a little strange for that to be ignored, outside of one area in the arctic section, but if it meant getting the balance of the map down correctly, then I’m all for it.
Much like Gauntlet, “new” map Skyjacked is also in Treyarch’s wheelhouse. Instead of a totally new design, Skyjacked is a futuristic take on the Black Ops II map, Hijacked. The general layout of the level is very similar to its predecessor, but instead of taking place on a boat, the action takes place on a floating airship. The map also takes advantage of some of the new features added in Black Ops III, including the ability to wall-run alongside the outside of the aircraft.
Unfortunately, and I have a feeling I may be in the minority here, Skyjacked represents some of the worst aspects of Call of Duty map design. I’m not a fan of levels that funnel the action into one area, and both this map and Hijacked are guilty of doing that. The middle of the ship emphasizes twitch-shooting instead of actual strategy, and it’s all too easy for the action to devolve into a mess. Even outside of the main combat area, though, there are way too many locations on the ship for players to camp, which is always miserable to deal with.
If Skyjacked represents Treyarch going back to the past, for better or worse, Splash is a radical change of pace for the developer. Instead of the generic military locales that are littered throughout the Black Ops III multiplayer maps, Splash is set in a colorful water park. Evoking the classic parks you visit on vacation, the map is filled with twisty slides, minuscule pools and plenty of pirate-themed decorations. It feels out of place in the universe of series, and that’s what makes it stand out in comparison to the other maps.
Of course, it takes more then vibrant colors and careful details for a map to be fun to play, though. Thankfully, Splash is a great blend of winding hallways and wide-open battlefields. Instead of focusing on getting everyone to slaughter each other in one specific area, the level allows for the action to unfold over every inch. If you’ve ever wanted to shoot someone dead in a giant purple slide or outside a beach-front shack, Awakening has you covered.
The last map included in Awakening, Rise, is a more traditional affair. Set in scenic snow-covered Zurich, Rise transforms a massive research campus undergoing construction into a multi-tiered battlefield. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the map, but it doesn’t feel particularly original, either. Coming off of the three other maps, which feature their own unique designs, this level reminds me a little too much of some of the other stages included on the disc. I can easily see the map becoming an online staple, because it is so familiar to past locations, but I wish there was a little more to it than it just being another cold battlefield.
The final piece of content included with the release, which didn’t hold much interest to me, is the Der Eisendrache level for the popular Zombie mode. While I have mostly ignored the undead-killing action in favor of regular soldier killing action, I did find myself enjoying the World War II set location. The Wolfenstein-like castle hosts plenty of secrets to be uncovered, and features plenty of room for you and your partners to fend off the zombie menace.
Instead of picking up with the star-studded Shadows of Evil campaign, Der Eisendrache focuses on the classic team of Richtofen, Nikolai, Takeo and Dempsey. Again, Zombie mode has never been my favorite, but I’m impressed at how Treyarch has been able to continue this story across multiple entries in the franchise. And while these characters may lack the star power of Jeff Goldblum and company, the gaming voiceover all-star team of Nolan North, Steve Blum, Fred Tatasciore and Tom Kane are excellent in their roles.
For the franchises’ first foray into timed PlayStation 4 exclusivity, Awakening is an excellent addition the world of Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Splash and Gauntlet are both a ton of fun, and while I wasn’t crazy about Skyjacked and Rise, I can easily see both of them becoming fan favorites. What surprised me the most, though, was the excellently-crafted and thoroughly entertaining Der Eisendrache level for Zombie mode. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the mode previously, but if this level can turn my opinion around, it should be more than good enough for those who are already hooked.
This review was based off the PlayStation 4 version of the DLC, which was provided to us.
For those not interested in the franchise, Awakening will do little to change your mind. However, for fans of the series, the first DLC for Call of Duty: Black Ops III features a solid collection of maps and an excellent Zombie mode addition that more than justify the cost of the pack.