Review – Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation

Call of Duty Black Ops Escalation
Last week saw the release of Escalation, the second Call of Duty: Black Ops content pack, on the PC. Escalation includes four new multiplayer maps (Hotel, Zoo, Stockpile and Convoy), alongside a new zombie survival mission.

What’s most immediately noticeable is that the new multiplayer maps, thankfully, offer a range of new visual styles—especially refreshing after all the browns and greys of Black Ops proper.

Zoo and Hotel are both distinctly colorful, offbeat maps that serve as decidedly unusual combat grounds. Meanwhile, Convoy takes place on a broken roadway that feels distinctly urban and familiar, while Stockpile features a farming village that’s actually a lot less humble than it seems.

Call of Duty Black Ops Escalation
Besides a few distinctive interactive elements (like warehouse doors that can be opened or closed on Stockpile), these maps are very much the Call of Duty standard: though a couple are optimized for close combat or sniping, respectively, all players will find areas of the maps designed to suit their particular playstyle.

There exist a million places to hide and a million ways to expose one’s self like an idiot, meaning that the level of enjoyment one has will be directly proportionate to his or her ability to discern important details about the surroundings and plan according strategies.

More refreshing than the maps themselves is the opportunity to play a game where every player on the field hasn’t worked out the optimum strategy beforehand.

Consider: on Nuketown, I’m the guy who crouches inside one of the houses launching explosive crossbow bolts across the map. I know that, after a few kills, some enterprising young man with the right perks and loadout will try to sprint into my hideout like a cheetah and knife me in the back. Maybe I’ll spot him on my motion sensor, spelling his doom, or maybe not. Even if I go down, though, I’ll be right back up there lobbing crossbow bolts, and he’ll be sprinting up again to put a stop to me.

That’s the game that Call of Duty becomes, after a while. One knows exactly what to expect, and exactly how to respond—there’s a pattern being followed, and few players stray too far from it.

Call of Duty Black Ops Escalation
On the Escalation maps, those strategies haven’t been discovered, or at least haven’t been meticulously honed every night for six months straight. Thus, players can surprise you, and you might even surprise yourself. It’s a significantly invigorating feeling to know that there isn’t an unstoppable sniper huddled in every corner waiting for you to ascend those stairs or turn that corner.

As such, I recommend that players considering Escalation get in on the ground floor, before these maps are devoured by the online community, who excel at making matches patterned, mechanical, and predictable.

Meanwhile, the new zombie map, Call of the Dead, offers the standard zombie experience from the retail product, with a few interesting twists.

Most notable is the cast. Players assume the roles of Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead), Danny Trejo (Machete, Predators), and Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street); all of whom are being chased by a zombie George Romero, who rants about his renegade “cast” and swings a ridiculous electrified hammer.

The map incorporates a few unique weapons and items for evading the unlimited zombie horde. For example, zip lines can be used to traverse the map, and a ridiculous catapult can be employed for quick escapes.

Call of Duty Black Ops Escalation
The ability to quickly reach other areas (either to save your life or get to a particular item) goes a long way towards extending the livelihood of the team, and thus, the entertainment value of the map.

Call of the Dead brings the most varied and engaging experience of Treyarch’s zombie campaigns—and though it initially has a steep learning curve (hint: don’t shoot Zombie Romero), players will eventually find the right flow for this survival mission.

The question of the Escalation DLC isn’t one of quality, but rather value. Unquestionably, the maps and zombie mission contained within are solid; absolutely to the Call of Duty standard. The question is merely whether the pack is worth its rather steep fifteen dollar price tag.

I found that Escalation rejuvenated a game that I was convinced I had finished playing; thus, my advice is that players satisfied with their well-practiced strategies may not find much of interest here, but those looking to refresh the game and reclaim some unpredictability in the online war will be satisfied with what they find.


Developer
Treyarch

Publisher
Activision

System
PlayStation 3 (PSN), Xbox 360 (XBLA), PC (Steam) (PC Reviewed)

Modes
Multiplayer

Release Date
May 3, 2011 (XBLA), June 2, 2011 (Steam), June 10, 2011 (PS3)

Price
$14.99 (PSN), 1200 Microsoft Points (XBLA), $14.99 (Steam)

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

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