Call of Duty: Black Ops’ Escalation Map Pack Review

15 06 2011

Treyarch has set an industry standard for downloadable content (DLC) in the past with Call of Duty: World at War. They have continued that tradition for their hugely successful follow-up Call of Duty: Black Ops initially with First Strike and now their newest map pack titled Escalation, which released on June 10th 2011 for the PlayStation 3.

Like their previous iterations Escalation features four new multiplayer maps – Stockpile, Convoy, Hotel, and Zoo – along with yet another zombie map/mode called Call of The Dead.

Similar to First Strike Escalation features a wide array of interesting locales which are meant to cater to the varying styles of multiplayer gamers. However it seems Treyarch had decided to focus more on medium to long range skirmishes this time around as all of the maps are large. For instance there is no map like First Strike’s Stadium or even Nuketown where the action is much more focused and hectic.

But what Escalation does provide over First Strike is the level of detail present in the game and their environments. I previously felt the team was getting lethargic with their map design and ideas but it is noticeably better in Escalation in my opinion. This wave of maps have much more detail and the level design is more complex not to mention the interactivity that is present such as the working elevators in Hotel or the storage doors in Stockpile. These elements allow additional tactics to be used in the various game modes resulting in much more variety prolonging your map fatigue.

Of the four Hotel and Zoo will probably take precedence as the fan favorites because of the variety in both design and visuals as well as tons of opportunities for a mixture of long to short range combat. Zoo has striking visual similarities to Modern Warfare 2 Resurgence pack’s Carnival but yet again the overall flow and level layout is superior. If Zoo is comparable to Carnival then Hotel probably closely resembles another Modern Warfare 2 map, Highrise. This is not to say that either Convoy or Stockpile are less interesting, they just feel like the many maps that we have seen before.

All of the different maps provide their own challenges and strengths. However once a player gets use to these maps they can develop their own tactics and easily learn how to play to the maps strengths while overcoming the challenges. Even though these maps may be focused on larger range combat each map presents a multitude of opportunities for every type of player from the sniper to the run and gunner. These new maps also visually look better than previous maps and besides Stockpile are not just the dingy gray and browns we are use to but actually have a lot of bright visuals that again add to the appeal.

But that’s not all Treyarch also released a map for the ever popular zombie mode yet this time with a unique twist. The player controls one of four actors – Sarah Michelle Gellar, Robert Englund, Danny Trejo, or Michael Rooker – who are on the set of George Romero’s latest movie that is being filmed near an ominous shipwreck in the snowy wastelands of Siberia. Of course a real undead outbreak occurs infesting George Romero forcing the all-star cast to band together and drive back wave upon wave of zombies while an angry undead Romero follows them around.

Call of The Dead uses this unique twist in the same vain as the bonus presidential map that is unlocked in the main game. Besides this Call of The Dead introduces new perks and guns as well as loads of extras and unlocks that the Call of Duty zombie faithful crave. But at it’s base it is the same core gameplay we all have come to enjoy.

Let’s be frank, these maps don’t bring with them any new mechanics only interesting changes of scenery meant to prolong an already enjoyable experience. Not to sell these maps short, they are visually pleasing and well constructed with a variety of terrain that offers the player multiple options during a firefight. Much less the zombie map is one of if not the best the series has to offer and capable of stealing countless hours. But if you have already moved past Black Ops then this most likely will not rekindle your dwindling flame.

However if you are one of the millions upon millions of fans who helped contribute to Black Ops extraordinary sales numbers and still crave more then Escalation; including the time sink that is Call of The Dead, is well worth the experience.

Are you going to pick up the Escalation map pack? Maybe you already have, if so what are your thoughts?





Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

30 11 2010

Introduction

Black Ops is Treyarch’s third installment (seventh overall) in the Call of Duty franchise and is a sequel to their previous title World at War. Although Black Ops is still a first person shooter running at a crisp sixty frames per second Treyarch has changed the traditional Call of Duty campaign, although you still control multiple characters in several different exotic locations such as Russia, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam the story is focused around one main character and one main plot progression unlike previous Call of Duty games. Staying true to its name the missions revolve around many black operations carried out behind enemy lines while attempting to gain more information about an experimental Soviet chemical weapon codenamed Nova-6. Call of Duty Black Ops was released worldwide on November 9th 2010 for the PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and DS systems.

Can Black Ops help Treyarch close the perceived gap between them and Infinity Ward and end up being a critically well received game, or is this proof that Infinity Ward is the better Call of Duty developer? Continue Reading to find out.

Single Player

The constant comparison between Treyarch and Infinity Ward is inevitable whether either team deserves it. After each iteration both teams attempt to take the positive points from the previous game and add in their own wrinkles in an attempt to make a successful game which neither team has had a hard time doing thus far. However in the past single player was not the traditional avenue to distinguish themselves as both studios followed the same path. Yet in this installment Treyarch has decided to branch off of that thinking and take the single player campaign into a different direction. While the staples of a Call of Duty single player campaign like on screen objectives, stellar graphics, multiple locations around the globe and exceptional audio stay the same Treyarch has made some tweaks that pay huge dividends.

One of the major and most notable differences was that the story was centered and revolved around one main character and one topic. But since much of the story is told in flash backs through the characters eyes it still allows the game to cover a wide range of time while also allowing the game to flow at an excellent pace. Even during the times when you do play as a different character the story is still focused around the main character. This cohesion allowed me to have an attachment to my character that I have never had in previous Call of Duty titles. This cohesive story also made the story much easier to follow and much more rewarding to follow as well.

Treyarch also grounded the story in some truth this time around instead of the completely ridiculous story of Modern Warfare 2. Even with this unity and truth based story Black Ops still showcased stellar larger than life scripted events with nonstop action but was more believable due to the way the story fit together. For those that played Treyarch’s previous title World at War you will see some familiar faces that come back to play an important role in Black Ops however knowledge of the previous story is not needed to understand or appreciate the current story.

All of this praise does not mean Black Ops doesn’t suffer from some of the same faults that Modern Warfare and other Call of Duty titles suffered from as well. Specifically the enemy and friendly AI or more importantly the lack of enemy or friendly AI. On more than one occasion the enemy AI was completely clueless leaving me to fend for myself in an onslaught of never ending enemies due to the return of endless enemy respawns. The enemy AI wasn’t much better as they would walk right up to a friendly AI player or myself showing just how scripted there movements are. Overall the game is very well directed except in one particular part of the game where most of these errors reared their ugly heads resulting in me having to break the game in order to pass it.

Overall I found the 6.5 hour single player campaign to be much better than that of Modern Warfare 2. The story was ambitious and provided a variety of gameplay keeping the game fresh and fun to play. Add that to the effortless controls that are now a genre standard as well as crisp smooth graphics and stellar sound that we expect from every Call of Duty title. This makes Black Ops definitely worth picking up and experiencing just on the single player campaign alone without even mentioning the multiplayer.

Multiplayer

Speaking of Multiplayer Treyarch followed the same successful plan as it did with single player; employ some modifications that again pay huge dividends allowing the game to feel fresh. Again much of the successful framework is still intact like gaining experience based on kills and in game objectives to gain levels and eventually prestige.

Some of the guns from the previous titles make a return like the M-16, Skorpion and AK-47 to name a few but Treyarch also added a few new ones as well like the Galil, Commando  and Spectre. Perks were also slightly altered the biggest exclusion being Stopping Power and Death Streaks instead adding others like Ghost and Hacker.

However the biggest change is most likely the addition of COD points which takes the place of the tier unlocking system of the past. COD Points are earned in-game like experience points and are used to purchase all aspects of your load out including gun, attachments, perks, equipment, killstreaks and character customization. Some of the guns are still locked until a certain level however once you reach that level you can immediately unlock and attach any reticule you choose instead of having to get a certain amount of kills to unlock.

I personally like this change as it allows me to choose the perks, equipment and gun combination I want from the very beginning instead of wasting time with those I don’t. To help players maximize their earnings Black Ops also adds contracts which are specific objectives or challenges beyond that of winning the overall game you can purchase and if you successfully complete these objectives can earn additional COD points and/or bonus experience points.

As if that was not enough Treyarch chose to add stat tracking that is so in-depth it easily rivals any multi-platform game to date. From your combat record you can replay your last 20 matches from any person’s view in the game or from a free flowing camera as well. You can then choose to record a snippet of any game and easily upload it to share with the community. If you find yourself dying on a certain map too much you can see exactly where you and every person has died in a match or get comprehensive statistics on all of the guns and equipment you have used as well.

This freedom is also expanded to your character where you can customize your character’s face paint, gun reticule, clan tag or his overall appearance by selecting different perks. The options available are extensive so much so that I am sure I have even missed a few here. But Treyarch didn’t stop there as they also followed up with the extremely popular Zombie mode as well. I find the co-op zombie mode to one of the most fun and addicting activities to engage in with friends. This mode has been further fleshed out and honed with minor adjustments that make this mode even more enjoyable.

Overall

The allure of all the Call of Duty single player campaigns is the feeling of being in a huge summer blockbuster action flick. Not only did Black Ops retain this feeling I believe Black Ops did better in that aspect than any previous Call of Duty title. Treyarch captured this feeling while still having the game be ambitious, diverse and unlike previous titles which says a lot.

I definitely think Treyarch took a leap forward with Black Ops especially considering the array of options they have included. However at times they seemed so focused on adding options they lost some of the polish we have been accustomed to in the past. Those slight imperfections in my eyes are a small price to pay for the countless additions and revisions that positively affect the replayability and ultimate make this title refreshing and fun to play.

It is difficult to say who the better Call of Duty developer is since by now they share so many fundamental ideas and core beliefs. But what I can say is Black Ops is definitely not an inferior product to Modern Warfare 2 and unquestionably should be experienced for the thrill ride that is the single player along with the highly addictive and in-depth multiplayer whether or not you are a fan of either Infinity Ward or Treyarch. In simpler words, go get it.

Call of Duty: Black Ops for the PlayStation 3 was purchased for full price on the release day. The games single player campaign was completed on the default setting in 6.5 hours. I subsequently spent a multitude of hours playing the multiplayer while obtaining 24 of the available 51 trophies. Call of Duty: Black Ops was developed by Treyarch and published by Activision and is available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and PC systems.

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