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Call of Duty: Black Ops – Escalation map pack review

If you own an Xbox Live, and it is connected to the Internet, it is almost impossible to have avoided at least a hint about the recently released Call of Duty: Black Ops map pack “Escalation.” As an Xbox Live exclusive (for a month or so), the map pack ads were, and still are, everywhere.  Emails heralding the release have been flying through inboxes like shrapnel, and if you missed hearing about it, someone in Activision or Xbox Live’s PR department is probably about to get fired.  The exclusivity arrangement is a huge feather in the cap for the Xbox 360, and paired with Sony’s recent problems, it only helps to further push the move to Microsoft’s waiting bosom.

Eventually the map pack will go to the PS3 and PC, but for now only Xbox users will have access to the four new multiplayer maps and the new zombie stage.  If history is any indication, the DLC will make a lot of money no matter what, but is the expansion any good?  Our own Adam Rosenberg and Ryan Fleming broke down the levels and offered their opinions in our review of the Call of Duty: Black Ops map pack, “Escalation”

Multiplayer Maps



A shattered piece of American highway is the scene for this map centered around a crumbling section of freeway, surrounded by areas you might find at a traditional truck stop.  One side is flanked by a gas station and travel lodge, while the other consists of a motel, dinner and transit building.  Overhead passes offer some sniper views, and a hole in the center of the freeway drops players down into a cross roads.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Convoy

Ryan: While still fairly massive, “Convoy” is the smallest of the four maps, and yet it is possibly the most versatile.  The size makes this the fastest moving map, and while some areas can quickly turn into choke points, there are more than enough pathways to avoid campers and snipers.

Domination works well on this map, as flags will quickly change hands — just don’t expect to take areas on your own, as a single opponent with a good vantage point can pick off attackers fairly easily. The lack of cover makes this a good map for people with ranged weapons, but the rubble and overgrowth offer stealth players an advantage too.  Sub-machine gun and shotgun fans may be disappointed.

Overall, the map is for fans of the older Call of Duty multiplayer maps that enjoyed the tighter — and therefore faster games.  It will be interesting to see how this map will fare in the larger Ground War game rotations.  The Americana look is also a nice touch, but of the four, “Convoy” is the most bland looking map of the bunch.

Adam: This map is massive, and snipers will initially think it’s all about them. It’s not. The elevated freeway section is a No Man’s Land most of the time– walk out into the open at your peril. There are many routes around that open area, however, along with all sorts of outlying buildings that help conceal a map-crossing advance. I’m with Ryan on Domination being a fun one for this map; if you like a good, bloody battle for a central location, Convoy delivers. Point B — located right in the middle of the aforementioned freeway — is tough to capture, but well worth the trouble if your team can get it together to defend it.


By far the largest map of the bunch, “Hotel” is a Cuban hotel and casino set atop a building in Havana. The map is fairly linear with two sections bookending an open middle area with a pool.  Both sides feature second-story views for snipers, but the interior sections are so large that people waiting and watching for a shot on someone outside may have a long, long wait.  But while the center of the map may be a death trap, the sides will likely end up being the most hotly contested sections, and there are really only three ways to get from one side of the map to the other. Elevators between levels offer a new touch as well.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Hotel

Ryan: “Hotel” may very well be the best looking map of the bunch, but it is also the most imbalanced.  Where “Convoy” promotes quick matches due to the size, this map is the exact opposite.  The majority of Team Deathmatch games will end via the time limit rather than score, as people will spend a large portion of the match running from one side to the other or waiting for a victim to break cover. This map feels very similar to Modern Warfare 2’s “Highrise,” but it is much, much bigger.  The imbalance comes in the game types.

Domination works well in this setting.  The B point will become a graveyard for whoever tries to take the flag, assuming the defending team is working together.  High vantage points offer an easy view down into the pool where the flag is, while the walls of that same pool make it easy to throw a grenade or semtex right on top of people.  While the fighting at B is fierce, the other flags are much more open, and a single player can sneak into A or C quietly, take out the opposition, and capture the area.  On the other hand, Team Deathmatch can be a lonely experience depending on your spawn.  You will frequently be tossed in the back of the map, then — even at full sprint — it can take minutes to get to the far end of the map.

The more players the better, so this map will be ideal for Ground War, but headquarters can be frustrating as you run to an area, respawn and are forced to run back depending on where you spawn. Capture the flag on this map is the stuff of nightmares. Despite the size, the map is well designed, but it could be a third the size and not lose anything. Oh, and while the elevators are a neat touch, they are essentially death traps.

Adam: “Hotel” is chaos defined. It’s a huge map, and you might go a minute or sometimes more before you run into some action. The size of the environment can be used to your advantage though. Firefights tend to cluster up, but the amount of space you have to play around in means that flanking is tough to defend against and a very viable solution if you’re on the attack… once you know the map. This map is better than most for squads that work well as a unit.


A Soviet town with a weapons lab in the center features two main entrances that can be closed.  It’s a relatively small map, but one that is littered with buildings surrounding the central complex.  Groups utilizing teamwork can hold the center building, but lone wolves can still make their way around the setting fairly easily.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Stockpile

Ryan: Of all the new maps, “Stockpile” is my favorite. It feels like the most balanced of all the maps. Team Deathmatch and Domination are both fun, and a team working together and holding the center building can utterly decimate a team of stragglers if they play smart.

While “Stockpile” is about the same size as “Convoy” in terms of overall area, the multiple buildings make it feel much, much bigger. I liked the faster speed the smaller maps offer, and most game types should work fine on this map. Ground War may be a bit crowded, but the larger domination games should make for some intense firefights. Expect the timer to hardly factor in at all. The look of the town is also fairly well realized.  Campers won’t find many areas to hide for long, which appeals to my style of constant movement.

Adam: I’ve got to disagree with Ryan on this one; “Stockpile” is my least favorite of the new maps. As the first trailer for the map pack laid out plainly, this one is all about the central building, the one with the player-operated garage doors. Firefights over that central location are fun, but with the exception of the garage doors — which don’t change up the play very much — there’s not a whole lot of variety in the surrounding environment.


An abandoned Soviet zoo offers the most complex of the four maps.  Tunnels, multiple buildings and a monorail circling part of the map will have you looking in all directions at all times.  Of the four, “Zoo” is the most detailed of the maps.  While not as large as “Hotel” in terms of overall area, “Zoo” is the biggest of the maps thanks to the multi-tiered design.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Zoo

Ryan: “Zoo” is a map that people will either love or hate. There is something of a dark color that makes the area feel slightly ominous, and it casts shadows that enemies can hide in.  There are plenty of vantage points for snipers, but it can be difficult to see players at times, and the sniper spots are obvious targets when you know where to look. Of the four maps, “Zoo” is the one where people will get snuck up on the most. Certain areas are almost labyrinth-like in their design, and the chances of turning a corner and seeing an enemies’ back are very high — as are the chances that someone you never saw will walk up and shoot you.

The multiple levels can be a boon to patient players, and a curse to run-and-gunners. Expect a ton of claymores carefully tucked around corners, on stairs and dozens of other places.  Team Deathmatch works well here, as will the other objective-based game modes, with the possible exception of Domination. The first team to take B will almost always be able to hold it for the entire game with only a minor bit of teamwork. It is an exposed area, with windows looking down on it, and several pathways leading to it, which always work against the attacker. Headquarters is well suited for this area, but Search and Destroy can be infuriating when someone just happens to turn a corner and catch you looking the wrong way.

“Zoo” is a map that needs to be learned.  There are plenty of hiding places, so it will take time to learn them all.  Expect to have just as many frustrating games as successful ones.

Adam: Zoo is beautiful, both in terms of how it looks and how much fun it is to kill virtual combatants there. Another very large map, this one stands out among the four new ones for having the most depth. Literally. From tunnels to roosts, there are areas that suit just about every play style. You’ll have to learn them all and be ready to switch up classes to suit the changing tides of the battle. Zoo is my favorite of the new multiplayer maps despite the fact that I’m still learning the layout. Frankly, that’s what I love most about it.


Call of the Dead

The highlight of the new “Escalation” map pack for many fans of Treyarch’s Call of Duty efforts is the “Call of the Dead” zombie map. The mode itself should need no introduction, having first been introduced in the 2008 release, Call of Duty: World at War. Each new map released has been an evolution, with new features like Perk-a-Cola and Pack-a-Punch machines offering additional layers of strategy. “Call of the Dead” introduces the most dramatic change yet: a near-indestructible roving boss zombie that roams the map constantly.

That roving boss also happens to be Night of the Living Dead writer/director and creator of what we call “zombies” today, George A. Romero. Nasty.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Call of the Dead

Adam: “Call of the Dead” is by far the biggest zombie map so far, at least one-and-a-half to two times the size of “Ascension,” the map featured in the previous “First Strike” map pack. Romero is there right from moment one, slowly walking out from the depths of a snow-ringed lake with a studio light in one hand. His weapon courses with electricity, which not only hurts you when hit but also “infects” any nearby zombies, giving you a little zap whenever you try to knife them.

George has two modes: trying to kill you at a walking pace and trying to kill you while running. The latter can be triggered by shooting or bumping into him, so try not to do that. There’s a way to chill him out… but I’ll let you figure out that little problem for yourselves.

You start off your latest zombie-killing adventure on the shore of this frozen Siberian lake, caught between a lighthouse/abandoned research facility and a pair of end-to-end shipwrecks. The map is huge once all is opened up, but there are several tools to speed up your movement, including ziplines and a jump pad, as well as a small ice slide leading off to a remote patch of land. Bodies of water, which served only to slow you down in “Ascension,” are much more useful here. Pop a couple of shots into a zombie wading toward you and you’ll see it start to freeze; shoot or knife the iced zombie and any surrounding shamblers will be slowed down. The weather is also constantly changing, with heavy fog rolling in at frequent intervals to cut your visibility down significantly.

Fortunately, Treyarch included some new toys to help you cut through the hordes. This new map actually features two Wonder Guns in addition to the usual Ray Gun. The V-R11 is a big, chunky piece of futuretech, capable of turning any zombie into a black suit-and-shades-wearing Man in Black. That’s right, you can turns zombies into humans (read: bait). The other Wonder Gun is a sniper rifle called Scavenger. This puppy fires explosive rounds with a wide blast radius, especially once it has been Pack-a-Punched with an upgrade. It is also worth noting another new addition, one that fans have been waiting for: Semtex (sticky grenades), which can be purchased off of the wall. There’s also a new Perk-A-Cola machine, Deadshot Daquiri, which automatically changes your snap-to aiming to zero in on headshot.

For those who were dedicated enough to see the Power Nodes easter egg from “Ascension” all the way through to its sweet 90-seconds-of-Death Machine end, you’ll be happy to hear that an even more elaborate scavenger hunt has been crafted for “Call of the Dead.” The community as a whole is still working its way through the steps, but there’s some indication that the reward is much more enjoyable that the admittedly awesome “Ascension” Death Machine. I won’t mention what it is, other than saying that it relates to another long-requested fan item.

The added element of Romero significantly changes the way you play the game. It is no longer possible to simply get four players together, set yourselves up to defend and simply hold the line. A great deal more movement is required, which is quite challenging in the early rounds as you juggle the need to purchase more firepower with the need to access more of the map. The zombies themselves are more nimble now too, running faster and spawning in a wider variety of locations (including the ground beneath you). All of that together adds up to what is perhaps the most challenging zombie map yet from Treyarch, and also the most rewarding one for those who are willing to learn its intricacies.

Ryan: “Call of the Dead” is hard, at times very hard.  Zombie Romero is a beast, and the map is designed so that you may end up fighting off enemies coming at you from every angle at once.  The inclusion of the four real-life actors is a nice touch, and it adds a bit of campy flair to the game. The map pack “Five” which featured Kennedy, Nixon, McNamara and Castro hit on this camp factor, but “Call of the Dead” utilizes it much better through fairly clever one liners and solid character animations.  It is just kinda fun to play as Machete and decimate zombies, or give Buffy a handgun and watch her blast her way through hordes of the undead.

The two new guns are both a welcome addition, but this map will make you earn them.  More 28 Days Later than Dawn of the Dead, zombies will haul ass after you, giving you very little respite.  “Call of the Dead” is a smart addition to the zombie series that fans have been playing for awhile now.  It is the hardest and requires the most teamwork, so the learning curve will be steep.  But for fans of the game type, that is exactly the right move.


Ryan: The four new maps and new zombie stage of “Escalation” are solid addition to the Black Ops series.  They all offer something fresh, and they all feel like the Treyarch team stretched its creative muscles to bring us something new.  The results are a bit inconsistent, but overall well worth the purchase.  The “First Strike” expansion felt a bit more natural for the series, but the variety is greatly appreciated and will make a good addition to the full rotation.

Adam: The theme of this new map pack is most definitely “bigger.” The maps are much more spread out and, with the exception of “Stockpile,” they all feel like they exist within a larger world (at war). There’s more variety, and there’s also more complexity within that variety. The “First Strike” maps may have fit in better, but these five environments, on the whole, are much more satisfying to play on.

(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Activision)

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