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Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation
Score: 86%
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Zombies): 2 - 18 (Maps)
Genre: First Person Shooter/Shooter/Action

Intro:

Call of Duty map packs are starting to resemble Madden releases - a new one is always on the horizon and even though the upgrades aren't usually worth the price, players feel compelled to buy them anyway. Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation, the second map pack released for Call of Duty: Black Ops, may not break that trend - at 1200 MSP, it is still a little too much - though it definitely gives players more than past map packs.

Escalation offers a set of four brand new maps for multiplayer - Hotel, Stockpile, Convoy and Zoo - but it's the added adventure for Zombie Mode, "Call of the Dead," that will really get players excited.


Hotel. Stockpile. Convoy. Zoo.:

First, the maps.

"Hotel" is built for close-quarters combat, though snipers will find a few holes to hide out in to pick off unsuspecting opponents. The map stars out on the top floor of a hotel, eventually leading to a lobby and swimming pool. If you can picture "Highrise," but larger, you know exactly what to expect from "Hotel." The map is a little confusing at first, and could probably stand being half the size, though the labyrinthine halls and large open area between the two buildings offer a lot of opportunities depending on the match type. "Hotel" isn't ideal for Deathmatches of any sort, but works well for Team-based matches like Domination.

"Stockpile" is an all-purpose map that works for nearly every match-type available. Although size doesn't work in favor of "Hotel," "Stockpile" is just the right size. It's not huge, so it can feel a bit claustrophobic in some team-based match types, but otherwise it's a great "speedy" map, especially for Deathmatch. It's a cool map, though definitely one of the pack's more generic and easily the weakest of the bunch despite its versatility.

"Convoy" is a large map, though it is designed to promote faster gameplay. The map places players on a massive, crumbling freeway, complete with a gas station, diner and motel, so there are numerous open spaces. Although it initially looks like a paradise for snipers, it favors close combat. There are open spaces, but explorers will find a couple of well-hidden paths and cover-spots throughout the map, nullifying any sort of advantage a sniper might have. Similar to "Stockpile," the map works for numerous match types.

"Zoo" is my personal favorite of the bunch. As you might expect, the map places players in an abandoned Soviet Zoo. The layout is incredibly complex, though unlike "Hotel," there's a better sense of balance and internal logic. There are lots of buildings to duck into and between and, in a really nice touch, there's a monorail track surrounding the entire map, which is great for snipers or players who want to get around as quickly as possible.

"Zoo" favors players who have the patience to stick around in certain areas. The multiple levels to each building and layout don't support running around and hunting down players. It works for most game types, though it is a map that players are going to have to learn.


Buffy. Freddie. Trejo. Rooker.:

"Five" is easily one of my favorite Call of Duty-related memories. I know there have been "bigger" moments (the series is absolutely packed with them), but the idea of Richard Nixon going toe-to-rotting toe with zombies is so in tune with my sense of humor there's no way I couldn't like it. But along came "Call of the Dead," which easily knocked Nixon's adventure from the top spot.

The "catch" to "Call of the Dead" is its star power. Similar to "Five," "Call of the Dead" replaces the usually unknown protagonists with a horror all-star cast including Sarah Michelle Gellar (as Buffy the Vampire Slater), Robert Englund (Freddie from Nightmare on Elm Street, Danny Trejo (Machete) and Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead). The addition of well-known actors may come as a turn off for more "serious" players, but I loved the camp feel they add - especially when you see who is stalking you throughout the mission.

Even without its all-star cast, "Call of the Dead" would still be incredibly fun, particularly for fans that have already mastered other maps. The set-up places the five stars in Siberia and, like other maps, charges the crew with the unenviable task of fighting their way through waves of zombies while they try to find a way out of the situation.

Compared to other maps, "Call of the Dead" is incredibly hard, possibly one of the hardest missions released yet. My dependable zombie-killing crew and I are usually able to make it through maps without too many problems, but we had a tough time working through the huge map (about double the size of "Ascension"). The map is well designed and, unlike other Zombie maps, offers few choke points to trap zombies in cross-fire.

It also doesn't help that the team is being stalked by a nearly invincible zombie version of George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead. He's a pain to kill, but also has the ability to "infect" nearby zombies with energy from his weapon. Romero adds an exciting element to games, forcing teams to keep on the move and constantly coming up with new strategies. Speaking of new strategies, Treyarch included some new weapons, including a sniper rifle with exploding rounds and a gun that turns zombies into zombie bait.


Value:

Similar to other map packs, Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation is a personal value call. Hardcore Black Ops players will enjoy the new maps, as well as a new Zombie adventure. I think the four new maps are a solid addition to multiplayer. Each offers something different than what is already available, and though there are still a few problems, show a real maturation in Treyarch's level design process. More casual players, primarily ones who stay as far away from multiplayer as possible, won't find as much to like. "Call of the Dead" is fun, but the novelty isn't worth the price.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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