Monsters, magma, and mobsters, oh my!
So far in Call of Duty: Black Ops II's lifecycle, we've had one map pack, which wasn't quite the revolution that was promised to augment that expensive $50 Season Pass. But of course, in true Activision fashion, we have three more to go before we call the Pass a wash, and next on the hot plate is Uprising.
I'll cut to the chase: provided you're already a fan, it's one of the best Call of Duty map packs yet.
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Call of Duty: Black Ops II: Uprising DLC (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Treyarch Studios
Released: April 16, 2013 (Xbox 360) / TBA, 2013 (PC, PlayStation 3)
MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs)
The most prominent map in the pack is probably Studio, which is basically a shot-for-shot remake of Firing Range -- a fan-favorite from the original Black Ops. The "remake" part is important though, because while the layout is technically the same, the actual design is vastly different.
Now, instead of generic structures and props, you're on an actual movie set, complete with animatronic T-Rexes, pirate skeletons, killer UFOs, and more. It just feels...fun. Roaming around, I was excited to find random references, like a tiny city that was set up for Godzilla to trample, or a giant robot spider shooting faux lasers.
Tiny details like the names of the actual films on the sets helped add to the allure, and the most important thing: the actual map itself has a strong foundation, working off of Firing Range. I wish every map had as much heart as this, and Infinity Ward was able to take itself less seriously with its Modern Warfare series. This map basically embodies Treyarch's style of design, and is part of the reason why I still enjoy the Call of Duty games.
Magma partially reminds me of Black Op's Stadium -- a map with a heavy emphasis on mid-level buildings and open areas. The "magma" itself isn't all that impressive due in part to Call of Duty's aging graphics engine and the fact that it doesn't actually spread, but even still, the map itself is one of the strongest yet on offer with any map pack to date.
At first, I was a bit underwhelmed. But, after a few rounds of play, I started to open up to Magma and really looked forward to playing it during every match-up. You'll start to notice some of the more well-designed interior areas, as well as objective placements, and some of the funny Japan-centric Easter Eggs; before you know it, it'll grow on you.
With James Stewart nowhere to be found, Vertigo is, as you can imagine, a map with an emphasis on vertical structures and height-based advantages. It has plenty of hallways as well, offering up a decent change of pace for those of you who like maps that accommodate a larger player base (myself included).
Aesthetically, the Mumbai skyscraper setting reminds me of the helicopter scene in Spec Ops: The Line (you know which one), and it's probably the least wacky of the bunch in Uprising -- but that doesn't mean it isn't a ton of fun to play. Featuring a number of well-thought-out open areas and a few hidden jumps, Vertigo is one of my favorite arenas in Black Ops II mostly due in part to the diversity of the layout.
One minute, it's completely open; the next, it's vertical, and full of corridors and knee-high walls to hide behind. It accommodates a number of different styles and gametypes, and for that, it should be commended.
Encore is set during a London musical festival. It's a circular map that features a giant open middle, with some tunnel-based combat to boot. Outside of the strong center area that makes objective-based games extremely entertaining, there isn't really a whole lot to get excited for over this map. Pretty much what you see is what you get.
Fundamentally it feels very similar to Grind, but with a bit more invisible walls and less accessible areas. It's not a bad map by any stretch of the imagination though, as I never once sighed or was disappointed when it came up in matchmaking. It just simply exists and is partially billed into your $15 purchase.
Mob of the Dead is where this package really shines. Set in Alcatraz, you'll fight off hordes of the undead as criminals modeled after actors Chazz Palminteri, Joe Pantoliano, Michael Madsen, and Ray Liotta. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on how much you enjoy mobster films or the personalities on offer.
Personally, as a gangster film enthusiast, I had fun during my sessions, and the campy, angry performances fit a bit more than the Sarah Michelle Gellar, Robert Englund, Danny Trejo, and Michael Rooker fueled Call of the Dead map in the original Black Ops. But it wasn't just the thematic elements that I enjoyed -- mechanically, a few major additions made this the most accessible, and fun zombies map yet.
For starters, death is handled in an entirely different manner here. Instead of dying outright or resorting to Quick Revive power-ups to continue on in solo games, you'll trigger an "afterlife" mechanic upon death. Essentially, you'll become a glowing spirit, capable of viewing the world in an entirely new way, with the ability to power-up certain generators and kill zombies with your shock pulse.
What's the catch? Well, you have a certain amount of time to re-posses your body (essentially, revive yourself) or it's game over. Plus, any zombies you kill while you're a ghost won't earn you money. Certain items and areas must be found or unlocked through the afterlife, and there are electric sockets to shock yourself in to initiate the transformation should there be no zombies on-hand. After every round, you'll earn an extra "life" so to speak to utilize spirit mode again.
It sounds gimmicky, but it just works. Not only does it make multiplayer more engaging -- you're not just sitting there bored after death -- but it also adds a new way to solve puzzles, making solo play that much more fun. To add to the fun factor, quests and objectives are easily identifiable, with a full RPG-style "equipment" screen that's visible when hitting the back/select button.
Like any Treyarch zombie map, there's a "main quest" to be had, and it's a little more overt this time around, with a clear "final" objective. Buyable traps make a return, as do new Wonder Weapons like the Blundergat (a shotgun gatling weapon), and a new boss zombie that occasionally shows up in random waves.
As I've touched on a bit, this is easily the most fun solo zombies map in existence. In fact, it's actually built in part for solo play, as the afterlife, an easy mode, and the ability to carry every quest item by yourself make for a much more streamlined experience that shouldn't alienate players like the mode may have in the past.
Having played zombies since the original World at War, I dare say this is the best zombies yet.
One arena withstanding, Treyarch had a lot of fun with this map pack, and it really shows. From the joke-ridden Studio and Magma, to the surprisingly refreshing Mob of the Dead, there's a lot of solid content on offer here in Uprising. In terms of raw layouts, pretty much every map on offer here delivers solid FPS action, and there wasn't one arena in particular that I outright disliked.
I feel like at this point in Call of Duty's history, the design needs to be a little bit more out there to really sway new users, but for fans and enthusiasts alike, you really can't go wrong with these maps.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II: Uprising reviewed by Chris Carter
A hallmark of excellence. It may have some flaws, but they are negligible to what is otherwise a supreme title.
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