If you're keeping score, Call of Duty: Black Ops II has offered up one so-so and one stellar map pack so far -- and now, we're on part three of the four-piece Season Pass, Vengeance. In typical Treyarch fashion, four maps are on the plate, alongside a new zombies level that takes place in an old west setting.
All in all Vengeance gets the job done, and should scratch that itch until the arrival of Ghosts and next-gen consoles, even if it's far too safe for its own good.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II: Vengeance DLC (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Developer: Treyarch Studios
Released: July 2, 2013 (Xbox 360) / TBA (PC, PlayStation 3)
MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs)
As the most prominent of the four multiplayer offerings, Cove is a deceptive map. At first, it looks like a sprawling, snaking area with plenty of indoor portions, but in reality, it's a circular island. Initially, I recalled memories from the beach area in the Black Ops' Crisis, but the similarities end there. It's quite small, but it's well themed, aesthetically pleasing, and the layout is very well done.
There's lots of open areas, as well as plenty of cover, chokepoints, and ambush spots, and despite the fact that it's entirely outdoors, it does a great job of accommodating all sorts of playstyles. Honestly, this ended up being my favorite map in Vengeance as I found myself voting for it consistently. Cove is perfect for objective matches, especially Domination, and is the clear-cut best piece of the pack.
Treyarch loves occasionally goofy maps, and Rush is no exception. It takes place at a paintball joint, complete with an indoor and outdoor arena, as well as a small shop with various paintball gear littered about. But while it's interesting in theory, the studio really could have gone a lot further with it, because once you get past the aesthetic gimmick there's not much substance to it.
Rush simply exists, and won't really wow anyone out there. The indoor arena had the potential to be extremely cool, if for example Treyarch added in castles, or forts to take in various gametypes. Instead, they played it too safe, and the barricades look very poorly designed and comes off as thrown together. While there are no inherent problems with Rush, it just feels like wasted potential at every turn.
Detour takes place in a giant suspension bridge, with room to navigate both above and below. In addition to having to keep tabs on multiple levels, there's also a few ledges with snaking pipes on outside, which always keep you guessing. In an interesting change of pace, it'll probably take you a while to learn the layout, which is a great thing for a Call of Duty game.
It feels somewhat like one of my favorite maps from World at War -- Battery -- but it's a lot less interesting. At this point, Treyarch would do well to remember World at War in general, as I thought it was some of their best work from a design standpoint. Like Rush, Detour simply would have been better as a bigger map with more nuances and alleyways.
In a move that will no doubt polarize much of the Call of Duty fanbase, Treyarch has opted to rehash (or remake, depending on how you feel about it) an old map with Uplink -- the fourth map in the Vengeance pack. Specifically, the source is Summit, a classic snow-themed arena in the original Black Ops.
Uplink is basically the same as you remember it, with a perfect mix of outdoor and indoor combat as well as a setting that feels remote, and unique. It's no secret that one of my favorite maps in the entire Call of Duty series is Kowloon (mostly due to the low visibility and rain effects), so the new rain helps add character to the map -- albeit not enough to really break free from Summit.
A remake isn't exactly a new thing for Black Ops II, as the Uprising pack also tackled the concept with Studio, but that was done so well that it felt like an entirely new experience. Here, you're basically getting Summit with rain and slightly improved visuals. Summit is a great classic map for sure, but it could have used more sprucing up if you're going to include it in a $15 map pack.
Buried helps pick up the slack from a few of the missed opportunities in the core maps, as it offers a solid old-school zombie experience that feels closer to World at War and the original Black Ops. After an enthralling romp through Alcatraz with Hollywood actors, it's back to basics with another map that continues the story of the new survivors. Buried has a western theme to it, and embraces it fully. To put it plainly, there's enough mineshafts throughout Buried to make Gus Chiggins green with envy.
The map is huge, and you pretty much get access to the central hub right away, which is a nice change of pace from the typically segmented first few rounds. There's a candy store, saloon, a bank, a jail, and pretty much everything you'd expect out of an old west town, so it embraces the theme quite well. From a design standpoint it mixes things up with vertical access to the mineshaft system, which helps add a new dimension to the already sprawling town.
While there isn't anything nearly as interesting as the "ghost" mechanic from Mob of the Dead, Buried does have a few tricks up its sleeve, in addition to a classic Easter Egg quest. There's a few new weapons and items like the Ray Gun Mark II (which is now basically a laser beam, and retroactively applies to all zombie maps), as well as its major gimmick -- a giant friendly NPC named Leroy.
Similar to the meandering Romero from the original Black Ops map Call of the Dead, once you free Leroy from jail, he'll wander around with you, allowing you to feed him candy to fight zombies, or alcohol to bust up barricades to enter new areas. You can also pick up "chalk" to place weapon spawns at various points of the map as well as use the cross-map fridges and deposit boxes which is neat. I'm not in love with Buried, but it's a very solid zombie map, and core fans won't be disappointed in the slightest.
In terms of the whole zombie experience, I really just wish Treyarch would dump this new Black Ops II cast, as they aren't nearly as enjoyable as the World at War/Black Ops crew. Hopefully, whatever game Treyarch works on next brings back the original cast or goes back to the drawing board, since I'm not feeling it.
In light of the announcement for Call of Duty: Ghosts' dynamic maps, Vengeance really doesn't feel like enough to justify a purchase on its own, even if core fans will find themselves satisfied, and it's not a bad way to supplement the Season Pass.
There's only one pack left, and after its release, I'll be able to decided whether or not to recommend picking up the rather expensive Season Pass. But for now, it's probably best to hold off or just buy the Uprising pack, because Treyarch really isn't making them like they used to.