On February 1, 2011, Activision released the first DLC to see the light of day for their latest blockbuster hit in the Call of Duty franchise. Black Ops shattered the world launch record with more than $650 M in sales following the first five days of its November release, while gamers and fan boys alike have been impatiently salivating for the first extension to be released through Xbox Live. So after a week of persistent red eye and an astounding 1,200 Microsoft points later (translated to $15), how did Activision deliver?
For starters, at $15 for a four map extension, I’d say it’s fair to accuse Microsoft of taking advantage of the title’s overwhelming success. One would think that charging 25% of the game’s on-shelf retail value would come with more than just a small bump in venue options and zombie maps. After all, most Xbox Live Arcade games rarely see a price tag so absurdly high, save for a few overly successful titles such as Braid, Castle Crashers, and Limbo. So what exactly does your $15 get you?
Berlin Wall, Discovery, Kowloon, and Stadium:
They’re the four multiplayer maps that extend the Black Ops universe, but thankfully each one of them is distinctly unique from the other. The Berlin Wall is a snowy death trap that eats alive the casual unobserving hunter. In the game’s first instance of level interaction, the center fields of Berlin Wall are perilous against the rows of AI machine turrets ready to cut down any ambitious meander willing to stroll the path through it. The ample supply of buildings surrounding the long roads around it make the map an ideal candidate to host matches for both the short and long range fire types. It’s well balanced for both, but the match can easily turn into a hide and seek game, leaving the player to wander aimlessly for up to a minute before being struck down from the cover of one of the levels abundant hiding spots.
If you’re more for classic level design, however, Discovery is about as generic as it gets. With no real central stronghold, the layout is mostly comprised of pockets of buildings surrounding random stretches of snowy roads. In fact, you might even say it’s more attuned to a junk yard resting across canyons of steep rocks. The map might be ideal for a free-for-all, but the chaotic lack of order makes defending any stronghold nearly impossible for a team effort. Although masterfully designed artistically speaking, the level itself contributes little to the map pack’s substantial price tag.
The rooftop warfare of Kowloon on the other hand, may not be an original level design idea, but its close quarters, weather impaired look brings a well needed balance to the scope of Black Ops’ venue options. Coming complete with narrow catwalks, zip lines, and multiple roof top access points, it gives the player a reason to brush the dust off his favorite shotgun. Its labyrinth of caddy shack structures and third-world shed homes forces the player to keep a vigilant eye in every direction, where a seemingly calm living room can explode into a scene fit for CSI at the drop of a hat. While the darkened and rainy weather hampers the limits of your vision, the roofs all around you could be crawling with combatant forces patiently waiting for you to unsuspectingly walk into his or her ambush. Either intentional or unintentional, the layout forces a certain feeling of King of the Hill where higher ground definitely rules the game.
If you’re not worried enough about being shot from any direction, then try on Stadium for size. If there was ever a level that made it impossible to put your back against a wall and fire from cover, Activision found it. The multiple entrances into every building and hallway make for a certain unadulterated fear of being shot at any moment. If you’re looking for a good level to exercise some team strategy, then Stadium is definitely for you. With its multiple vantage points and ports of entry, a well organized collective is going to be disastrous against the futile efforts of an unsystematic opposing force. The name, however, is unfortunately very misleading, as the battle itself takes place around the perimeter of a medium sized stadium and not necessarily directly in its structure. The level does allow very limited access to the arena itself, but viewing the large openness of the ice arena is an ill humored tease to the desperate sharpshooter craving to disappear into its vastness to pick off his unsuspecting prey. Access to the arena, however, is disappointingly blocked by a waist-high guard rail that seems to prevent even the most skillfully trained special op forces from simply hopping over its bar.
So, is the hype worth the cost? On the whole, I give the First Strike map pack a 7 out of 10. What the extension lacks in overall content it easily makes up for in its attention to detail, diversity, and overall fun factor. I’d be lying if I proposed that the map pack is actually worth a $15 buy, but Activision and Microsoft were wise to bank on the helpless addiction of its fan base. Myself and millions of other loyal Black Op patriots pushed aside our better judgment to exercise restraint, and after thirty minutes of gorging on a First Strike blood feast, you won’t even care that Microsoft has you by the balls.