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Call of Duty: Black Ops - Escalation DLC Impressions
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Call of Duty: Black Ops - Escalation DLC Impressions

Yes, that's the correct header image.  This picture is from the promotional poster for the new Call of Duty: Black Ops map pack, "Escalation".  Or more specifically, this is for the new Zombie map included in "Escalation".  It's been a few months since Activision and friends have collected their Black Ops fee from hardcore players, so it must be time for new DLC!  The last map pack, "First Strike," was an adequate addition to the multiplayer maps, and also included its own Zombie map, "Ascension".  This new pack comes at the same price tag and offers similar content: four new multiplayer maps and a new Zombie episode.  In all honesty, this pack feels meatier than the last one.

The multiplayer maps work exactly the same as the rest of the game's multiplayer.  You can play versus, or you can co-op the maps in Combat Training.  Two players can team up via local split screen, or six players can get together online for some bot-blasting.  Yes, you can still play split screen and online simultaneously.  Each map, with one exception, has a unique look and feel.

"Convoy" takes place at an American highway junction.  There are many vertical levels with ample sniping spots due to an overpass and elevated walkways.  Some overturned trailers provide unique cover opportunities.  This is by far the best map, in my opinion, simply because I had a 2:1 kill ratio when I played against real players.

"Hotel" is based on the rooftop of an elaborate Cuban resort.  You can shoot people in casinos, swimming pools, bath houses, and bars.  The two main sniping spots back up to working elevators, so camp at your own risk.   If you'd like, you can watch the sun set over the ocean, or look out over the city of Havana.  Take your time. I'm sure you'll be fine. 

I was excited when I found out there was a level in a Russian Zoo.  It's called "Zoo", but that's a misnomer.  It should be called "Saddest Zoo in the World", because there were no animals in this alleged "Zoo".  Bummer. So much for shooting a giraffe with an M-60.  Maybe this is an accurate depiction of what zoos were like in Russia during the Cold War... There is a cool beat-up monorail that people like to camp on.  This was my least favorite level, because I went 1 for 13 and I never saw who shot me when I played versus.  Then I switched to Combat Training, and it became much more enjoyable.  Bots don't camp.

There's one more map called "Stockpile".  It's another damn snow level.  It looks like all the other snow levels, except there's a nice Russian chapel on one end of town.  Still no space tank, much to may chagrin.  (If you didn't get that, you didn't read my impression of the "Discovery" map.)

Overall, all four maps are pretty good.  Each has a certain amount of verticality that the original maps were lacking.  Each map allows players to easily move along the outside edges while looking for opportunities to dive into the centralized action.  All of the maps are classified as "medium" sized, but I found them to be rather large. There are many small buildings and interior areas that give each map a greater sense of size.  As with the "First Strike" pack there are plenty of good sniping and camping locations. There are also highly traveled paths and choke points where real players can engage in actual gameplay.

There's a new map that will allow Zombie fans to challenge their survival skills.  "Call of the Dead" differs from previous Zombie maps in that there is a loose (very loose) narrative.  Make sure you catch the opening cinematic when you first start off your match. (Try out a solo game, if you have to.)  The four heroes are played by Danny Trejo, Michael Rooker, Robert Englund, and Sarah Michelle Gellar.  Their images and voices are used to great (and humorous) effect.  It's a pleasant change of pace to have horror stars cast as the survivors, rather than generic characters, or dead presidents (which was still pretty cool). The zombie master himself, George A. Romero, is featured prominently in this Zombie adventure.  The famed director actually adds another element to the survival gameplay.  As with the other Zombie levels, half the fun is exploration, so I won't spoil any surprises.  I should note that the "Call of the Dead" trailer depicts the characters using melee weapons.  Alas, this is only in the trailer; you won't be wielding pitchforks or machetes.

If you enjoyed the "First Strike" map pack, and had no qualms over the cost, then this is a must-buy.  In my opinion, the "Escalation" map pack is better than the previous DLC, in both multiplayer offerings and the new Zombie mode.  If you passed on "First Strike," you probably will want to pass on this.  The maps aren't that much better, and the star studded "Call of the Dead" is nice, but it's not much of a departure from the other Zombie maps.

Call of Duty: Black Ops "Escalation" is available now for the Xbox 360.  The price is 1200 Microsoft points, or fifteen dollars.  To kick off the DLC, there will be a double XP event this weekend.  You don't have to have the new content to gain double XP.  "Escalation" is expected to be released on the PlayStation 3 and the PC in the near future.