Everything that has a beginning has an end; and with Ghosts just around the corner Black Ops II receives its final piece of DLC in the form of the Apocalypse map pack, thus bringing this season of additional content to a close – but is this a swan song worthy of everything that precedes it?
Release Date: Out Now
Format: Xbox 360
Version Tested: Xbox 360
Price: £10.20 (or 1200MSP in old money)
Treyarch have made it abundantly clear that the Apocalypse map pack is designed in service of the fans, albeit more of a love letter to long term series veterans than anyone picked up in the wake of Black Ops II. Cementing this fact, the DLC kicks off with the re-imaging of a map World at War fans will recognise, Courtyard. This time around it’s known as Dig, an archeological excavation site located somewhere in the Afghan desert, offering a multitude of varying terrain types that fans of frenetic and unrelenting close quarters fire fights will revel in.
Like Vengeances’ Cove the map deviates from the typical tri-lane format and is comprised of an inner and outer perimeter. This isn’t a new design for the series and often those wishing to circle the outskirts of a map can feel very cut off from the action via obstructed views or recessed pathways. It’s here that Dig offers something new to the format by elevating the outer perimeter, providing players with the high ground and plenty of cover to peek over from and fire on those in the centre.
Alongside providing some exciting corridor style shootouts this simultaneously puts a pressure on the centre of the map we’re not used to by making it a lot more exposed from all angles – but that’s not to say it’s a death trap. The aesthetic offered by the archaeological excavation site gives plenty of excuse for the scenery to be littered with machinery and crumbling rocks creating a menagerie of winding paths, quick escape routes and chest high cover points that wouldn’t be out of place in a Gears of War game. This offers a far more complex layout than the linear corridors of the outskirts that allows astute players to weave about all over the place between the twisting ruins or dive into the recessed pits to return fire and put some pressure back on the elevated enemy.
At first glance this design can make the map seem rather haphazard and cluttered, but there are more than enough clear lines of sight, especially with the raised outer perimeter putting an emphasis on movement between cover to get a better angle on your target. Similarly, the numerous crevices and winding pathways provide plenty of opportunity for players to lose a pursuer or catch someone off guard, as you can easily move to and from any point on the map.
An interesting take on a wide open layout that makes excellent use of raised platforms and multiple paths makes Dig an excellent start to the Apocalypse package.
Frost cools down the pace of Dig by sending us to the snow covered streets of Amsterdam for a mix of close and medium range engagements. Taking place on a bridge crossing a frozen canal that separates the two sides of the urban environment Frost is a much more typically structured map.
There’s definitely a focus on forward momentum towards the centre of the map, rather than the twisting and winding gameplay from the previous Dig, and that’s reflected in the top and bottom lanes which are relatively standard fair, offering linear paths through streets, shops and bars scattered across the map.
There’s a lot of cars and urban clutter on the streets that provide sufficient cover when moving between the interior environments. These interiors do provide some level of over watch for the surrounding streets, most noticeably in the form of the cheese shop by the canal and domestic residence at the top of the map. Unfortunately they don’t open up the environment with shortcuts as much as they might have – feeling more like a shift in aesthetic of a linear path than an option to take advantage of an alternate route to flank or lose a pursuer. Similarly, some objects and areas you think would provide good vantage points are completely un-interactive, which is unfortunate as a level of verticality would have benefited what is otherwise a very flat feeling map.
However, the aesthetic of Frost is nothing to complain about; the cold streets of Amsterdam contrast beautifully with the cosy, well-furnished shop interiors, accented as snow and cold air blows in through open windows. Granted, you don’t often have time to stop and admire the scenery in Call of Duty, but this is one of the better looking maps I’ve played in recent years and that’s worth calling out.
The simplicity of the lanes serves well to drive combat towards the centre of the map, focusing on allowing players to take a direct and simple path to the action rather than complicating matters with winding paths and tight corridors. It’s here that the fiercest confrontation will take place as the two sides clash, fighting it out across the main bridge, using surrounding structures for cover. It makes for the type of hard hitting combat that Vengeances’ Detour was aiming for, although as it’s quite narrow fights won’t tend to last very long. To escape the bottleneck players can move to the icy canal beneath them in an effort to flank their enemy.
Unfortunately, the ice covered canal feels like a bit of a missed opportunity for some risk-reward style gameplay. Whilst it does provide a great way to quickly change lanes and avoid the concentrated fire in the middle of the map, it acts as little more than another path. Like Hydro’s waterway, it could have been made more dynamic by allowing players to smash the ice with grenades or bullets, or periodically crack under a soldier’s weight – only for it to freeze back over again. Sure, Call of Duty isn’t known for its destructible environments, but it would have been nice to have the risk factor introduced into the map.
While Frost is an aesthetically pleasing map, some missed opportunities and a tight and simple design make it miss its full potential. It’s hard to see strategic battles taking place here as there’s not really enough room to maneuver such that a half decent team should have all angles covered and as such it feels dulled.
One thing you couldn’t accuse Apocalypse of being is aesthetically simplistic, and Pod continues our tour of diverse environments by sending us to a digital reimagining of the Sanzhi UFO houses in Taiwan as a failed Utopian city.
Looking like something straight out of a Turok game, Pod plays host to mid-range interior and street engagements. Unfortunately, the surroundings outside the map boundaries are not as nice. Sure, you don’t often stop to have a look around in a Call of Duty game, but previous maps have given us some visual treats; Magma had the erupting volcano, Detour gave us an elevated view of the New York skyline and Encore provided a tour of the landmarks across the river Thames. In contrast to these, Pod is framed by bland textures and repeated visual elements that stand out against the cool creepy vines and crumbling structures of the main map.
Strangely, these environmental elements feel underused, with a couple of potential hiding and garrison spots being oddly inaccessible, such as the structure by the pool along the top lane. Similarly, for a dilapidated establishment the scenery is oddly devoid of the amount of cover points and shortcuts you would expect, instead giving way to empty and straightforward lanes through the map. It all makes everything feel rather simplistic.
There’s also a startling under-use of verticality in the map. The pods that litter the environment could provide an excellent visual puzzle for teams to weave in and out of to confuse their enemy, but instead become simplistic and small interiors that don’t provide the good defensible structures or opportunities for visceral close quarters combat that they should.
The level is spiced up slightly by the risk-reward manoeuvring along the outside of the map in the bottom lane that houses a fall to your death for the reckless player – although the platforms are rather wide, costing it the tension that came from Uprisings’ Vertigo as you’re far more likely to be shot than anything else.
All in all Pod feels like a really simple and straight forward map, and while Frost similarly missed out, only hinting at some complex interaction and navigation it at least ultimately pressed us forward towards a violent confrontation at the canal. There’s nothing to press forward to in Pod, ultimately making you feel like you’re just wandering round in circles, and with relatively linear paths and lack of cover it seems to come down to whoever has the twitchiest trigger finger. Pod isn’t a bad map; it’s just not an interesting one.
Takeoff, an offshore commercial space port, represents a first for this series of DLC in being the second remake to be included in a map pack. Stadium, originally featured in the First Strike DLC pack for the original Black Ops, has been given a fresh coat of paint and though this will be a first time meeting for more players than as is the case with the other remakes we’ve seen this season, it provides the most varied map in the Apocalypse package.
Offering interior and exterior environments, long, mid and short range battles and recessed and elevated positions, Takeoff is the map that has it all. Capable of supporting any play style, the majority of players will find themselves at home in this visually and structurally diverse map.
The first thing that will stand out to players dropping into Takeoff for the first time is the gorgeous space themed interiors that are akin to environments ripped straight out of Mirrors Edge or Sanctum in their use of sterile design and bold colours. It’s a fresh and stunning map that really stands at odds with the bland environment seen in Pod.
Unlike its predecessor, Takeoff also makes excellent use of the space on offer, giving players a multitude of paths to navigate the unusually shaped map, allowing them to switch seamlessly from the excellent close quarters engagements of the office interior to the wide open long range areas in the centre of the map that perfectly leverage the verticality on offer. It all makes for a rock, paper, scissors style map in that your dominance in one area will be reversed effortlessly in another if you aren’t prepared with a varied enough weapon and mind set to take advantage of the differing terrain. This level of exposure and delicate balance of dominance and vulnerability make Takeoff unlike anything you’ve seen before…unless of course you played Standium that is.
I could go on for paragraphs describing the tactical approaches that are on offer in Takeoff, for example dealing with an enemy perched on one of the high points around the map is a problem that can be approached from a multitude of angles; there are flanking options, counter sniping positions, escape paths to get out of their line of sight, the list goes on with the numerous ways you can handle the issue and it exponentially increases with the variety of situations you will be presented with.
Whilst being the maps strongest point, this is also its weakest. Unfortunately all of the choice on offer can make it hard for those not accustomed to having to take so much into consideration as they move around every corner, constantly switching up their tactics and movement patterns. Whilst most maps have a singular gameplay focus that offers some elements for other styles – such as Rush’s focus on twitch based close-quarters combat – Takeoff’s support of almost every style can make the map feel a bit overcrowded with ideas and lacking a singular focus, housing the sort of gameplay you’d expect to see in Battlefield rather than Call of Duty.
Still, it’s a minor point and doesn’t ultimately detract from the uniqueness, variety and fun to be had on the last and my favourite of Apocalypses’ maps.
Apocalypse’s Zombies mode, Origins, continues the nostalgic undertones of package and takes us back to trenches with Group 935 in what is chronologically the very start of the franchise.
This origin story charts the actions of a much more inexperienced Group 935, with younger versions of Dempsey, Nikolai, Richtofen and Takeo at the centre of it all as they contend with an ancient evil released upon the battlefields of World War I.
As expected, alongside the period specific elements, there are a number of extra, more exotic weapon and enemies that are all fused together with a diesel-punk aesthetic that works really well to deliver the requisite sci-fi edge that the series is known for. Wonder weapons return in the form of staffs of fire, ice, lightening and wind that give the players the chance to harness the power of nature against their un-dead foe, although like other buildable items in the level they’re not so easy to come by. On the subject of buildables you’re going to want to try and get the new Maxis Drone as quickly as possible as its ability to mow down your enemies and simultaneously revive downed players is invaluable. There’s also a vehicle in the form of a Mark IV tank that works in a similar nature to the bus in TranZit to ferry players around the map.
Unfortunately, there are no new perks on offer but a new machine known as Der Wunderfizz mixes things up a bit by offering players a random perk every time it’s used; a bit like how the mystery box does with weapons. Thankfully there are new power-ups in the form of Zombie Blood, Blood Money and Empty Bottle, to keep things interesting.
Zombie Blood increases a player’s field of vision and prevents them from getting attacked by the hordes of un-dead. Bloody Money is obtained by using the new shovel tool to forage through mounds of dirt and bone piles and offers the player a random amount of points. Empty Bottle gives the player additional perk slots, but this highly desirable item is a bit more complex to obtain and I won’t spoil that for anyone here.
There’s also a new enemy to contend with in the form of the Panzer Soldat, which adds a Big Daddy style character on the battlefield, similar to the warden seen in Mob of the Dead. This imposing foe stalks the players in a tank like suit of armour and wields a deadly flamethrower and grapple claw that can quickly be the end of an unsuspecting player.
Perhaps the most notable addition however are the 1000-foot tall robotic abominations stalking the battlefield. Freya, Odin and Thor – as they’re more affectionately known – travel the map in individual lanes, recklessly stepping on anything they come across. Though not as directly useful as the giant in Buried, these robots will indiscriminately kill Zombies and players caught in their path, which the prepared team can use to their advantage. Unfortunately, while visually impressive and integral to the events of Origins, they don’t feel as useful as the Giant or as ominous as the Warden and as such come across as more of a gimmicky environmental obstacle than anything awesome the players can use or need to deal with.
Like Mob of the Dead before it, Origins has an ending that doesn’t culminate in your death and fans of the series are going to want to see the final cutscene. Unfortunately, whilst this is the largest scale map we’ve seen in Zombies, it never feels like anything more than a pretty standard Zombies experience, with the usual quest for Easter eggs, power generators and pack-a-punch machines being the focal point of your actions. Sure the gruesome surroundings, dynamic weather and new enemies are entertaining but it didn’t capture what I loved about previous instalments; I never got the same sense of urgency collecting parts for the staffs as I had done for the plane, I didn’t feel as concerned with dealing with the Panzer Soldat as I did the Warden. Quite simply none of it feels new or pushes the series forward in the same way Mob of the Dead did.
As I said at the start of the review, Apocalypse aimed to send the series out with a bang by revisiting some of the elements that caused the series to evolve into what it is today. It achieves this by providing us with a mish-mash of everything we’ve seen in recent years.
Unfortunately, the over-use of remakes – which worryingly are the best thing in the pack – and uninspired new content leaves the Apocalypse feeling as though it lacks coherence between the content as an entire package; simply put there’s no underlying focus like the hyper-kinetic style of Vengeance’s maps. This disjointed feeling will be especially impactful for the Call of Duty fans that haven’t religiously played every title and every bit of DLC and can’t enjoy the trip down memory lane.
Whilst Apocalypse isn’t a bad offering, the nostalgic focus causes the series to go out without the bang it expected or deserved. This has ultimately meant that that a season of content that began by reigniting my excitement for a franchise gone stale now ends with a reminder of why I was getting bored with it in the first place.
- Some of the best looking maps in the series
- Something-for-everyone style
- New content is uninspired
- Too many remakes
- Some missed opportunities
- Plays it safe
FINAL RATING: 3/5
Black Ops 2 is available now