Two down, two to go. The third map pack for Call of Duty: Black Ops II is released, but can Vengeance keep the momentum of Revolution and Uprising going?

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Release Date: Out Now
Format: Xbox 360
Version Tested: Xbox 360
Price: 1200MSP

 

Cove

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A tropical island nestled away in the Indian Ocean is the setting for our first outing in Vengeance and presents us with a little twist on the norm by being small and circular, making engagements frequent and quite frantic.

Rather than being broken up into the traditional tri-lane format, the map consist of an inner and outer circle that allows players to quickly weave in and out of these areas via multiple pathways between the rock formations.

The outer part of the island along the shoreline is home to many natural winding rock formations, offering multiple paths to the centre of the map and opportunities to get the drop on other players.  On the western side of the island there’s a downed plane that offers a decent vantage point and cover from its spilled cargo and via the broken tail wing protruding from the sand.  The main body of the aircraft has also smashed through the rock and provides a decent amount of cover for players wanting to move to the centre of the island.

The centre of the map is understandably quite small and claustrophobic. Anybody entering here won’t want to stay long.  As well as the cockpit of the downed plane providing a good cover spot for players to dominate the area, an alcove coming in from the island’s eastern side gives players an elevated view of the action in the centre of the map.

This structural deviation and much smaller combat zone creates an interesting environment that quite often leaves the player exposed from many angles, meaning that only those with a quick trigger finger and a good degree of awareness will survive long enough to keep a kill streak going.  Given that the map is quite small it’s entirely possible for players to circle the island shoreline in order to protect their flank and keep a decent eye on what’s going on around them, but it does come with the risk of being slowed as they wade through the shallow water or falling to their death by passing the maps boundary.

On the other maps I’ve seen in Black Ops II I’ve sometimes managed to do a couple of laps before seeing an enemy or suffered the frustration of heading towards the sounds of combat only to have missed it all before I arrived.  That’s not the case with Cove; as player’s are able to traverse the tiny island quickly and easily. You’re only ever a second or two from running into an enemy, so you have to keep the pace up as a coordinated team can be on top of you in the blink of an eye. 

As a result, there’s no area in which the combat will be situated, and conversely no resting point from the pace of the map.  It is this that makes Cove my favourite map of the pack.  The energy and pace it brings to the gameplay is something I’ve not seen since we used to play knives only matches on Modern Warfare’s Shipment.  If you want to make it off the blood soaked shores of this little bit of paradise, you’re just going to have to keep your eyes open and your gun up.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Rush

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Rush is home to a tournament grade paintball course situated in Georgia USA and provides one of the most varied maps we’ve seen in terms of environmental structure, quantity and type of cover available.

There are a multitude of areas in which you can play paintball and Rush attempts to cram most, if not all of them into this competitive arena.  Unlike Cove which limits the overall space available to players, Rush keeps the tension and pace up by restricting the personal space a player has, forcing them to navigate through cluttered areas that only permit a field of view of a few feet before the path is blocked by a wall, ramp or sandbag.

The cover from vehicles in the car park at the top of the map gives way to the three incredibly different lanes available.

The right hand lane features an elevated kill house – similar to the courses you’d see in Rainbow Six’s Terrorist Hunt mode - giving players a chance to impact the flow of the centre lane from various lookout points or stage ambushes in its tight corridors.  It’s the simplest and most direct of the lanes on offer here, but perhaps the most deadly because of this, not offering much chance of escape for those that enter.

The centre lane is absolutely cluttered with content, offering a multitude of cover points and escape paths to those that brave the dash through. As well as having to contend with the view of players above in the right hand lane, players will need to keep their wits about them as the enemy can pop up from behind one of the many structures that litter the environment.

The left hand lane leads through the store and into the speedball arena.  The placement of the bags in this area makes it feel less cluttered and means that it offers the most room for players to breathe on the map, but not by much.  Where the other lanes tend to work by blocking your line of sight, the waist-high cover points in this arena provide an interesting challenge in dealing with the different shapes of the bags and moving effectively between them.

The threat of a player often being exposed from three or four angles at any given time contrasts well with the kinetic feel of the map that necessitates constant movement.  It can make moving out from cover more of a mad dash to safety than a calculated flanking manoeuvre and, as such, a co-ordinated team that communicates well will dominate this map as they’ll be able to effectively leverage the awkwardness of the field of view from certain areas to control enemy movement around the map.

There’s something actually quite strange about running around a paintball course with real weaponry, but this map has fan favourite written all over it.  That said, I’m actually quite sick of playing it. Not because it’s bad - it’s actually very good at what it does - it just seems to win every single vote when it pops up, which says something about its popularity.

This map is perhaps the best I’ve come across for those looking for a fast paced engagement that necessitates players to keep pushing forward.  Sure, the visual clutter and lack of mid or long range engagement will frustrate and alienate some, but on the flipside you won’t find any campers here. It’s called Rush for a reason.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Detour

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Detour, an under construction bridge set along the horizon of New York City, mixes up the pace of Vengeance, providing an environment that focuses more on a head to head collision of the two opposing teams.

This is achieved through a simple map design that’s actually a mirror image of itself. Although the centre lane is elevated above the two outside lanes, there’s really no interaction between the two different points.  There’s not much room for sneaky or guerrilla warfare here, the focus is on moving forward and dealing with what’s directly in front of you.

The elevated top lane is littered with cars parked on the bridge and equipment from the construction crews that are still at work.  There are also two main buildings that offer cover for those wanting to dominate the centre point where the two combat lanes converge.  Unfortunately the clutter cuts out the chance for some long range engagement as your field of view is often blocked by a large van or protective barrier.

The mid-range combat is still enjoyable as you weave between cars under the giant metallic arches of the bridge, but I couldn’t help but feel some more elevated points, perhaps from scaffolding along the sides, would have opened up the map to some interesting long range engagements and livened up the combat in the centre of the map.   This break to your line of sight means that pressing forward under cover fire from your own team isn’t as available as it perhaps should be. Moving along the top of the bridge, you’re often just picked off by those hiding amongst the cars as you dart around the construction material.

This means that players are often forced into the two lower lanes to traverse the map.  There isn’t much room to move amongst the rubble and crackling electrical wire. As such, clashes down here are much more sudden and visceral.  There is some room for the eagle eyed or brave to move out amongst the balanced blanks or pipes lining the edges of the bridge, but this comes with the added risk of falling to your death.

In contrast to Rush, from what I’ve seen, Detour often gets the least amount of votes when it pops up online and I think thats because the map feels like it isn’t sure what it wants to achieve.  Its clear that the map is trying to encourage a head-on collision of the two teams, similar to the battles for the stage in Uprising’s Encore, but the amount of clutter and two dimensional nature of the combat zone in the centre of the map lessens the impact the battle can have by driving players down below towards smaller engagements.  I’m also not sure if the aim of this head-on collision was to have players dig in and defend their side of the bridge or push forward and knock the enemy onto the back foot.  Neither seems to hold up as the map’s mirror structure means no one side has an advantage over the other. So what is there to defend or capture?

Detour is good for those who like to test the accuracy and skill of their opponents face to face rather than sneaking about, but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that more interaction between the various levels and some additional verticality would have made this a much more exciting map.

Rating: 3 / 5

Uplink (a.k.a. Summit)

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Like Uprising, Vengeance brings back another fan favourite in the form of Uplink; a re-imagining of the snowy classic Summit.

This time around the ice cold altitude has been substituted for the rainy heights of the Arkan Range in Myanmar – which the astute amongst you will recognise as the setting for the map Drone.  Although the visual update isn’t as drastic as it was before, it does have some impact on the gameplay as the new dreary tone caused by high winds and torrential rain make enemies blend in much better than they did against the previous bright, snowy backdrop.

Like the Studio remake, the structure of the map remains intact from what we saw in the original Black Ops.  Fighting will be focused in the control room at the centre of the map and the choke points it offers to the team able to do this.  It makes for some truly enjoyable combat as machines smash and crackle as bullets fly around and teams face off on the multiple tiers.

The tight lanes on the left and right hand side of the main facility offer players the chance to break off from the chaos in the control room and enjoy more long range combat across various elevated and recessed positions as they flank the enemy or move between the other combat locations at the top and bottom of the map.  It all blends together to form a variety of engagement points on Uplink that make use of the manmade mechanical style of the facility and the natural rock formations that line a perilous fall down the mountain.

The standout feature of this map, however, is the extent to which the team dominating the facility at the centre of the map is able to put pressure on the opposing team moving around the outskirts of the environment.  The windows and towers on the left hand side of the map give the prevailing team a chance to pick off those moving along the rocks, whilst the elevated balcony on the right hand side of the map gives a good field of view for those supressing enemies trying to move into the control room.

Unfortunately, this can also be to the maps’ undoing, especially for new players.  Having spent a lot of time on the map in the original Black Ops, people are aware of all the little sneaky hiding spots or “exploits” from jumping on and to certain points in the map that newer players won’t be.  Whilst there’s always going to be this imbalance of skill online, these do skirt the line between fair and unfair sometimes.

Rating: 4 / 5

Buried

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The original Green Run group return in Buried and this time find themselves trapped underground in a long forgotten town that’s got more than its fair share of skeletons in the closet.

One of my favourite things about Zombies is that, in doing these reviews, I’ve always managed to get in with a pleasant group of people.  Of course we all know this is a rarity in competitive multiplayer, and as Call of Duty has always been a game where teamwork isn’t entirely necessary to ensure victory, it’s understandable that players are given the option to get away from the profanity and moaning that competitive multiplayer is awash with.

Still, when it comes to Zombies it is important that players can communicate and cooperate well during the rounds. It’s an added bonus if they are able to sustain an enjoyable level of conversation during matches that last for a few hours.  For this precise reason, I find it strange people are able to join online Zombie matches without a microphone or as part of a party.  It’s something that needs looking at as I spent more time in the menus looking for a game than I actually did playing the new map.

Thankfully, I did manage to find a good group of people and had a great time exploring all that Buried has to offer.

There’s a whole host of new stuff added this time around, the most notable of which is the giant – a large NPC that players can use to help them deal with the Zombie hordes and interact with the map in different ways.  One use for the lumbering behemoth is to give him alcohol in order to send him charging forward in a drunken rage to clear out barriers blocking off perks or shortcuts through the map.  There are also bundles of candy that persuade him to build objects for you or fend off the Zombie hordes.  As a side note, make sure the last Zombie in a round is a crawler and give the giant some candy to see a rather humorous nod to a tried and tested survival technique.

Other new additions to the map include a new ghostly female enemy who inhabits the mansion and steals 2000 points for every hit she lands – be glad that money and weapon storage boxes are back.  There are also a few new contraptions to build in the form of the Head Chopper that cuts up zombies coming through doorways and the Subsurface Resonator that, with the aid of a generator, pulses to keep pushing enemies back.  A new perk also joins the roster this time around in the form of Vulture Aid that lets you see key points of interest, such as weapon drops around the map.

A new set of weapons is also available in the form of a Remington revolver and an energy weapon known as the Paralyzer.  The most interesting addition, however, is the Time Bomb that can be deployed in an earlier round and then used to travel back to this round if things get a bit dicey.  However, this comes at the price of losing any money or weapons gained since the bomb was deployed.

The Zombies themselves have been given a bit of tweaking in that they now have a chance to drop points and ammo that can be collected by the player.  Certain Zombies will also spout a cloud of noxious gas when killed and players can take refuge in that as it wards off the other undead.

Finally, theres a number of chalk markings of certain weapons that can be picked up and placed on question marks dotted around the map so you can strategically place where certain guns can be purchased.  It’s a great way to make sure your chosen safe zone has the guns you want.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Buried.  The streaks of sunlight shining through onto the underground town give it a perfectly eerie atmosphere, making it feel quite claustrophobic. The winding passageways and dilapidated buildings give plenty of opportunity for an unprepared team to become trapped and left at the mercy of the horde.

Whilst it doesn’t push the series forward as much as Mob of the Dead managed to, Buried does provide a package stuffed full of Easter eggs and challenges that fans of the mode will relish – especially those that have put the time into previous instalments in the series.

Rating: 4 / 5

Ray Gun Mark II

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The fan favourite makes a return with Vengeance in the form of the upgraded Ray Gun Mark II, this time firing in three round bursts and having the added advantage of being able to penetrate and take out a whole line of Zombies with each shot.

The new gun is also available on each of the previous maps, although you will not be able to hold the original and the Mark II at the same time.  This will be good news to anyone who has struggled with Brutus in Mob of the Dead as the Mark II will drop him in one three round burst.

It’s also worth noting that whilst using the Pack-a-Punch machine to convert it into the Porter’s Mark II Ray Gun, not only may it grant you a double capacity mag, it will also cause you to be knocked back slightly with each shot.  So it’s perhaps not one to use when you’re near a ledge.

The Mark II is a nice gun to have in your arsenal, and can work wonders to get you out of a sticky situation in later rounds, but the Zombies fans I played with didn’t seem overly fussed by its inclusion – they actually seemed more worried about having an AN-94 to hand than anything else.

All in all, fun to play with, but another addition to the competitive multiplayer mode might have drawn more people in.

Rating: 3 / 5

Turned

Those of you that read my Revolution review will remember that I wasn’t the biggest fan Turned. It felt sloppy, tacked on and missed a prime opportunity to be something more.  It seems that was largely thanks to its setting on the incredibly small and simplistic Diner map, making victories hollow and short-lived.

Well, Turned is back with Buried and it’s the same affair as last time; three Zombified players fight to be the first to kill the fourth, a lone human survivor, and thus earn some time in the limelight – think Halo’s Juggernaut with a morbid twist.

It’s a far better outing for Turned this time as Buried is a much more suitable setting.  The new map provides the players on both sides much needed room to breathe and, as such, equal opportunities to both fall foul of or utilise the quirks of the underground town.  The variation on offer, in the form of the wide open spaces near the mansion or the winding corridors around the saloon, mean there’s as much room for a survivor to cover their flanks and get a good vantage point as there is for Zombies to box them in and swarm on the player.

Being able to survive for more than a few seconds is great, giving the player a chance to get under the skin of the Zombies and gloat a bit.  In light of this, the Zombies are going to have to be a bit more tactical, especially since its often the second mouse that gets the cheese when it comes to Turned.

Because it’s no longer just a mad dash and a bit of luck, there’s an extra layer of tension present that the mode desperately needed.  Unlike before, I had to weigh up letting a fellow Zombie charge ahead as cannon fodder while I nabbed the kill, against the percentage chance they actually had of succeeding and thus moving up the leaderboards.

That being said, the excitement is short lived and there’s just not enough here to pull yourself away from either of the main multiplayer modes.  It’s a lot better than last time, but that’s not saying much.

Rating: 2 / 5

Summary

As we begin to close out this season of Call of Duty downloadable content there’s a good chance most players will have picked up the season pass.  For those still on the fence, there’s still time to capitalise on the savings to be made from picking up the season pass, which currently retails at 4000 Microsoft Points (around £34).  Purchased individually, the 4 content packs would set you back 4800 MSP (£40.80) meaning you’re effectively paying 400 MSP (£3.40) for one of them.  Based on what we’ve seen so far, Vengeance included, it’s safe to say if you’re a fan of the multiplayer its worthwhile picking up the season pass – even this late in the game.

That being said, if you’re just looking at the merits of each pack individually, you’re either going to love or hate Vengeance based on your preferred play style.

When I first get my hands on new DLC, I like to boot up a private game before jumping into multiplayer and take a walk around the maps.  This is a great way to orientate yourself, examine them for potential vantage points or pitfalls or (hint-hint) discover the many Easter eggs hidden on maps like Cove. 

However, we all know that maps change and evolve based on the actions of the players.  At first glance I thought the maps on offer in Vengeance were going to be a campers paradise, especially Rush. Instead I found that they provided a real sense of urgency to the gameplay.  In an effort to cope with the tight and almost claustrophobic environments – as well as the threat of constantly being exposed from many angles -the players seemed to never stop moving.  This ultimately meant that those prepared for close quarters engagements (and with twitch reflexes that I assume can only be induced via caffeine overdose) will dominate.  If that’s your style then Vengeance delivers exactly what you’re looking for and does so spectacularly. If not, you’re going to find it hard to keep a kill streak going and will probably find frustration sets in quickly.

In short, if you picked up the season pass then Vengeance should be applauded for the fact that it doesn’t just churn out “more maps”, but instead brings a package that synergises well with what Revolution and Uprising had to offer, mixing things up a bit and forcing players to try out a new play style.

However, if you’re not a season pass holder, Vengeance is going to be a bit hit-or-miss.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great offering. I just think that if you’re only going to buy one bit of DLC, Revolution had the better overall combination of multiplayer maps and Uprising had the better Zombies experience.

Pros:

  • Energetic and fast paced close range combat at its best.
  • New maps “try something different” with the typical tri-lane format.
  • Buried starts to bring everything Zombies together and adds a tonne of new content, challenges and Easter eggs.

Cons:

  • Perhaps too focused on close range combat.
  • Reliance on twitch reaction and keen awareness will frustrate some players.

 

FINAL RATING: 4/5

Black Ops 2 is available now