Review: Call of Duty Black Ops II: Uprising

The second release for this round of Call of Duty DLC has landed, but does the high standard set by Revolution continue or was I trigger happy in my infatuation?

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

Encore

Encore, an amphitheater situated along the banks of the river Thames,  kicks off the roster this time around with a twist on the three lane format, focusing combat on a central stronghold.

This focal point is the main stage, offering an elevated position that will enable a competent team to dominate the center of the map.  While the focus of the combat will undoubtedly be on controlling this center stage, the three lane structure we’re used to is still here, but this time offering numerous shortcuts and side passages for attacking teams to quickly shift direction and flank the enemy, allowing for some guerrilla warfare.

The top and bottom lanes, running through the stands and along the Thames respectively, offer plenty of cover points for players to move between, but you’ll still have to keep your wits about you because of the pathways from the staging area that make it easy to be caught out by players fleeing the killbox.

Teams wishing to control the stage are presented with four contact points from the top that allow attackers to engage on numerous levels. This means they will have to make the most of the limited cover to maintain offensive suppression on these areas.  Conversely, a good defensive strategy is necessary to counteract the bottom lane, which poses a less obvious threat by allowing attackers access from behind the stage or through a passageway that runs directly underneath it – a prime place to catch someone out with a claymore or bouncing betty.

Aesthetically speaking, Encore is very nice and while many won’t stop to admire the birdsong in the background or catch a glimpse of the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral or Tower Bridge, the grey tones of the various landmarks strewn across the London skyline contrast nicely against the bright colours of the theater and give the map a very fresh feel – similar to Revolution’s Grind.

Encore offers some intense combat opportunities, and while it is possible to circle through the restaurants and confection stands on the outskirts of the map to pick up kills, you may often come up lacking as the map very much wants to draw you towards the foray around the stage.  Encore is my favourite map in the package and kicks off Uprising’s energetic and kinetic feel in style, setting a precedent for the various shortcuts and twisting corridors that dominate the DLC.

Rating: 5/5

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Magma

Magma puts players in the midst of a natural disaster tearing through a modern Japanese village and provides the most diverse and winding map of the Uprising package.

The focus for Magma is the impact the lava has on the environment, morphing the terrain into a dangerous obstacle course of pitfalls and compromised cover over a sea of fire.  As a result of this, Magma provides many alternate and unusual paths between the three combat lanes, constantly keeping players moving and amplifying the energy of the map as they try to stay alive in the process. Unfortunately, the lava doesn’t appear to periodically pour through the streets as suggested in the trailer, but that doesn’t make the map any less perilous as there are plenty of places to fall to your death or accidentally stumble into areas of deadly ground situated on the outskirts of the map.

The top and bottom lanes offer some interesting close quarters combat amongst the various cover points of burnt out cars or collapsing train station, while the center of the map gives those favoring assault or sniper rifles something to sink their teeth into. Variation is the name of the game with Magma and players with a load out of multiple weapon types will dominate as they adapt to the scarred landscape and ruined buildings.

While combat will not be as focused in the center as it is in Encore, this area does provide the most diverse section of the map.  Those with a keen eye can take up position in one of the surrounding buildings and pick off players navigating the make shift bridges of cooled lava and collapsed masonry. However, they do need to be prepared as their prey can take advantage of the various winding paths to gain ground on them and knock them from their perch.  Players will also need to be considerate of the fact that the destruction has opened up the divide between the middle and bottom lanes, where a train dangling dangerously close to the lava presents an opportunity for the enemy to peek out of the windows and rain down fire on the center of the map.

It’s a shame there’s no periodic threat like Revolution’s Hydro, but use of lava is a welcome addition to the franchise and the erupting volcano showering down hot ash over the village makes for one of the most visually stunning maps we’ve ever seen.   Magma doesn’t want you to feel safe, and it achieves that by offering a multitude of various paths and shortcuts through the collapsing landscape, making constant movement as perilous as hiding in a corner.

Rating: 4/5

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Vertigo

Vertigo takes place atop a mega skyscraper in India reaching high above the clouds, and like Magma before it requires players to watch their step, balancing risk and reward as they move around the map.

Unlike its predecessors, much of the combat on Vertigo will be away from the center of the map.  The bottom lane has players fighting across a VTOL landing pad, littered with boxes that act as makeshift cover points and a lower walkway that allows players to flank the action.  This makes the landing pad the busiest and most deadly section of the map.

The center area acts as more of a transition point between the top and bottom lanes.  While there can be plenty of cover from the supporting pillars, there aren’t many escape routes along the corridors should you stumble across your enemy.  It is nice, however, to see the return of the automatic sliding doors seen previously in Drone, which not only give away enemy positions but automatically detonate C4 charges – effectively turning them into proximity mines.

The top lane is far more perilous as players have to make their way across support beams and narrow ledges. One wrong step can send a player falling to their death.  It’s a great place to catch people out as they try to avoid suppressing fire, but more importantly it’s home to the quirk of this map – a window below the support beams that players can jump through to gain access to the center area.  Conversely, those in the center,  if brave enough, can jump onto a ladder and climb up to the top lane.  It can be a great way to surprise your enemy by either jumping head first into the action or via a well-placed grenade.

Revolution’s Die Rise map integrated verticality nicely, with players freely jumping between buildings as they moved around.  Vertigo had a great opportunity to capitalize on this, but aside from the window there aren’t any interesting transition points to and from elevated positions.  Furthermore, there aren’t many areas you’ll find yourself passing through naturally that cause falling to be a concern, due largely to the glass barriers there to prevent such occurrences.

Still, Vertigo is an enjoyable, close-quarters map. It just unfortunately doesn’t capitalize on the verticality suggested in its name.

Rating: 3/5

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Studio

Studio is a remake, or rather re-imagining  of a fan favourite map from the original Black Ops. Firing Range has transitioned from a military practice facility in Cuba to the back lot of a Hollywood Movie set and while the aesthetic of the map has completely changed, the structure remains exactly the same.

This time around the top of the map with the moving targets has been transformed to look like the scene of an alien invasion, Meanwhile, the strategic positions that dominate the center of the map have been altered to look like a medieval castle and Wild West tavern, whilst the spawn towards the bottom of the map encompasses Jurassic, pirate and miniature world sections.  All of this makes for a visually exciting map that, much to the annoyance of my teammates, had me stopping from time to time to note “Aww, now that looks cool!”

If you’ve played Firing Range before, you know exactly what to expect here. The top and bottom lanes are relatively small and cluttered, serving more as cut-through channels rather than the scene of any real engagement.  The center of the map is where the action is most likely to be concentrated.  Numerous buildings and lookouts tower over the center of the map from each direction, offering a chance for close quarters combat in their corridors or for players to take up over watch to suppress movement around the map.  The open courtyard in the middle gives an opportunity for the exchange of long-range fire and cements this area as a killbox that teams will want to dominate in order to control the flow of the game.

Remakes can be risky.  The level to which they are changed, if at all, definitely has an impact on reception – too much and players might revolt over how their favourite map was ruined, too little and the familiarity of nostalgia can lead to boredom.  Couple this with people’s dissatisfaction their favourite map wasn’t remade, and you have a recipe for disaster that can leave players feeling short changed.

Still, they’re not all bad.  Gamers are known for their nostalgia and, even though the familiarity immediately gives certain players an advantage, it can be nice to have a chance to break out the “oh, remember the time on this map when…” stories whilst playing with friends. Thankfully, Firing Range was one of the maps that stood out for me from the original Black Ops, and though the aesthetic overhaul can make the map feel a little more cluttered that it needs to be, it’s nice to see some fan service and the return of a well-balanced map that caters for all play styles.

Rating: 4/5

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Mob of the Dead

The ever popular game mode is back in Uprising, and the nightmare on Alcatraz Island comes with some welcome additions to make this the most accessible and enjoyable Zombies experience to date.

Like Call of the Dead before it, some serious acting talent has been rustled up for this instalment.  In Mob of the Dead, we follow the story of Finn O’Leary, Albert Arlington, Salvatore DeLuca and Billy Handsome (played by Michael Madsen, Joe Pantoliano, Chazz Palminteri and Ray Liotta respectively)  as they try to escape from the notorious prison by constructing a make shift plane on the roof. However, all is not as it seems.

This set up provides the most notable change to Zombies with Mob of the Dead in that the experience has an end that isn’t necessarily marked by your death.  If things go awry that’s still an option, of course, but should your makeshift band of survivors crack the secrets of Alcatraz, there are two separate endings waiting as your reward.

The inclusion of the afterlife adds a new twist to the dynamic, not only changing the way your team interacts with the environmental puzzles, but also offering the chance for players to revive themselves.  This is not only a god send for those wishing to brave the hordes alone, but can lessen the damage done to the team by a lone wolf or silent partner found a plenty on Xbox Live.

Another welcome addition is your objectives are tracked on screen, alongside some optional tasks to build a shield or an acid gun modification, making the process a lot more accessible and less disorienting for newcomers – something the series has struggled with in the past.

The innate eeriness the history of Alcatraz brings to the series fits perfectly for the scene of this demonic nightmare, providing a labyrinth of secret passageways and claustrophobic corridors that can be as much of an enemy as the zombies themselves.  Throw in some new enemies such as the tank-like Warden who stalks the halls of the infamous prison, a whole host of Easter eggs and plot twists to be discovered and you’re left with an exceptional Zombies experience I encourage everyone to check out, irrespective of past feelings about the mode.

Rating: 5/5

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Summary

Uprising is a solid offering from Treyarch.  This time round we’ve been treated to a host of incredibly varied maps with a much more energetic feel to the engagements, and the best Zombies mode to date.

Still, a few things did bother me.

While it’s not necessarily a bad thing there’s no new gun bundled with Uprising, especially given the concern people had about the Peacekeeper taking the series into “pay-to-win” territory, it is a shame.  Treyarch pulled it off last time and it’s clear that a shotgun would be right at home amongst the tight corners and winding corridors of the new maps.

I was also a little disappointed that there’s still no hardcore option for those wishing to jump into a playlist consisting solely of the new maps.

These are minor points of course and Treyarch have managed to keep the momentum going with Uprising.  Sure, the maps aren’t as interactive as they might have been and the inclusion of a remake might not be to everyone’s taste but this is still an excellent package

Pros:

  • Varied, energetic maps
  • Mob of the Dead adds a lot and is a fantastic new spin on the mode
  • A remade map given new identity and purpose

Cons

  • No new gun
  • Hardcore playlist still omitted
  • Some missed opportunities in the maps

 

FINAL RATING: 4/5

Black Ops 2 is available now 

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