It’s around this time of year that you start to get the first clues as to what the new Call Of Duty is going to be. If not from an official source then from one of the many inevitable leaks (the current rumour is that it’s a side-story in the Modern Warfare timeline). Things do start to get complicated when a new console launch is due though and it’s unclear whether the new game will be designed primarily for the current or next gen.
In the meantime though there’s still last year’s game to support, with Activision planning four map packs in total – of which this is the second. The first one, Revolution, was the exact opposite of what its name implied but it was a decent download anyway, with no outright stinkers amongst the five maps.
Revolution also threw in a new weapon and a new Zombies game mode, but there are no such extras in Uprising. Instead it’s spent the extra money on another celebrity-filled Zombies map, called Mob of the Dead.
Call Of Duty has done this before, with the Call of the Dead map for the original Black Ops that featured the likes of George A. Romero and Sarah Michelle Gellar. This time though it’s mobsters that are taking on the undead, with Ray Liotta, Michael Madsen, Chazz Palminteri (Sonny from A Bronx Tale), and Joe Pantoliano (Ralph from The Sopranos).
The map is set on Alcatraz, as the quartet of aging actors (playing actual characters this time, not themselves) try to get to a homemade aircraft on the roof, that they were planning to escape with even before the zombies turned up. Like the existing Black Ops II maps it’s filled with obscurely hidden salvage needed to make new weapons and equipment before you can progress, which drastically limits the game’s accessibility to new players.
That’s been a problem with the Black Ops II version of Zombies since the start, and as the game mode gets ever more complicated it feels increasingly bloated and in need of a complete reboot. It’s always seemed just a few degrees off, but Treyarch has still never managed to turn Zombies into the classic it should be.
As a case in point there are actually two fairly substantial new features for Mob of the Dead, with the first being the fact that you don’t die straight away anymore but instead get to float around as a ghost. Despite your incorporeal form you can still kill zombies, and even charge machines, but you don’t get any points for doing so, which adds a clever natural balance.
The other extra is a demon portal that you can throw zombies into in exchange for a new melee weapon. They’re welcome new extras but they don’t help at all to address the game’s repetitive nature and poor pacing, but that’s probably too much to hope from a single map.
We’re not sure what proportion of people buy these map packs for Zombies and which for normal multiplayer but the four standard maps are an unusually gimmicky bunch this time. Whether that’s a positive or negative depends on how seriously you take your Call Of Duty, but there’s been a clear attempt to make sure they’re not set in just another war-torn Middle Eastern town.
Studio is a case in point. It’s actually a remake of a Firing Range from the first Black Ops, which was set on… a firing range. Here though, even though the layout is more or less the same, the setting is a Hollywood backlot, one that takes in everything from a Western, to a medieval castle, a Jurassic Park knock-off, and a War of the Worlds style alien invasion.
This isn’t just a series of fun visual gimmicks because although everything looks like it’s real much of it is made of wood and provides almost zero cover, even if it does look like a real castle from the right angle. What’s also great is the force perspective walls in actually very small rooms, and the decoys moving around outside and which sometimes actually are hiding real enemies.
Studio is a great mix of the purposefully absurd and the tactically interesting, and Magma tries the same trick with only slightly less success. It’s set in a Japanese town being ravaged by an erupting volcano, but the lava doesn’t really move much and it’s actually the static design of endless dead-ends and climbable obstacles that’s the biggest problem. We found it more fun on paper than in practise, but it’s an interesting idea and both looks and feels completely different to just about every other Call Of Duty map.
Vertigo is more traditional but it too has a gimmick, albeit one that’s been used before. Set atop a skyscraper falling off the narrow beams and walkways is extremely easy, and naturally deflects your attention from where you’re shooting to where you’re moving. It is very similar to Overwatch from Modern Warfare 3 though, with the only major difference being you can jump from one level to another.
Whether Encore counts as having a gimmick again depends on how seriously you want to take things, as although there’s no special features the whole map is set in an (empty) open air rock concert in London. Taking control of the stage is a prime tactical goal and as silly as it may seem at times it’s actually a very cleverly designed and interested set-up.
We know it’s de rigueur nowadays to pretend you hate Call Of Duty but we’re really struggling to find anything very negative to say about this map pack. We didn’t think too much of Vertigo or Mob of the Dead, but they’re certainly not bad maps and Studio and Vertigo are definitely very good ones.
Five maps is still expensive for the asking price but other than that this is definitely one of the better downloads for the series, and curse us for fools but we’re intrigued to know what will be next.
In Short: The usual mix of the mundane, the inspired, and the not quite fully-formed, but at least two of the five maps are minor classics.
Pros: Studio is a fantastic remake and Encore is a great deal of fun. Magma and Mob of the Dead aren’t bad either, although not on the same level.
Cons: Vertigo is much too similar to Overwatch and not much fun anyway. Zombies is still staggering under the weight of its own legacy and desperately needs a reboot.
Formats: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, Wii U, and PC
Price: 1,200 Microsoft Points/£10.28
Release Date: 16th January 2013 (non-360 TBC)
Age Rating: 18