Review: Black Ops Escalation map pack gives Call of Duty a fresh boost

Gamers won’t be disappointed with the newest multiplayer map pack for Call of Duty Black Ops video game. The new maps make it exciting to replay the combat shooting game, which debuted six months ago and is still engaging to play today. As we’ve noted before, Call of Duty Black Ops is one of the most engaging video games ever made. Extending its life through map packs is a smart and lucrative move.

On Tuesday, Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service launched the Black Ops Escalation map pack, with four new maps and one zombie level. Given the timing, Microsoft’s Xbox Live is going to be a big beneficiary of the map pack release. Meanwhile, Sony is suffering two major outages because hackers attacked its PlayStation Network and PC online gaming services.

Consider one very interesting fact that sheds light on just how intensely players are playing this game. Back in December, we noted that 1,619,499,217 assists were made in the game, where one player helps another player finish off an enemy. That was just one month after the game launched. Six months after the game launched, that number is 7,633,268,348. This means that the engagement level of the game has stayed pretty constant for six months. If other games aren’t selling all that well right now, the popularity of Black Ops multiplayer combat could very well be one of the reasons.

Back in November, this game generated $360 million in revenue on its first day of sales. The latest map pack costs 1200 Microsoft points on Xbox Live, or about $15. If Activision Blizzard sells millions of these map packs — which have virtually no costs of goods sold (beyond Microsoft’s 30 percent cut) — the profit generated can be as much as a major blockbuster game.

Activision Blizzard’s latest map pack is the second release of downloadable game content for Black Ops. On Tuesday night at midnight Pacific time, there were 333,316 players online. That was about three times as many as the night before the map pack launched. The number isn’t huge, but it has stayed steady all week, and on Saturday night there were 345,749 players online. It shows that the game still has a pretty committed audience, and the numbers associated with the engagement of fans is pretty amusing.

I’m one of those fans. I’m at the equivalent of level 92 in multiplayer combat. Earlier this week, I had played Black Ops multiplayer for a total of two days, 11 hours and 34 minutes. I had 196 wins and 273 losses. I had a tally of 4,348 kills. I died 5,541 times, for a kill/death ratio of 0.78. My accuracy rate is 15.94 percent and I’ve gotten 324 head shots. My longest kill streak was 9. Multiplayer is tailored for players like me, since you can go from Level 1 to Level 50 as many as 15 times in Prestige mode.

You can laugh at me, but I’m not alone in being obsessed with the game. Some of the numbers associated with the achievements of fans in multiplayer combat are pretty astounding. Players have shared 118.9 million care packages dropped from the sky with their fellow team members. About 2.2 million videos have been uploaded so that players can brag about their exploits. Headquarters units have been destroyed 99.6 million times. Players have been killed 238.2 million times by a ballistic knife. Players have been stabbed in the back more than 517.2 million times. Using their multiplayer currency, players have spent the equivalent of 41 percent of the U.S. GDP. Players have run around the world of the game so many times that it is as if they had circled the globe 132,073 times. And 1,181 billion shots have been fired.

The Escalation map pack has five maps, entitled Zoo, Hotel, Convoy, Stockpile, and the zombie map Call of the Dead. My favorite mode for playing these maps is Domination, where players try to control three different flags on the map.

Zoo is a great map for short-range weapons such as shotguns. The main flag is planted right in the middle of a small plaza area inside an abandoned zoo. You can shoot down on the flag from either side and enter the plaza from four directions. That means the flag is in the middle of a killing zone, and it is hard to take without some real teamwork. There’s a couple of good spots for snipers but the map mostly favors close combat.

One of the best tips for staying alive in this map is to find the entry to get on top of the monorail track that runs through the map. From there, you can maneuver to a bunch of places and have a height advantage over rivals. But it’s pretty easy to see you walking up there and you won’t have any cover if you get spotted.

The Hotel map is pretty similar to the struggle to control the main flag in Zoo. There are long distances where you can snipe at enemies from above. You can shoot down on a drained swimming pool from a second-story window, but you have to be wary of snipers or crossbow-grenade wielders shooting from a similar window on the other side of the complex. There are elevators you can call and enter. It’s fun to put a claymore mine in the elevator and ambush enemies rushing into the elevator on the next floor. The hotel is nicely decorated to look like a swanky joint in Havana. There are plenty of paths for you to run around the enemy and hit them in the flanks. If you stay inside, you can be pretty safe from helicopter, mortar and jet napalm attacks.

Convoy has a similar set up as you square off on multiple levels of a freeway where trucks have been overturned. The setting is a U.S. army convoy that has been hit by a Soviet ambush on a freeway. You fight amid the wreckage.

The middle flag is pretty hard to reach because snipers can watch it from overhead on either side of the battle arena. The distance between the bridges is pretty far, making it hard to get the flag. But you can get to the flag from below through a crack in the ground.

The Stockpile map lets you fight for control of a key building in the middle of a Russian town. The fight for control of the main flag takes place inside one of the buildings where you have to fight in a fairly confined space. Once your side grabs the flag, you can run up to the automatic garage doors and shut them so that it’s harder for the enemy team to take the flag back. Overall, this map has a lot of variety, but controlling the garage doors is key to victory.

The zombie map is okay — but I’ve never been much of a fan of this mode, where you just fight until the zombie hordes take you down. It’s pretty easy to get killed by the master zombie in this level, and quite hard to stay alive for a long time. If you add it all up, it’s all pretty engaging fun for hardcore gamers. The celebrity characters in the level include director George A. Romero, Robert Englund, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michael Rooker and Danny Trejo.

Check out the funny trailer below, which cleverly says “there’s a soldier in all of us.” The second video is a preview of what the maps look like. Overall, I like these maps better than the first map pack, First Strike. If I had to rate them, I’d give them a 90 out of 100.

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