First available for Xbox 360, the Call of Duty: Black Ops Annihilation DLC map pack is now available for PS3 via the PlayStation Store at $14.99.
Annihilation is the third Black Ops map pack release. With a fourth, zombie-only map pack already announced, Activision Blizzard has maintained uncommonly consistent post-launch support in modern console shooters. Of course, all this comes at a price. Is Annihilation worth it, with a new pack on the way, and a whole new CoD game — Modern Warfare 3 — soon to follow?
This DLC, like all the foregoing Black Ops DLC, applies the same packaging formula: four competitive multiplayer maps and one co-op zombie-mode map. There's no bad map in the bunch, though a couple stand out over previous efforts. I found numerous sniping opportunities in the Escalation map pack, but I'm not a career sniper. Truly veteran Black Ops snipers had complaints about sniping positions in those maps. I suspect those players not content with the lines of sight and cover in Escalation will find their sharpshooting salvation in the Annihilation maps.
Notably, Hazard seems especially designed for long-range shooters. The map is a portion of a Cold War-era resort golf club. The art direction in Hazard is itself notable, awash in vibrant colors, littered with lush foliage and tile-roof structures suiting tropical latitudes. Certainly, a golf course, with wide-open sight lines for teeing off, is just as accessible for snipers if you replace those comparatively innocuous, dimpled balls with metal-jacketed bullets. Various traps and the namesake hazards provide good cover for both snipers and their targets. Snipers should move around a lot between shots, or they'll soon find themselves sharing a very small hole with a very live grenade. A skillfully deployed RC-XD kill streak reward won't be pretty, either. Hazard provides plenty of opportunities for counter-sniping, too; "keep your head down" is the order of the day.
Hangar 18 is set in and around a structure at the legendary Area 51 U.S. military installation in the Nevada desert. At first pass, Hangar 18 seems a lot like any other Black Ops map, but after playing a while, you'll discover quite a variety of unique routes right through the center of the map. Positions along these routes often double as nice sniper redoubts. Hangar 18 is well suited to Team Deathmatch rounds; focusing on the central hangar makes for a lot of run-and-gun mayhem. I was a little disappointed that the extraterrestrial technology used as a backdrop and didn't make an appearance as part of fancy new weaponry. However, in competitive multiplayer modes, adding things like energy weapons would undermine the integrity of the existing class system upon which players have built their ranks.
Silo is immediately reminiscent of the Launch map included with all the retail versions of the game. It's similarly set in an ICBM facility, and missiles launch from the silos during gameplay. Silo distinguishes itself by first appearing a typical our-side/their-side sort of map, until players discover the loop that runs all the way around the map. Using this pathway provides an alternative to rushing the middle of the map for attacking enemies; there aren't too many places in Silo where a patient attacker can't sneak up on you by going the long way round.
While Hazard is probably a better multiplayer map overall, my sentimental favorite is Drive-In. At the risk of dwelling in the depths of puns, Drive-In is the most cinematic backdrop for any Black Ops map, original or DLC. The drive-in theater is defunct, but the projector still works and the power is on. An advertising reel plays on the reasonably intact screen during matches, providing visual interest and also a measure of cover-by-distraction for snipers hiding in the projection booth or near the screen. More interesting would have been a Cold War-era newsreel projected to the screen. Still, the black-and-white images add an element of eerie desolation to gameplay.
Shangri-La is the new zombie map, rolling out something relatively unique in Black Ops zombie environments. The action takes place at an ancient island temple, with new character models dressed in moldering tropical apparel to match the setting. The map is fast-paced and exciting; I didn't find many places in Shangri-La where I felt more than momentarily safe from undead assault. There's probably more immediate tension in Shangri-La than any prior zombie map. Adding to the intrigue are many secret areas, which are worth discovering as you avoid an untidy death at the hands of rogue flesh-eaters.
This late in the Call of Duty franchise's annual cycle, DLC buying decisions get tough — in this case, especially for zombie-mode fans. There's an excellent zombie experience in Annihilation, but the most unique and robust zombie environment has just been announced. If you own the Hardened or Prestige editions of Black Ops, the decision to open your wallets to Annihilation is easier because the fourth, zombie-only DLC will be free. All of the competitive multiplayer maps in Annihilation are good, and I'd called Hazard and Drive-In outstanding. Quality competitive multiplayer aside, owning a complete set of Black Ops zombie-mode maps may be the best argument for buying Annihilation so close to the release of a new game in the series.
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