Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed, 1200 MSP) | PC | PS3
It's increasingly fashionable to rail against Call Of Duty and everything it stands for, but despite a few predictable grievances, millions of players still flock to its enjoyable blend of skill, uncomplicated fun and rampant spectacle to unwind after a long day. It's interesting, then, that the latest map pack for Black Ops II favours the latter. In an effort to give players something interesting to look at beyond wartorn streets, Uprising goes heavy on gimmicks, bells and whistles, offering four maps and a new Zombie level that all feature a unique 'thing.' Whether you're dodging through lava, stomping across a miniature city that makes you feel like a giant or punting zombies into a demonic maw as Ray Liotta, there's no denying that Uprising is gun fun on a bun.
If you've fallen out of love with Call Of Duty, don't regularly play Black Ops II or spend your days whining about there being "too many shooters" without making the effort to enjoy the cornucopia of different genres out there (you know who you are), there's nothing for you here. But if you're still enjoying Treyarch's blockbuster, Uprising is going to be a welcome breath of fresh air over the coming months.
Studio is easily the highlight of the pack, despite being a carbon copy of Firing Range from the original Black Ops. The mix of nervy open spaces, tight quarters and exposed sniper tower remain, leading to some dynamic and unpredictable matches, but Treyarch have absolutely gone to town from making this colourful map visually and thematically distinct. Set in a Hollywood sound stage, it's a mix of themed areas such as a 1950s sci-fi set complete with Tripod, Wild West shootout, skeletal pirates, trippy optical illusion, model city and even a nod to Jurassic Park. Hearing your team-mates shout about pirate galleons and UFOs with a straight face never gets old.
It's a welcome and heady dose of colourful silliness to be sure, but Studio's visual flair also factors into some neat new gameplay opportunities. Moving cardboard targets and scenery props can be exploited by canny players to bushwhack unwary opponents, but can quickly be pierced by incoming firepower. The distinct zones also makes communication much easier, after all, chances are you'll remember where the freaking Dinosaur is. There's a case to be made that Studio's gimmicks can become distracting and overshadow player skill (this will come down to personal taste), but you'll likely relish every moment spent in this personality-laden funhouse.
Encore takes a little time to grow on you, but when it does, this London-themed level is likely to become a regular part of your Black Ops experience. Set in an abandoned London rock concert, matches revolve around a central stage area surrounded by peripheral corridors, tunnels and rat holes. Assaulting and holding the stage may be tricky, exposed as it is from a sniper perch and numerous avenues for flanking opponents, but taking it grants a well-organised team a powerful bastion from which to command the match. Indeed, once you've taken the stage, it's difficult not to rock out.
Allowing players to engage at any range, from longshots to jumpy SMG and shotgun runs through the toilets and tunnels, this uncomplicated yet surprisingly nuanced map is easily one of the strongest that Black Ops II has to offer. Certain to become a firm favourite.
Magma (my pedantic inner geologist still desperately wants to Tipp-Ex the word Lava onto the screen, ruining my telly in the process) is an odd beast that never quite gels with the fluid Call Of Duty multiplayer experience. Gameplay flow is frequently broken by a curious mix of dead ends, small truncated areas and climbable obstacles, not to mention pools of static lava - lava, dammit! - that damages and kills players who accidentally venture inside it. Though some interesting pieces of level geometry can provide some exciting encounters, such as a collapsed subway train that makes for a concave melee trap, matches feel slightly awkward and disjointed to say the least.
However, Magma starts to make sense when you fire up an objective gametype. Domination, Detonation and Hardpoint benefit from one of the capture points being sunk into a vulnerable pit that's tough to both attack and defend without effective cooperation, while the dead ends provide defenders with a number of interesting ambush opportunities.
Vertigo feels a lot like Modern Warfare 3's Overwatch; a compact multi-level arena dominated by tight corridors, ladders and gantries, along with a relatively open external area. Traversing between levels requires you to keep a close eye on your movement relative to the catwalks and pits, not to mention smashing headlong through windows, which is an enjoyable change of pace that puts a little too much emphasis on first-person platforming for this reviewer's tastes.
Again, like Magma, Vertigo is best suited to objective gametypes, since defenders will have to communicate effectively to repel attackers from unexpected angles. In team deathmatch, however, the sheer number of potential attack angles and interlacing corridors sometimes makes team deathmatches descend into complete chaos, even by franchise standards.
Mob Of The Dead rounds out the package, offering by far the most enjoyable of Black Ops II's troubled cooperative missions. It's bombastic and breezy compared to the original selection of grim Road Trip levels, in that players assume the role of four gangsters breaking out of Alcatraz, voiced impeccably by veteran actors Michael Madsen (Resevoir Dogs), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), Joe Pantoliano (The Sopranos) and Chazz Palminteri (The Usual Suspects). Activision have clearly splurged on the A-list talent, but Treyarch's development talent is also much more apparent here thanks to a couple of new twists on the zombies formula.
The objectives (assembling a makeshift plane out of parts scattered around the prison) are less vague and more approachable, while the ability to become a discorporated spirit gives you a few seconds of grace to revive yourself if downed. While blasting zombies with lightning, just because. It's a welcome buffer that takes the sting out of cheap deaths, but limited uses and points penalty means that hauntings never become a crutch to lean on. In addition, a hellish demon maw rewards you with a powerful melee weapon if you force enough zombies into it, which is always good for a laugh - my advice would be to recreate the pool cue scene from Shaun Of The Dead. Though the Zombies mode still feels slightly 'off,' as a middle ground between a totally hardcore survival game and a fun cooperative diversion, this is the best we've yet seen from Black Ops II.
Uprising certainly doesn't make the case for a season pass purchase at this stage (seriously, we'd urge you to wait), but as a single package, it's an injection of colour, vibrancy and variety into the core Black Ops II multiplayer experience. Shame that it costs as much as a full-priced indie game, XBLA/PSN titles, bundles or entire full games on sale.
- Studio and Encore will become a daily part of your Black Ops II routine
- Best zombie level thus far
- Fun and varied
- Visual flair can be slightly offputting
- Vertigo and Magma are less enjoyable, especially in TDM
- 1200 MSP/£10 will buy you entire... better... games on XBLA, Steam, PSN and elsewhere
The Short Version: Uprising earns its price tag for Black Ops regulars with plenty of variety and value; offering two great new multiplayer maps, two that come to life in objective gametypes and a fun new zombie experience. Gimmicky and silly, yes, but more than fun enough to warrant a download.