It's a sign of just how popular Call of Duty is when it's fans, who number in the tens of millions, will put down ten, fifteen pounds on a few new maps you could count on your hand. Regardless of Activision's exploitative profit-mongering, their customers continue to finance such thinking. I am one of those customers, as I put down 1200 MS Points when the First Strike Map Pack hit Xbox LIVE servers.
As I suffer for my financial sins, you can make an informed decision on whether you want to buy this inordinately priced product or not. Read on!
Let's kick things off with Discovery, the Antarctic-set map ripped from the campaign when Reznov first discovers Project Nova. Visually similar to the Summit map in the original Black Ops release, Discovery transports you to an snowbound facility slap-bang in the middle of an ice-cap afloat in the Antarctic ocean. Lit under the pale green glow of the Aurora Borealis, it makes the proceeding gunfights and a bloodshed a little more beautiful than usual.
Discovery is a medium-sized map - as, to fans' chagrin, much of Black Ops' is - with two separate floors, if you will. Above is the facility itself, an abandoned Germany research outpost with a scattering of Grid-esque interiors and open-space festooned with random crates, oil drums and snow-draped vehicles. It's standard CoD fare, with cover ample and vantage points available inside the neighboring buildings. Topside is split in half by a thin bridge stretched over a bottomless chasm.
Below this bridge is Discovery's key feature, a series of ice-formed bridges and caves. The ice-bridges are destructible, so you can either block the enemy from reaching your side in a Search and Destroy match, say, or plant a C4 charge and detonate it as a hapless goon sprints across. It's gimmicky stuff, but pretty fun overall. Discovery's size and multifaceted sprawl make it perfect for objective-based modes.
Another map plucked from the campaign, Kowloon is set on the neon-soaked sprawl of a Hong Kong rooftop. Of all the maps in First Strike, Kowloon is perhaps the most imaginative, with its uneven spread of sheet-roofs, balconies and cramped interiors. The pelting rain and grimy, grey aesthetic add a wonderfully scummy vibe to Kowloon.
Kowloon isn't particularly big, but the ever-changing landscape makes it feel much larger than it actually is. A variety of cover is strewn around to cower behind when the bullets start flying in, from sparking generators to outhouses and satellite-dishes. It's close-quarters stuff, so I'd recommend a sub-machine gun like the AK74u or even a shotgun.
Like Discovery, Kowloon's adds a little flair to the map with two zip-wires strung across the map. Hooking yourself to one and sliding to the opposite side is a quick and easy way to reach key points on the map, but doing so leaves you exposed, vulnerable and unable to fire your weapon. Kowloon's size and fun but dangerous zip-wires makes it perfect for a good ol' round of Free for All or Team Deathmatch.
Stadium, as you might expect, is set inside - and slightly outside - a hockey rink stadium. The actual rink itself is inaccessible, although you can shoot the puck around and into each goal. The least flashy of all the maps, Stadium has a functional beauty, with bright sunlight bathing the outside areas in a warm glow, whereas inside it is appropriately cold and dim.
Stadium is far more densely-packed than the other maps. While it's not the smallest, the lack of any sprawling open areas or space makes it feel much smaller, and as such grenades and Claymores are likely to drop or explode at any moment. In fact, Stadium is probably the Nuketown of First Strike, perfect for newcomers looking to sharpen their swords.
Unlike Discovery's destructible ice-bridges or Kowloon's zip-wires, Stadium is devoid of any gimmicky features. Which is nice. It's a small, simple map perfect for a game of Team Deathmatch. I recommend you equip Flak Jacket, though.
Black Ops' multiplayer isn't exactly suited to snipers. For one, even the largest map is swimming in ample cover for a victim to flee behind, with a lack of any 'corridors of death' almost every Call of Duty has included since. Berlin Wall is Treyarch's attempt at making up for this. And then some. It's simply enormous, its namesake splitting either side of a sprawling German town in two.
The wall itself is crumbled in the middle, allowing easy access to either side. However, this 'No Man's Land' is guarded by automated turrets on either side that will mow down any interlopers with indifferent efficiency. If you're packing a Wily Pete, now is the time to throw it! Overall, Berlin Wall is suited for players who like to hold a particular point and fend off the waves of oppositions. Snipers, you will love this map.
Berlin Wall is probably the strongest offering in the First Strike Map Pack, if only because the game has no other sprawling, sniper-suited levels for players to muck around in. It takes a while to memorize all its caveats, choke-points and niches, but once you've found that perfect spot to hunker down in and begin raining eerily precise death upon the opposing team, you'll love it!
While I thought Black Ops' campaign was its best yet, and I'm still spending upwards of two hours a day online rattling away clips, the Nazi Zombies mode is still my favorite feature in the game. I just love it; it's fun, it's funny - the quips are stupidly good - the way it racks up in stakes and tension and leaves you breathless until the last of you have fallen to the zombie horde.
So it's nice to see a brand new - and fully featured - zombie map thrown in First Strike. Ascension relocates matters to a Russian space-station overrun with zombies, mad machinery and even space-monkeys. Yes, Russian cosmonaut primates sent out into space who've returned to nab all your perks! It's a fantastic reinvention of the mansion's tropes, with lunar landers replacing teleporters, spacesuits abound and even black-hole devices to muck around with.
It's a blast, and the perfect cherry on top of a great package. However, to charge fifteen pounds - a quarter of the full game's price - for four multiplayer maps and a zombie map is ridiculous. But what do you think, dear reader? Worth the money or worth nothing?