Version tested: Xbox 360
Editor's note: A joke may be considered to have missed its mark when it requires further explanation to a reasonable number of people, and we apologise if anyone confused Will's tongue-in-cheek pillorying of gamers' attitudes and his future brother-in-law in this review with actual bigotry. For the record, Dave is a real person, is a casual gamer as described, but is in on the joke.
Sometimes as editors we hear the voice of the person writing in our heads when we read their work, which is not a facility necessarily available to our readers and can lead to warm hearts being mistaken for cold ones. Will is a sweet-natured man and a big fan of COD multiplayer, while FIFA is the most played game in the surprisingly unsnobby Eurogamer office by a mile. Angry Birds, though? PEASANTS.
Hi Eurogamer! Eurogamer, this is Dave. Dave might look like us, and in many ways he behaves like us, but he is not like us. He is, in fact, quite different. Note his furrowed brow and the hint of menace in his eyes. Look at those trainers. Judge him.
Dave owns a console and a big television, like any right-minded individual. The problem is that he only has it to play two games: the FIFA football game and Call of Duty. He is, and let's not shy away from the term, part of a growing underclass of gamers. The people who pollute our lifestyle: those of a mind to play Team Death Match in Nuketown every night to the exclusion of everything else. In six months, Dave will become my brother-in-law. He makes me sick. He hasn't even heard of Braid.
Dave doesn't know who Bobby Kotick is. [He's Activision's CEO, Dave. -Ed.] Bobby Kotick, however, knows Dave. He knows Dave's basic needs and Neanderthal desires. He knows how to gather dirty coins from Dave's pockets in exchange for hours and hours of 'entertainment'. Important today is the fact that Bobby Kotick knows that Dave has never bought a game expansion or map pack in his life, yet will happily hand over a ludicrous 1200 Microsoft Points (once I've told him what they are) for a paltry four maps and a zombie level. Stupid, silly, ignorant Dave.
With the reality of this capitalist marketplace in mind then, First Strike is quite good. Its multiplayer levels are varied and interesting both artistically and in terms of gameplay, albeit perhaps with an overall eye towards hardcore players of more exotic game types. Those who favour dispatching the legions of the damned with increasingly silly weapons, meanwhile, will adore the new Ascension zombie map and its house blend of evil monkeys. Dave will be a fan, and you'll grudgingly accept that he's right.
Stadium will seem the most familiar to one and all. An ice hockey complex where grenades fall like rain, it provides instant recall to the likes of Firing Range and (despite not being as symmetrical) Nuketown. It's a map filled with winding routes through the main concourse, but it's also punctured by narrow corridors that lead to open windows where camp-friendly players are a little too protected from the hustle-bustle downstairs.
It's a fast-paced map, and one where death seems to come at any time and from any angle a fact not helped by a variety of dark corners custom-built for lurkers. As the meat-grinder of the new levels it certainly fits the bill, and it's a neat touch that you can blast the puck around the rink, but it also contains the least design imagination and the most danger-spawns.
Berlin Wall, on the other hand, is a superb offering. Imagine a medium-sized urban map like Havana with Germanies both East and West on either side. Instead of a central open street though, Berlin Wall has a no man's land where a string of automated turrets will punish anyone who foolishly strays out into the open. There are only three safe spots to cross the border, and as such the action is funnelled and condensed beautifully especially on the central crossing where a Domination point prompts some thrilling exchanges of bullets.
Berlin Wall is also a good map for the weak-lemon-drink snipe brigade, those who like nothing more than a prolonged camp in an open window with a variety of distant heads to pop. However, overall there's a great balance of inside areas rubbing up against the great outdoors, so games rarely end in frustration for those who would otherwise be left with continual deathcam replays provided by the smug-on-high.
Pick of the bunch artistically, meanwhile, is Kowloon a map built around the same concept as the solo Black Ops level that taught us that the best way to get someone to talk is to lacerate their mouth with broken glass. It's also, however, a pain in the arse to navigate when you're first getting your bearings and don't even think about going in with the Valkyrie rockets killstreak. You're exchanging gunfire up on the rooftops of the city, meaning that the action is on various different levels and gradients.
You're continuously surrounded by perilous ledges, walls to clamber up and far more imaginative approaches to verticality than the normal 'flat ground and buildings, woo!' approach. As such, you'll be able to take a fair few more cracks at enemies hefting themselves into windows or up onto rooftops than usual, and indeed those using the level's central gimmick the two zip-wires that criss-cross between the (architecturally unlikely) rooftops.
These slides might bring a bizarre edge of the Krypton Factor into proceedings, but seeing as you're entirely exposed mid-slide, they're pretty pointless in Death Match and Team Death Match only useful when a swift takeover of a Domination point or a quick escape with a flag is required. Clever use of them may well turn the tide in more exotic game types then, but that doesn't mean that they don't get a little dusty from time to time.
The final multiplayer map is Discovery, a snowy military base beneath the green shimmer of the northern lights. Discovery has the feel of Black Ops' Summit map meshed with Grid and features a central canyon and some partly destructible bridges, making for some entertaining CTF and HQ bouts as it neatly directs traffic into compromising situations.
It is, however, a fairly slow map when played in vanilla team deathmatch a clear indicator of First Strike's overall (and understandable) bias towards Black Ops' more proficient players. There's a definite lean here towards those who don't necessarily want to play the basic 'shoot the men' game types, hoping beyond hope that a Nuketown XP harvest is next up on the map rotation. When played in more dextrous game modes, however, Discovery quickly becomes a candidate for First Strike's silver medal just behind the unabashed victor Berlin Wall.
And what of that most 21st-century update of MB board game classic Ghost Castle, the much hallowed Zombie mode? For those to whom zombie points mean prizes, and unlocked doors, Ascension is a vital addition to the shambling horde. It's vast (which also means it's fairly hard to learn and navigate) but it's wonderfully imaginative in both its execution and the means of execution for those deadheads soon to take a bite of peach.
Starting off in a rather fetching monochrome, and filmed in glorious Technicolor later on, the level takes place in a bonkers Russian techno-lab complete with jet-powered Landers to spectacularly transport you and your chums around the level, and rockets to launch. What's more, in a move that almost makes the zombie mode as unlikely to happen in real life as the Black Ops solo campaign, perk-hungry space monkeys patrol the level every four rounds, dead set on stealing your hard-earned goodies from the vending machines.
Other ridiculous new offerings include the Gersch Device, a Black Hole bomb that can stave off the horde through the medium of sucking them into another dimension while you and your strangely accented friends regroup. Matyroska dolls, meanwhile, the stacking affairs that are strangely popular in gaming of late, are essentially lovingly hand-crafted cluster grenades a rather scattered attack, but an effective one nonetheless.
First Strike, then, is a well-balanced collection of different styles of map, its highlights undoubtedly favouring those who tend to play away from Free For All and Team Death Match. Cynics would say it's weighted a little too heavily on gimmicks and point at the price tag and guffaw but, as discussed earlier, my future brother-in-law Dave won't give a space monkey. This is a fine addition to one of the only games he plays, and plays religiously, and he won't think twice about forking out the equivalent of a tenner for it. Once, of course, he's called me to find out what MS Points are and I've called him a moron.
As for Bobby Kotick and Activision, the Hungry Hungry Caterpillar of modern game publishing, they've got access to Dave's wallet and they won't let go. Lock up your sons and hold down X to barricade the nearest window: your nearest and dearest will be next. Resistance is futile.
7 / 10
First Strike is available now, exclusively for Xbox 360, on Xbox Live Marketplace. The author of this piece would like to point out that Dave is actually very nice, and God no not the face, don't hit me in the face.