Hi Eurogamer! Last time we looked at an inevitable and overpriced map pack for Call of Duty: Black Ops together, we met Dave, my future brother-in-law. Dave and other (but not all) Daves are the reason that Activision can charge 1200 Microsoft Points for five maps while maintaining direct eye contact and avoiding a tell-tale blush.
Dave is new to gaming, and his 360 is almost exclusively a Call of Duty machine, only occasionally gasping for fresh air on the pitches of FIFA. In terms of the hours of play he'll get from it, the best part of a tenner doesn't seem much to refresh the COD man-shoot experience.
Dave doesn't realise it, but a battle for his immortal soul is about to rage in the gaming heavens. EA is sharpening a trident imbued with runes that spell out Battlefield 3, Activision is feeding raw lightning into the machine that powers the COD conveyor belt and THQ has lit a tealight and whispered a few sad words in front of post-it note on which someone has scribbled 'Homefront!' in red felt-tip.
Just who will win that cataclysmic battle is as yet unknown, but for now, Dave sits firmly in Bobby Kotick's pocket (balancing delicately on the tip of a cigar, sleeping in a fold of hundred dollar bills and forever in fear of being crushed by a small lady revolver). He downloaded Escalation the second it was out, so I rang him for his review. "Yeah. It's alright, I suppose." Score out of ten? "Erm. Seven?" And, don't you know, he's right.
As with First Strike, there are four multiplayer maps here – this time veering even further towards players who favour more exotic gameplay flavours than habitual Team Deathmatch. All the maps are large; there's no map like First Strike's Stadium, where bullets are sprayed so frequently they form a fine mist. As such, even with a full server, TDM can feel a little lonely, while Contract killcounts won't tot up as fast as many would like.
The maps are also a little more complicated than normal. Hidey-holes and snipe spots are often far less obvious than in pre-existing maps, while there are more cover points liberally scattered through levels. It will take time for people to evolve fresh tactics, three days at least, so if you jump in right now, your kill/death ratio could come as a pleasant surprise.
Convoy is built around a fairly familiar crossroads setup: its centrepiece is a broken motorway bridge that's crumbled into the road that passes below it. It's a textbook spot for Domination, HeadQuarters and whatnot, with many points of entry and a sniper's alley up above.
There's a neat touch outside the gas station: a lead that makes a bell ring when cars or soldiers pass over it. This, clearly, leads to a lot of blood being spilt and a fair few naked flames getting close to the petrol pumps. At first, you feel lost in Convoy, but it soon develops into an excellent nuts-and-bolts exercise in point capture and area protection.
Stockpile, meanwhile, is a journeyman affair. A World at War virgin, I was last night reliably informed by a man from Newcastle that it's similar to the elderly Outskirts – so perhaps Treyarch fans (wherever they're hiding) will be happier with it.
It's a Russian village with a central WMD storage depot, a large multi-gantried affair with a vast number of internal windows which mean that guarding its entry points can prove tense and tactical. Aiding and abetting this, meanwhile, are two garage doors that can be shut (accompanied by a loud horn sound) to funnel enemies elsewhere. A decent level, but not one that shall be writ large in the COD history books.
Next up is Hotel, a rooftop map built with Capture The Flag in mind and hugely reminiscent of Modern Warfare 2's High Rise. (Then again, any map drawn from the model of Team Fortress' 2Fort or Unreal Tournament's Opposing Worlds is going to feel a little familiar). Visually, this is the most interesting level, complete with pool, steamy sauna, casino and a vault that's been busted open leaving high-denomination dollar bills floating on the breeze.
It's a little on the large side but provides a multitude of interesting pathways, as well as those ever-popular opposing snipe ledges. Fun for five minutes, meanwhile, are lifts you can call and – if you're hilarious – plant a claymore in for the unsuspecting. In a map pack that's far lower on patchy gimmicks than First Strike, these are sadly very much a patchy gimmick.