Version tested: Xbox 360
One of the joys of a great multiplayer shooter is the equilibrium you find once you know the maps inside out; the confidence that comes from knowing all the angles, and knowing that your opponents know them as well. It's then that the strategic elements of even the most meatheaded fragfest come to the fore, as balanced teams move and counter-move like chess players. Only, you know, chess players with automatic weapons and foul-mouthed headset banter.
Of course, eventually familiarity breeds contempt and you start to grow weary of the same old scenarios. That's where the oft-maligned DLC comes into play, with the FPS being one of the few genres where such additional material isn't automatically viewed as the devil's baked beans. There's a tangible value to an expanded map list, and when you're a series as established as Call of Duty there's a very real need to feed the hunger of your fanbase in order to stay at the head of the pack.
All of which brings us to the prosaically titled Map Pack 1, the first such offering for World at War. While the game hasn't quite unseated its direct predecessor Modern Warfare in the online gaming stakes, there are still plenty of people - around a quarter of a million at any time if our experience is anything to go by - all happy to keep racking up the XP back in World War II.
The good news for those players is that this trio of new multiplayer maps is a bit of a belter, boasting compelling environments and balanced design that will take even expert players hours of action to fully exploit.
Station is the smallest of the three, a medium-sized Berlin subway station ruined by Allied bombs. It's a long map, with the open space of the platforms in the centre broken up by abandoned railway carriages. The sides of the map offer claustrophobic rat-runs of tiled corridors, full of corners and cubby holes for close encounters, while steps lead up to a second tier, offering fantastic vantage points for the snipers, but precious little protection from flanking counter-attacks. Capture missions work especially well in these tight confines, ensuring constant action.
Knee Deep, on the other hand, is a large open-plan Japanese village. Huts on bamboo scaffolds rise above streams, and with players able to duck, scurry and clamber up, under and around the multiple structures, it's a complex map that rewards steady teamwork when sweeping through. Once again, there are elevated spots for snipers but they're too exposed to encourage too much camping. It's such a large map with so many covered routes under the huts that snipers are likely to get cramp as they linger in the rooftops waiting for the enemy to blunder into view.
Finally there's Nightfire, arguably the pick of the three maps. Set in a moonlit section of Berlin's ravaged interior it offers a staggering number of routes and approaches for each of the game types available. Lots of buildings are open to you, most with multiple storeys to explore, while the streets are littered with convenient cover. However you prefer to play, this is a map that seems custom-made to offer something for everyone.
What's most impressive is how all three manage to navigate that tricky divide between crafting environments purely for videogame action and making those same environments feel organic and real. Station perhaps feels most artificial in this respect, purely because the arrangement of the trains feels too convenient, the corridors too twisty turny for any real public transport hub. Both Knee Deep and Nightfire excel, however. They feel like real places, and each element that adds to your tactical options seems to grow naturally from the place itself. Cellars, attics, balconies - none feel incongruous or out of context, but all quickly prove incredibly useful in your battles.
There's another element to this map pack, of course, and it's even more interesting than the multiplayer maps. Zombie Verrückt is an all-new scenario for Nazi Zombies mode, and it builds on the formula established by Nacht Der Untoten in very satisfying ways.
Based on the Berlin asylum that you battled through in the Red Army storyline of the single-player campaign, it once again pits you and three friends (or strangers) against relentless waves of the fascist undead. The map is oblong in shape, with an open courtyard in the centre. As before, each kill earns you points - as do revives and fixing the barricaded windows - and these points can be traded for new weapons or to remove debris to open up new areas.
New to the game are Perk-A-Cola vending machines (which can boost attack power, as well as reload and revive speeds) and an electrically charged barrier to fry the shambling horde. Both require power, however, and it's here that a little dash of genius is added to the mix. The generator is at the top of the building, on the opposite side of the map to your starting point. Getting there requires lots of points, and plenty of teamwork. That's because you're no longer all thrown together into the fray. Players are instead paired off, and separated from the other duo by a locked door which - you guessed it - needs power to open. Reuniting with the other players, and therefore raising your chance of survival, suddenly becomes as much about planning and tactics as repeated headshots.
It takes Nazi Zombies from a cute additional distraction to something approaching a standalone game in its own right - not quite on a par with Left 4 Dead, but certainly comparable in intent if not execution. The downside is that if you only have three players, somebody is going to be fending for themselves, and the odds of a solo player getting all the way to the generator are slim at best.
It's the addition of this new feature-set for the bonus game that ultimately makes this map pack a more compelling purchase, developing it from just another selection of new maps, great though they may be, into something more varied, robust and rewarding. We've come to expect map packs with our shooters, after all, but in the evolving Nazi Zombies experience the series now has its secret DLC weapon - and perhaps the seeds of a new spin-off.
9 / 10
Call of Duty: World at War's excitingly named Map Pack 1 is out now, and you can check out a trailer on Eurogamer TV.