Advanced Warfare may be the boldest-looking COD in years, with its Kevin Spacey-fuelled sci-fi gadgetry and game-changing player movement, but it seems like Sledgehammer and Activision aren't prepared to completely abandon the successes of the past.
Havoc, the first DLC pack for Advanced Warfare, introduces four multiplayer maps and the return of perennial favourite, Zombies, sluggishly rebranded here as Exo Zombies. The wave-based survival mode has become synonymous with the series, despite only appearing in Treyarch's games (World At War and both the Black Ops). This is the first time another studio has turned its disembodied hand to the world of the COD undead, and it's a thoroughly decent first attempt.
Sledgehammer has stripped some of Zombies' more irritating foibles from the get- go - you no longer have to stand tediously by windows as magical barricades assemble in front of you. Upgrade and weapon stations glow against the background, and the time in between waves is now spent solely on improving your loadout rather than standing around waiting.
On the only map - Outbreak - you have to battle your way into one of Atlas' research facilities, holding firm against the onrushing horde, and it's very much a been-here-shot-that type of deal. Only when you unlock the Exo test station, and get yourself locked and indeed loaded into one of Advanced Warfare's killer apps (quite literally), does Exo zombies really come to life.
The waves here come thicker and faster than they ever did in the Black Ops games, so you start to truly rely on your suit's double jump and Exo dash abilities to maintain distance and get the hell out of the way when it all gets too much. The zombie numbers ramp up swiftly, and it will take good teamwork and communication to last past wave 15.
Despite having an Exo suit yourself, it's not long before you realise those shambling reanimated corpses are sporting shiny new body kits themselves. If 28 Days Later is shorthand for fast zombies, then Advanced Warfare adds jumping and air-dashing to that mix. Think you're going to be able to take refuge on the bus abandoned outside the facility? Good luck with that one.
Exo Zombies plays a faster and more thrilling game than its predecessors, much like the rest of Advanced Warfare. This is a more kinetic and skilful effort than before, and if you're a talented pilot already, you can execute some serious heroics with little more than a thumbstick click and a steady aim.
It's still a slight mode, with only the one map, and Sledgehammer may come to rue the decision to strip dead players of their Exo suits. As always, you're revived at the next round if you do kick the bucket, and while you can grab your old gear by collecting a glyph at your place of death, Dark Souls style, you have to manually find your way to the Exo station to get another suit. Doing this is next to impossible once you get past wave 10 - the mode has clearly been designed with the ability to outmanoeuvre enemies in mind - so when you can no longer do that, you're both a massive liability to your team, and thoroughly useless in your own right.
Another unusual call is the presumably expensive inclusion of John Malkovich, Rose McGowan, an old-looking Bill Paxton and The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal as the player characters. Apart from the odd one-liner in the heat of battle, they could be anyone. The story is thinner than Malkovich's hair.
Joining the enjoyable Exo Zombies, then, are four genuinely excellent multiplayer maps. In the past, DLC maps have often felt cheap or rushed, with basic geometry, or more often, a lack of visual polish. Havoc suffers no such fate. Here are four handsome and interesting arenas that make good use of the increased mobility of the Exo suits without ever losing sight of what makes a COD map - and indeed Call Of Duty as a shooter - tick. Multiple angles, a circular flow, two or three-tiered platforms and vantage points, and no dead ends.
Starting with the weakest but most interesting to look at, we have Sideshow. It's set in an abandoned clown-themed motel. Coulrophobics might see a rapid decline in their K/D. This is a map with unusually long lines of sight, meaning snipers (the virus of the Call Of Duty playerbase) have unrepentant joy camping in corners, picking people off and generally raining on everyone else's fun.
The small huts make for decent cover, but those who enjoy the classic COD run-and-gun will have to play a little more conservatively here. Still, the open areas make it a good map for the always-enjoyable Uplink mode. This is about as close to a football field as you're going to get in a Call Of Duty map.
Up next are two crackers with crap names, Core and Urban. While they may sound like slide headers in a stuffy marketing presentation, they're both tight and intricate maps that show off Advanced Warfare at its best - aerial combat, plenty of places to disappear, and the types of choke points that cut up the weak and inaccurate like a woodchipper.
Core is entirely circular, centred around a hub area with multiple points of entry. Keen air-dashers can scoot around the outskirts at pace, while those who venture into the middle on their own will be staring at a killcam pretty quickly. Urban, conversely, is almost entirely square. There's a mean set of stairs with a balcony on one side of the map that's a classic holding point for teams, while the flat open areas on the other edge of the arena make for great duelling grounds.
The main event of this DLC pack, though, has to be Drift, a true Call Of Duty classic. It's set in what appears to be a retail outlet shopping center at Christmas, and it's covered in snow. It's all about leaping between white-topped buildings on the upper level and darting into shops on the lower, and it's a joy to navigate. After a while, too, you'll hear an alarm, signifying an incoming avalanche. It's no Battlefield 4 levolution (apologies, that word is never nice to hear), but it does flatten the top half of the map and change the flow of combat. It's a brilliant piece of work.
And Havoc's a very decent package overall. As part one of the Season Pass, this is a strong chunk of content for the sharpest COD in years. It mixes fan service with proper map design, and gives those still addicted to that ADS snap more reason than ever to keeping plugging away towards that next prestige.