I don’t envy the job of a Call of Duty multiplayer map designer. There are so many classic maps in the series that people speak so highly of, with your work constantly being compared to those all time greats, regardless of whether your game has jet packs, human augmentation, or not.
You can almost feel the team behind Eclipse, the second DLC pack for Black Ops III, striving to create something new and memorable. Even compared to Awakening, the environments here step further away from the traditional grounding in realism and towards the fantastical and the flights of fancy. Now that’s not to say this is a bad thing, with a distinctive look and a vibrancy to each, but there’s always those long term fans of the series that would like a step back towards the humdrum of the Second World War.
Speaking of which, the classic map that’s been reinvigorated for Eclipse belongs to World at War. Verge is a remake of the classic map Banzai from that game’s own second map pack, with a long central bridge down which you can fight, a cave network off to one side and a central pool of water. Of course, it’s been upgraded with plenty of flat surfaces to wall run along, and you can swim through the water and into the cave system, which is amongst the tightest and twitchiest environment in this map pack.
To say that the visuals have been overhauled is an understatement, as it’s been ripped out of the Pacific Ocean and into a post apocalyptic future. The caves cut into the brilliant white chalk of the map, but around it, you have a shanty town and plenty of gang iconography. To my mind, it’s an homage to Mad Max, which is just the first stop on a trip to the cinema.
The next two might be if Star Wars and Call of Duty combined, with Rift and Spire both featuring long and perfectly symmetrical layouts. There’s a lot of scope to wall run in both, which makes getting from end to end blazingly quick, and some decent opportunities to shoot at range or try and get the drop on someone with some wall running, though Rift probably has more in the way of close quarters fighting. It’s the visual design that feels so Star Wars, with Rift set above an active volcano a la Episode III, and Bespin reborn in the cerulean blue skies of Spire.
The only odd one out would be the ever-so-slightly asymmetrical Knockout, but with the cherry blossom gently falling and the shaolin architecture that’s dominated by a castle off to one side, it could be any number of classic martial arts films. It does actually have a little Bruce Lee easter egg hidden away, alongside a bunch of 70s disco stuff, for some reason.
It’s a pretty close quarters map, with any wall running kept to the periphery. That slight asymmetry makes it interesting for games like Uplink, where there are those slight variations in the path and how easy it is to deliver the satellite ball. It can feel just a touch unbalanced in that mode to start with, but then playing from the other side, it’s clear that these are only minor shifts from one side to the other.
All together, they make for a map pack that’s really quite strong and distinctive visually, but also has some good variety in what they offer. Certainly, it feels more interesting and varied than Awakening did a few months ago.
As ever, there’s plenty out there who would rather sink their teeth into the Zombies map, and exploring the puzzling ruins of Zetsubou no Shima has been a blast.
Finding yourself coming ashore on an abandoned – well, zombified – Japanese research island, you’re given some of the map’s hooks right away. Zombies start dropping seeds for you to plant in designated spots on the ground, and there are blue glowing buckets that you can pick up. Combining the two can lead to interesting possibilities for the rest of how the map plays.
So much of the fun of Zombies comes in those first few rounds of exploration, as you keep just a single zombie from a wave alive and try to explore and see what the map has to offer. In this particular case, the key seems to be not just in finding the power generators, but keeping them active to let you reach some of the areas that are otherwise kept out of reach.
Having said that, there are plenty of intriguing things to do without being able to master this and explore the depths of Division 9’s laboratory, with a ritualistic alter presenting you with challenges to try and complete, like shooting five spore pods, as well as skulls that have been marked with certain symbols.
Just as in Der Eisendrache, some of these ideas have been drawn from previous maps in the series, so it could be seen as a bit of a disappointment that there’s not more ingenuity. At the same time, it’s a neat trick from a design point of view. These are common touchstones that long time fans can recognise and spot, even they’re dressed up in new ways, and it still gives you that moment where things click in your head and you figure out what needs to be done.
Zetsubou might not be as visually interesting as Der Eisendrache’s snowy Austrian castle, but – and this might just be my imagination – it feels as though it’s been filled with more of these little brain teasers and things to figure out. It didn’t take long for us to get the gist of how the map is laid out and designed, but I’m still eager to dive back in to try and uncover more of Zetsubou’s secrets.