Three quarters of the way through the Black Ops III season pass, and Treyarch have continued the trend of having some rather playful multiplayer maps in their DLC. Descent as a whole doesn’t have the same kind of unified feel that I felt Eclipse had last time out, of a Saturday matinee of classic B-movies at the cinema, but there’s still a fair bit to like.
Rumble takes the biscuit for its visual design, evoking a certain Robot Wars vibe, but doing so in its own excessive and over the top fashion. It’s brightly colourful in the large sports arena, letting you run out from the corridors and out onto the sand-covered arena with the giant robots providing plenty of cover.
This and a long corridor inside the complex do provide plenty of opportunity to snipe from a few windows, but there are no direct lines of sight between the sniping spots, making it a good mix between long and mid-ranged combat. It’s not, however, that big on wall running and extended movement, with only one or two areas that really scream “run along me!”.
Cryogen is much better in that regard, a futuristic cryogenics lab with huge cylinders hanging in a vast abyss. This is the risk vs. reward part of the map, definitely, giving you a fast and potentially quite covert to get from one side of the map to the other. Interestingly, the smooth rounded walls on the outside are topped with long metal strips that prevent wall running too close to the laser fences that top them.
As a largely internal Sci-Fi cryogenic prison complex, it’s a map that I feel caters better to closer ranged encounters, with the central control point in Domination a bit of a shooting gallery, thanks to its pillars and its low walls obscuring lines of sight and catering well to, uh, defensive play.
Of the four, Berserk is perhaps the least remarkable and most familiar feeling. A standard largely symmetrical three lane map, with a bridge in the middle, a gap and wall running opportunities, it conjures up memories of other maps, even if it is set in a Viking village that has been frozen for centuries in time for centuries
This time around, it’s Raid from Black Ops II that has been given the makeover treatment, with Empire transforming it into a decadent faux Roman mansion. Its bright, white masonry and spacious feeling design features a pool on one side
Yet, as I feel has been common to all three Black Ops III’s DLC so far,there are some teething issues with their launch and with their design. The spawns flipped during a match of Uplink on Berserk, a map which also has an erroenous out of bounds message that pops up in the corner of one building, and there were generally just a few too many close proximity spawns that resulted in a quick death for my tastes.
Empire in particular has a number of points in the map that look like they should be accessible, whether it’s an “open” window or a large elaborate balcony of sorts, and Rumble’s sandy outdoors area has a large space you can reach, but threatens you with an out of bounds error. Rumble is a surprising example of the game featuring noticeable pop in of texture detail. It’s particularly distracting when it’s a large font sports team name or team imagery that takes a few seconds of you standing still to load in.
Once again, and forgive me for sounding like a broken record about this, there’s such a simple joy to exploring a new Zombies map. Gorod Krovi rips you back in time to Stalingrad in the USSR. It’s not quite the Stalingrad that you remember or imagine though, even if it is reminiscent of classic WW2 era Call of Duty games, as a huge dragon flying overhead and can periodically set fire to various parts of the map. There’s a certain tacit acknowledgement of the ceaseless back and forth that the Zombies levels feature, as one of the characters shouts about the time travel causing grand hallucinations.
There’s plenty of anticipation as to what will happen with that dragon. After finding the power switch for the map, everything suddenly got very interesting in a magnificent bombed out hall, with tons of computer banks to try and a huge eye-like ball that follows you around the room. Zombies start to drop code cylinders which, when put into a terminal, take you to other parts of the level – thankfully there’s a map on a wall – to trigger an capsule to drop from the sky that you have to defend from a fresh rush of zombies.
Though I’m not the sort to hunt down each and every Easter egg within Zombies, I do very much enjoy the early process of discovery that goes on. First impressions say that this might be one of the more straightforward levels, with that computer set up and the items collected from capsules letting you interact with the winged beast somehow. I’m definitely looking forward to exploring it some more.
Unfortunately, the map pack as a whole doesn’t feel quite as inspired as parts of the first two were. Splash, the water park map, was a standout from the first pack, Awakening, while I rather enjoyed the cinematic imagery and variety that the Eclipse pack conjured, but Descent doesn’t grab my attention in the same way.
Black Ops III’s multiplayer is more interesting for how Treyarch and Activision are experimenting with microtransactions and randomised unlocks. Many players are now decked out in luridly colourful paint schemes, for one thing, and it seems as though there’s always one person (in the DLC playlist at least) playing with just a melee weapon – the game’s ultrafast pace certainly helps this style of play.
Some of these cosmetic items will doubtless have been unlocked via the microtransactions in the Black Market. These are an optional way to open rare chests for special items, but it’s only after half a year since they were introduced that Contracts offset their inclusion with more ways to earn in game points for these through completing certain daily, weekly and longer term feats. The balance still isn’t quite right, and I’m not a fan of paying for randomised loot, but the signs are there that they’re learning.
More importantly, while it’s far removed from Call of Duty of old, it can still be fun. I enjoyed good fortune in my first match back since the last DLC to have a positive K/D ratio, just managed to win an incredibly tight match of Domination on Cryogen, out-scored a ludicrously dominant team in the second half of another Domination match a map later, and so on. Even minor little victories over opponents, such as wall running while gunning someone stood in a window, were highlights for me that outweighed the niggles that I found elsewhere while playing.