Call of Duty: Black Ops - First Strike review
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Black Ops' latest DLC strikes all the right boxes - but does it represent good value for money...?
It was only a matter of time before it arrived. Without doubt, the Call of Duty franchise is the most popular FPS to date, with sales of its latest edition, Black Ops, reaching $1 billion by the 21st December, 2010. However, what's most intriguing about the title is the continued dedication to it. Whilst gamers worldwide have continued to reveal a number of rather imposing flaws throughout, Microsoft announced recently that, according to its Xbox Live log details, the average user logs on at least once per day and plays for over an hour. Now, if you consider that there are believed to be at least 30 million XBL members, these really are frightening statistics.
However, just three short months since its release and Activision are back, releasing CoD's first DLC, First Strike, on Xbox Live for the masses to purchase. Featuring five new maps - including a new zombie adventure known as Ascension - the DLC is available for purchase on the Xbox Live Marketplace website for $15 and, after a slight technical error, can now be downloaded from the Xbox Dashboard for 1200 Microsoft points. So, the question remains - is the DLC worthy of its hefty price tag or is this simply another extension to Activision's cash-rich franchise?
As much as it pains me to say, I was really impressed with First Strike's gameplay. The maps are smooth, well thought out and show a genuine level of originality that I was not expecting. What's more, each map has its own unique selling point, offering something different to its DLC brethren; an attribute which is sure to resonate well with fans of the franchise.
As a personal preference, I would have to say I got the most enjoyment out of Stadium. A map that really does do exactly what it says on the tin, Stadium is a close-combat map which sees the gamer circumscribed in a layered - yet restricted - environment, containing just the Stadium itself and a limited surrounding area. During testing, Stadium was the map-type I most hoped for when opting for a random selection because, as the close-quarter, runner-gunner gamer that I am, it provided constant thrills and kept the levels of adrenaline at equilibrist level. The gameplay was frantic due to the map's open yet confined foundations, resulting in high scores with even higher death rates. What's more, due to the Stadium's design the gameplay within it is much more accessible, helping to create a more level playing field for CoD gamers of all skill levels.
The other map that comes highly recommended is Discovery. Described as an "Antarctic research station that was left over from World War Two", Discovery has been cleverly constructed so as to ensure out-and-out mayhem. Teams spawn on either side of the map and must fight for control of a central chasm, one which joins both sides of the map together. However, due to the spacious and rather open make-up of the level, capturing and holding this chasm are two incredibly different tasks; with constant threat from sniper fire making the latter a rather prodigious exercise. Either way, Discovery lives up to the impressive standard that First Strike has set, and is a welcomed addition to an impassioned DLC.
I indicated earlier that I was impressed with the gameplay of First Strike and it would be fair to say that this statement also rings true in regards to presentation. The maps are crisp and vast and, on face value, are probably worth the money they cost. Furthermore, it has become evident from play that the maps featured within this DLC pack clearly took time to develop, with a detailed collection of textures and lighting featuring throughout. All in all, I simply cannot fault the visual side of things.
Now, this is where the problems begin to arise. Firstly - while not specific to First Strike - server errors continue to wreak havoc online. It's annoying because, considering the size and worth of Activision and the market dominance of CoD, these issues should not be a factor. However, Activision continue to ignore these problems, choosing instead to bury their heads and bask in the accumulated success of the Call of Duty series. Consequently, it becomes very hard to recommend any expansion pack - especially one as costly as this - with Activision's ignorance overshadowing what is otherwise an enjoyable experience. On a equally frustrating note, I was unable to review the new zombie level, Ascension, due to the server problems discussed above. As a result, I intend to review Ascension separately at a later date.
Secondly, you can't ignore the cost. At $15 (rounded to £10) the download's pricing is nothing short of offensive, especially when you consider that the critically acclaimed DLC for Red Dead Redemption - RDR: Undead Nightmare - is available for just 800 Microsoft points and provides a whole new single-player campaign alongside a number of addictive co-op and multiplayer options. Additionally, consider this idea for a moment - when you exchange legal tender for a product, said product becomes your property within the constraints of the law. So, why should you be expected to pay again to fully enjoy a product that is essentially yours already? It just doesn't make sense.
At the end of the day, the decision as to whether you purchase First Strike must solely be yours. While the content featured within is certainly impressive, the cost and common problems that reign throughout Call of Duty: Black Ops make this virtually impossible to recommend. However, if you do decide to take the leap, as I'm sure many of you will do, you will not be disappointed by the content inside. It's just whether you feel comfortable parting with such a large amount for what, inevitably, is a minimal return.
Without taking the price into account:
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