The second DLC pack for Black Ops II is further proof that, regardless of sales and popularity, with the two alternating developers of Activision’s annual Call of Duty franchise, underdogs Treyarch are the visionaries, the risk-takers, the outfit prepared to have fun within the core framework. Infinity Ward / Sledgehammer may come along and refine what Treyarch have done each time with Modern Warfare, but there’s nothing as silly and enjoyable as Zombies in their games, and I stand by Black Ops II having the best campaign narrative in the series’ recent history.
Of course, it’s neither the Zombies mode nor the campaign that draws people to Call of Duty, and there’s a constant argument over which of the studios does multiplayer better (for my money, Modern Warfare 3 is still slightly more playable than Black Ops II, despite some impressive new features in the latter). As to the question of who does the better DLC – well, that one has just been answered with a bullet.
Uprising is an add-on of two halves. Firstly – and not so impressively – it brings four new multiplayer maps into play. They’re a decent mix despite their failure to top the heights offered by Nuketown (which is now free and compulsory), but they do have a certain appeal.
Studio, for a start, is Firing Range from the original Black Ops, redesigned as a Hollywood back-lot complete with a hodgepodge of various sets like a pirate movie or a western. It’s a great map to play in, especially the first few times as you always feel like you’re seeing something new. Observing the scenery isn’t likely to do your K/D spread much good, but Studio’s warren-like battlefield is great fun to navigate, and is probably the pick of the bunch. The second map, Vertigo, puts you atop a skyscraper and expects you not to fall to your death as you run around like a lunatic, and the various levels complete with tight corners and small rooms make it a great map for Hardpoint. It also stands out by being so clean; the whole map is carved out of polished chrome and glass, and you almost feel bad blowing holes in it and jumping through windows.
The Encore map is set in London after a rock concert and, while it’s nice looking, doesn’t really feel all that new despite the view from the battlefield of various famous landmarks. If you could snipe from Big Ben’s clock-face or blow up the London Eye, Treyarch would have a customer, but in spite of Encore’s impressive aesthetics the map itself is no more interesting or exciting than what has gone before. Magma, on the other hand, is very cool, taking place in a Japanese city that has fallen victim to a volcanic eruption. You can imagine what happens if you run blindly through an encroaching river of lava, and it adds an extra dimension of danger to the map that’s not really present in many of Call of Duty’s battlefields. They should definitely take a few cues from these ideas in future, and sprinkle on some extra environmental danger amongst all the bullet-dodging.
On the whole, the four maps are serviceable, but don’t do much to stand out alongside those already available. Thankfully then, the second half of the DLC is much more enjoyable.
Taking the experimentation of the Turned mode released in the Revolution pack, Treyarch have mixed up Black Ops’ Zombies once again. This time they’ve added Mob of the Dead, a mode that sees four hardened cons trapped in Alcatraz prison as it’s overrun by the red-eyed undead. And the cream on the cake? The four protagonists are voiced by a group of Hollywood hard-nuts renowned for their work in crime capers: Ray Liotta, Michael Madsen, Chazz Palminteri and Joe Pantoliano play the unlucky would-be prison-breakers and add an element of hammy, sweary charm to the whole affair.
More friendly to the solo survivalist, Mob’s most interesting new feature is the Spectre mode, whereby the dead stay on the battlefield in the form of ghosts who can use electrical energy to instantly kill zombies and power-up junction boxes. You can’t earn points in spectre mode, and your time steadily runs out (get back to your body in time or it’s Game Over), but it’s way more fun than just dying.
Your main objectives are survival and escape, and Mob of the Dead facilitates both with loads of weapons and unlockable chests. Headshots are the order of the day, unless you’ve got your hands on something beastly like the excellent, Shadow of the Damned-style Blundergat shotgun, and staying alive is incredibly hard – and not always ideal: some doors have to be shocked to open. It’s a great dynamic in multiplayer, as the dead can still be useful in helping their comrades survive.
The atmosphere is just right, cloaking the haunting, oppressive corridors of the Rock in deep shadow and forcing you to keep moving into the unknown, to find engine parts for your getaway plane or keys to progress. With a decent set of headphones on you’ll feel the same terror as your protagonists, as every distant noise becomes an approaching horde, and every rattle and scrape becomes a creeping abomination. It’s all offset wonderfully by the effing and blinding of your frightened mobsters, who fill the terrifying silence with cussing and bickering.
Mob of the Dead is a great spin on the Zombies mode that does far more with the template than Turned did, and hints at what Treyarch could do with a fully-bankrolled, standalone game based around their spin-off. As it is, the story of Mob of the Dead is more involving than Zombies has ever been, if it it does revolve around something as simple as fixing up a plane and getting the hell out of Dodge.
VERDICT: As a complete package, Uprising comes up trumps, as the mostly unexciting maps are balanced by the excellent Mob of the Dead mode. It amounts to the best Call of Duty DLC Treyarch have ever delivered, and once again highlights their ability to take the tried and tested formulas and spin them in new and original ways. A great expansion to a great shooter.
EXCELLENT. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.