Video Game Review: Return to ‘Call of Duty’ With Excellent ‘Escalation’

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CHICAGO – Proving yet again that they know how to keep fans happy with their downloadable content, Activision and Treyarch have released another excellent batch of multiplayer maps for their mega-hit “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” The DLC named “Call of Duty: Black Ops — Escalation,” available exclusively on the Xbox, includes four new maps and a new zombie adventure named “Call of the Dead” that would be worth the $15 price on its very own. Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0

Overall, the quartet of maps here aren’t as instantly engaging as the four that were released under the banner “Call of Duty: Black Ops — First Strike” back in February but they still feature their own strengths and will surely suck away hours of your life in matches of Team Deathmatch, Domination, Headquarters, and more. The map design for this game that can now be assessed as a whole (the on-disc, “First Strike,” and “Escalation”) may be unmatched in shooter history. I still prefer the style of “Battlefield: Bad Company 2” (more open maps that encourage more strategy and less twitching) but these levels play perfectly to the strength of this title, which is what DLC should do in the first place. They shouldn’t try to change the game, merely expand upon it, and they expertly do just that.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation
Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation
Photo credit: Activision

One by one:


The center of this map features a road with crashed vehicles on it and sniper-friendly foot bridges on either side. Around that centerpiece are a few buildings in which to trap your enemy, but most of the action comes back to that center. There may be no map that plays more to the sniper than this one as I was repeatedly killed off by someone unseen. Now, the bridges are easy to get to and hard to defend, so one can’t hang out there for too long, but my play style was frustrated by this level, one that seemed more hard to maneuver than anything. If I wasn’t getting killed by a sniper, it was by a twitchy trigger finger coming around a corner. I simply am not a fan of this layout — less so than any of the eight DLC multiplayer maps.


This one is pretty self-explanatory. A massive hotel serves as the setting for a map that works best with Domination, which places one zone in the center of the map in the middle of a dried-out pool and the other two on either side. Taking and defending that middle zone is a blast, as you run through the former swim-up bar or to the roof on which hotel guests once sunned themselves. The detail in the actual hotel buildings on either side of the pool can be a bit scant although there are little elements — like an elevator that can turn real violent if you catch someone in such close quarters — that enhance the overall piece. And killing someone in the locker room behind the pool can be pretty fun.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation
Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation
Photo credit: Activision


This is the level that feels most like something you’ve seen already in “Call of Duty: Black Ops” (it has echoes of “Radiation” and “WMD”). The level design features a nice variety of buildings with open spaces and this is a fun one to play in Headquarters if you stumble upon such a situation in the Moshpit. There’s really not much to say about it as it is so reminiscent of what the game has done before but I don’t mean that as too much of a criticism. It’s a “COD: BO” greatest hit remixed in a way that makes it feel fresh again.


This is easily the weirdest of the new maps and, like “Stadium” in the last expansion pack, I hated it at first. Now, I can’t get enough. Running through broken-down zoo exhibits or across monorail trains is simply a blast. Domination features perhaps the most aggravating set-up with the “B” capture point in the middle of the zoo and surrounded by higher ground from which the enemy can raise his kill count on your ass. It’s a well-designed, energy-packed map that simply works. Like “Stadium,” it can be total insanity. You’re gonna love it.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation
Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation
Photo credit: Activision

“Call of the Dead”

The final map is a zombie experience with such star power that one has to marvel at the fact that it’s not only DLC but one released this far after the title initially hit stores. For most developers, this would be a day-one selling point. It’s hard to believe that Activision and Treyarch could ever top it with future zombie adventures. They should just close the book on zombie DLC.

Why? Because they got the master. Movie-loving readers will recognize the title as a variation on George A. Romero’s “Dead” series (that started with the timeless “Night of the Living Dead”). Romero himself stars in the zombie adventure alongside Danny Trejo, Michael Rooker, Robert Englund, and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Yes, Freddy, Machete, and Buffy in one game. What are you doing here? Go download a copy. Now.

“Call of Duty: Black Ops — Escalation” was released exclusively for the Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) for the Xbox 360 on May 3rd, 2011. It was developed by Treyarch and released by Activision. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Ninety Five Styles's picture


Black Ops: Escalation is awesome so far! A few minutes ago I came across a blog that’s giving out the Escalation DLC for free! I thought it was a scam until I saw the DLC code laying in my e-mail inbox. :D

I’m not sure if there’s any codes left, but if you want to give it a shot, here’s the site:

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