To those unfamiliar with the styles of the Call of Duty franchise, they go a little something like this: Sometime in April, a new take on the game is announced, which is then released in October-November. Following that are four DLC packs (with each contain around three to four maps and some new co-op level) that are sprinkled in throughout the Winter and Spring months. As we creep into February, it’s now time for the first of four DLC packs for Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Awakening.
When Call of Duty: Black Ops III released to rave reviews late last year, it brought a much welcomed breath of fresh air thanks to developer Treyarch’s interesting take on the game. Now it’s time for the first DLC to release, and in a surprising twist, it’s coming to the PlayStation 4 first (as part of Sony’s exclusivity deal it signed with the brand). The question on everyone’s mind? Has the unconventional, fun nature of the developer managed to make its way through to the DLC? Thankfully, the answer is yes.
When it comes to level design, Treyarch has developed a philosophy that it has stuck to for nearly every Call of Duty they’ve released: lanes. three of them, to be exact. The company has always liked to keep players inside “lanes” and this makes it so that most of the action is happening inside a players frame of view. The idea of three lanes has become an almost unbreakable rule for the company, and in a way, the first map of the DLC, Gauntlet, is an actual embodiment of the concept.
Throwing the player into a military training facility, Gauntlet often feels like you’re playing on three maps in one, as the map has a Jungle, Arctic, and an Urban theme. While the map design is a fun nod to Treyarch’s mission statement, it doesn’t offer much in the way of creativity. In my time playing it, I found very little means to get above the action, and instead had to deal with the occasional player hiding around a corner as I made my way through the narrow areas.
The second map featured in the DLC, Rise, also takes a very heavy approach on the three lane system. Unfortunately, it’s also the worst of the four maps. While Gauntlet mixes things up by giving you constant changes in scenery, Rise is set in an industrial area that doesn’t look much different from any of the other industrial areas that the Call of Duty series has already had. The sad part is that the map has some really interesting areas to look at, but when you try to get to them, you’re blocked by invisible walls. It feels as if Rise was a rushed map that was tossed in to take up that fourth slot. Fortunately the next map isn’t so bad.
The third newest map, and by far the best map of the DLC, is Splash (pictured above). In a game that often takes on dark themes of war, violence, and shootouts, it’s nice to see Treyarch create a map that is the exact opposite of the entire Call of Duty franchise: a fun, colorful, water park complete with water slides, gift shops, and various pools. The map does a great job of opening up the battlefield and allowing players to mix it up. You can easily find enemies running through the powered down slides, but can also manage to find yourself in various underwater shootouts.
The last map, Skyjacked, follows in the footsteps of remaking a map from whatever Call of Duty series is out. Since this is Black Ops III, Treyarch has remade Hijacked, a map that was both loved and hated by the community for its fast-paced gameplay and close-quarter focus. Personally, I loved the original map in Black Ops II and was glad to see it brought back for another run. The map itself doesn’t deviate from the course too much. Instead of being on a luxury yacht, you’re instead on a helicopter that looks like something out of a Marvel movie. The map still encourages fast-paced gameplay and still has the propensity to give you some truly terrible spawning. But the ability to wall run and jet around now make it even more fun to play.
The final addition to the DLC, and the one a lot of people have bought it for, is Der Eisendrache (The Iron Dragon), a new expansion for the ever popular Zombies mode. Set inside a Wolfenstein-esque castle, the new chapter continues the storyline from the original, WW2-era of Zombies, rather than the more modern, Lovecraftian zombies that the main game offers. As is the case, Jeff Goldblum does not make his return to the cast, but fans do get back the iconic “Tank” Dempsey.
When it comes to purchasing, $15 is always a steep price for what some may consider “only four maps.” When all is said and done, however, the first DLC to debut on a Sony system doesn’t disappoint. While one of the maps leaves a lot to be desired, you’re still getting three solid levels (one of which may be Treyarch’s best work overall) that all offer a different take, and a brand new expansion for zombies. If you’re still playing Call of Duty (and odds are you may be), this will be a worthwhile expansion for you.
This review of Call of Duty: Black Ops III‘s DLC, Awakening, is based on a digital copy for the PS4 which was provided by the publisher.