Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 – Revolution: first impressions

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Revolution is as much design experiment as map pack – a test to see how well Treyarch’s time-tested map layout rules are working. Map structure, spawning, time to first engagement, engagement distances, angles of attack, cover height and more are all carefully-observed rules detailed in an internal Treyarch Powerpoint slideshow; rules they’re bending for the first time.

Cover heights, usually measured to allow players to return fire while crouched, have been raised on more than one of the maps; corners, normally hard-edged, are curved on the skatepark map Grind to eliminate corner-strafing; easily defensible elevated positions are made accessible by sand banks in Mirage; Downhill has mobile cover; Hydro has a corridor which periodically floods. It’s unambitious in comparison to Battlefield 3‘s themed map bundles, but those tiny tweaks constitute heretical design when most modern Call of Duty maps adopt a very similar shape – a circular or oval with a deadly area in the centre – with varying terrain to dictate those sacred engagement timings and distances.

And, for their part, Revolution’s four new maps are exactly that – circular or oval with deadly killboxes in the middle which invariably become homes to Domination and Hardpoint objectives. On Grind it’s a skate shop, on Downhill it’s a ski lodge with mobile cable cars, on Mirage it’s a hotel lobby and on Hydro it’s a tunnel prone to flooding. They’re strong maps which immediately lend themselves to certain modes more than others – Alpine is perfect for Capture The Flag, Mirage plays best in Search and Destroy – but they’re unmistakably Call of Duty maps. And we’ve played those maps before. You know where you stand and can feel confident exploring the map for the first time, but it can all feel a little too familiar.

Elsewhere in Revolution, a Chinese skyscraper becomes a Zombies map in Die Rise, and Turned introduces a new variant of mode where one human player is assaulted by player-controlled zombies. Die Rise is a vertical maze where it’s near impossible to keep a four-man group united. It poses some fascinating tactical questions, though many of Zombies’ more exotic zombie types become obscenely powerful in the tight corridors. Firefights are prone to devolving into frantic backpedalling to exploit the clumsiness of the zombies’ attack animations and your deadliest enemies become the walls around you.

Turned, meanwhile, feels like an answer to fans’ demands rather than an essential addition in itself; set on just the Diner portion of the Zombie mode’s Green Run map and supporting only five players, it’s the barest minimum necessary to quieten the vocal Zombies community and is almost certainly not what they expected when they asked to play as a zombie. Did they hope for something like Left 4 Dead? They got a bullet-fast version of Tag.

Revolution is a dense bundle loaded with content, and an important experiment for Treyarch. It’s the new Call of Duty A-team admitting they don’t have all the answers and subverting their own design ethics to see what works, and what could work better. Once it’s in the hands of a few million testers all shouting their words of approval and disapproval, Revolution might just be a revelation.