Well, DLC season for Call of Duty: Black Ops II is over. Of course, I say DLC season but what anyone really means when they put DLC and Black Ops in the same sentence, they're really referring to Zombies season; because that's the only kind of DLC worth discussing.
So, now that I've had enough time to get well acquainted with all the Zombie outings, it's high time I'd rank them; starting from the bottom and going all the way up to the utmost best.
This is all based on my personal experiences, meaning it's all opinion. However, it is important to note that I am not ranking these six maps in the typical sense of how they play. Gameplay is of course an important part of Zombies, but the truth is there is far more to the Zombies experience than merely how it plays.
Fifth Place (Last Place)
Starting off is the lowest of the low, worst of the worst, the most disappointing of the all the disappointing, it's Green Run. This should not be a surprise to any, for it absolutely deserves this position, at least in my opinion, for the following reasons:
When I say Green Run, I tend to refer to TranZit, as that's the one everyone's familiar with; but really, the entirety of the Green Run experience falls short in comparison to what came before, and what follows. I can definitely see the intention when it came to Green Run's design; Treyarch was obviously trying to raise Zombies to the same level as the Campaign and Multiplayer components of Black Ops II, it was all about the scale, making it as involved as possible, as is evident by the many submaps of Green Run and the introduction of new modes.
The main problem, I think, lies in the design of the map. Green Run is just plain ugly looking for starters, but it goes deeper than that. The intent was to make the biggest map there was, and boy did that backfire completely; the only way to experience the whole of Green Run is through TranZit, but almost as soon as that glorified Survival mode starts, there's problems: pretty much all of the map is covered in that ugly ugly red mist. It's hardly experiencing a huge map when the game itself seems like it's trying to stop you from venturing too far, railroading you into the sections that aren't covered in mist, and punishing you for daring to venture out by throwing zombies specifically designed to block and obscure your vision.
And even then, it only gets worse; the sections that aren't covered in mist are incredibly small and cramped. The end result is a map that is suppose to be huge, but feels incredibly small and disconnected; and that's without mentioning any of the new gameplay features they introduce and misuse.
The main thing Green Run, though really TranZit has going for it is the characters and the story. It may be very barebones, but eventually, I found that these characters and this story were fleshed out and given the properly attention they deserved. Just not in this map, so think of Green Run as a risky foundation for something better to come along in the form of DLC.
But, moving on to said DLC...
I cannot help it, fourth place is a tie for me. A tie between Die Rise and Nuketown Zombies. I am definitely inclined to put Die Rise above Nuketown, it is the bigger, proper map after all. But there are elements in Die Rise that I just can't stand, which are not present in Nuketown, that I can't find it to place one over the other. I'll start with the official map for starters.
Boy, how fast can you say U-turn. Because that pretty much just sums up how Treyarch treated the followup to their big outing. It's definitely apparent just how different the Great Leap Forward is to Green Run, if it was majorly different like the maps that followed it, it might have been something really special, but nope, it pretty much fits the average pile.
Great Leap Forward is Die Rise. Whereas Green Run was TranZit and a load of other mini-modes, Great Leap Forward contains Die Rise and Die Rise only; while there was a little something extra (and I do mean very little) in the form of Turned, it's quite obvious that the idea of a massive map with various little modes and a big storyline was something that could not be squeezed into a DLC pack. Probably for the best, so I'll just describe Die Rise.
Basically, Die Rise plays it very safe; it's very reminiscent of the maps of old. No awkward transportation system, no obscuring mist, just very traditional gameplay. Which is also it's greatest problem; for if I wanted to play one of the old maps, I would have played one of the old maps; Die Rise really doesn't try to do anything with the formula laid out by Green Run; it doesn't really have anything that distinguishes it as its own map. This is made all the more obvious by the fact that it doesn't have any sort of aesthetic look about it; it takes place in a ruined building, no sense of identity or anything that actually makes it memorable. That's why it just doesn't hold up when comparing it to the maps that came after.
Which bring me to Nuketown Zombies. With this, I can appreciate it more because I have far less expectations for it; it's small, it didn't cost much, you know exactly what you're getting with it. It plays much like the maps of old, and it's better that way because it's not the centerpiece of a DLC. It's simply a quaint little bonus map. And to top it off, the aftermath of am atomic blast in a well known multiplayer map is a far more intriguing design than whatever Green Run or Die Rise had going for them.
Finally, I can talk about a map I actually enjoy. At number three, it's Buried. Now it may look like I'm hating on the maps centered around the new crew, but that's not the case here. Buried's a damn improvement over Grene Run or Die Rise; it's the map these characters and this weird story should have had.
I'll start with the nice things; remember what I said about the characters and story being the only promising thing about Green Run; well it finally pays off in Buried. The opening cutscene for solo players gives the new crew a surprising amount of development and motivation I certainly didn't expect at this point; this little scene makes their little quotes and mannerism in the map itself far more enjoyable.
And it gets better; Buried has that aesthetic look and feel about it that was missing from the new crew's former outings. A western town underground is far more memorable than the settings of Green Run and Die Rise; there's a good deal more to this, but I can't discuss until the end of the article.
Now for the questionable content; Buried plays far better than those two maps I keep referring to. At first, I found it a refreshing change of pace, but then, as I thought more about it, I have come to the realization that Buried is in fact the easiest Zombies map to date. And I actually don't think that's based on my personal experiences, but rather, it was the intent of the designers. I do believe that Buried was explicitly designed to be as easy and as accessible as possible, for reasons as such:
- The Bank for starters, true it was in the other two, but it was not as implemented in the same way as it was here. The Weapon Locker to an lesser extent, also.
- The entire map can be bypassed. This was intentional, through careful jumping, as well as the Paralyzer and the Trample Steam, you can get right to the Power Switch and the Bank without having to spend a single point.
- Everything is at hand. You don't have to go too far to get anything that's not in the mansion and beyond. Perks, weapons and the box are all easily at reach, and you can access it all without spending too much, due to the aforementioned point.
- The Giant, yes virtually everything he does makes it easier for you.
- Don't want to build anything, make him do it.
- Don't want to go too far for the Box, make him thud it so it won't. Or, if it has gone elsewhere, make him go and bring it back.
- Make him pick up a crawler so the round can effectively last forever, meaning you don't have to worry about a zombie dying while you do your thing.
- The buildables and that Juggernog alley. Just dump them in there, sit back and let the rounds go by. And if the Zombies do get past, they'll have to deal with your two - oh wait, three Pack-a-Punched weapons.
- The easiest way to get the Random Perk Bottle to date, allowing you to easily max out all seven perks in no time.
- The Tombstone Persistent Upgrade, in the event that you do go down, you'll only lose one perk.
- The Time Bomb, in the right hands can easily undo any mistakes.
- Custom placement of wall weapons. Is the AN-94 too far away? Well place it somewhere more convenient; like right next to Juggernog alley.
- Vulture Aid in all its glory. Avoid zombies, and with careful aiming, you can keep ammo reserves high.
In other maps that you could call easy, at least you had to work your way towards a position of relative safety. With Buried, you can pretty much access all the map has to offer on the very first round, in fact the game will reward you for doing so. The hardest part to Buried is its easter egg; but should you complete that successfully, it only encourages you to go for the high rounds, what with the permanent perks, and the potential for four weapons and a permanent Fire Sale.
Now every map has the potential to be incredibly easy or excruciatingly difficult, depending on what kind of players are experiencing it. But Buried is different because, as I said, I believe it was the intent of the designers, which I can understand as Green Run, and to a lesser extent Dire Rise, were far more difficult because the design of the map made it that way.
Fortunately, Buried has a lot more going for it than gameplay. As I said, the unique look and the character growth really sets it apart. But I cannot say that these were all new developments from the design team, for what Buried earned, Buried learned.
But, I am speaking out of term...
Coming in at second place, the map to end all maps, the peak of peaks and the most ambitious map yet, to top off Zombies season, it's Origins. Yes, Origins.
There were many expectations I had in the buildup to Origins. Because it was the final outing, I expected it to be the cumulative result of everything we experienced in every map that came before in Zombies season. And for the most part, that's pretty much what we got; Origins has elements of all the Black Ops II Zombies maps that preceded it, whilst also having some similarities to its Black Ops equivalent, Moon.
Remember what I said about Green Run and oh- wait for it, wait for it - Die Rise being so blank, ugly and devoid of any aesthetic look. Well, Origins fixes that immensely, being the best looking map to date; an engrossing dieselpunk depiction of World War One, its many elements nicely fitting together to compliment that style: the staffs, the robots, the generators, the Zombie Shield, it really pays off to see such a brilliant map after the blandness of Green Run and... well what do you think I'm going to say.
And the characters. Another grand achievement for Treyarch; I expected very different personalities of the fab four because of the different perspectives, and boy do they deliver. It's a real treat to listen to Richtofen and Dempsey in particular, for they are nothing like how they are from later maps. It really shows how much the Zombies experiences has grown and matured from its early days.
Unfortunately, Origins has something going against it. That being the gameplay; there's nothing inherently wrong with it, for there is much to discover and utilize. But I am reminded of Moon; what I mean by that is that a well-coordinated team or a competent solo player will get the most out of the map, but the rest of the gamers who play without coordination will find Origins a very difficult struggle. It was the same instance with Moon, and is particularly jarring since Origins is the followup to Buried, the easiest map there was.
This was also the case with TranZit, a map that was so grand in scale but so disconnected to all but the finest cooperating players. But the reason that Green Run's all the way down there and Origins is all the way up here (or should it be other way round) is because of the reasons I already stated: the look, the characters, and the sheer amount of stuff there is to do makes Origins have far more replayability than its lesser predecessors. That is likely why it is the favorite of many.
But it's not my favorite...
Why do we like Zombies so much, huh? Really, why do we hold it much higher than any of the other components that Call of Duty has to offer? Why do we hold it to such a standard than say, the Infinity Ward offerings, the Special Ops and the Survival Mode of the Modern Warfare series? They're not so different, you know, they share many similarities, gameplaywise that is. You survive waves of enemies, occasionally you accomplish certain objectives, yet for some reason there's far more people see in Zombies.
Why? Isn't Zombies just glorified gameplay. Well, in the olden days, and I do mean the olden days, Zombies was as basic as it got: Shoot zombies, see how long you survive for, when you die do it again. But even all the way back then, there was still something Zombies had that Special Op and Survival Mode don't even bother to try and emulate:
An atmosphere. A scene. A setting. A certain feel, a mixture of horror and wackiness that gradually grew in scope. That atmosphere was always there though: be it in a isolated shack in the middle of a fog of war, or an abandoned mental asylum or a Japanese swamp, it was always there. As such, it grew in scope as new features, new characters and new utilities were introduced, while always trying to have a particular atmosphere in a particular setting. Then Green Run happened and they went and lost all pretense of a setting. It was more about trying to make the Zombies experience feel more like Multiplayer, with all the little submaps with different modes, strictly for gameplays sake. You got your gameplay and you got your story, which one do you want to play. Die Rise did little to remedy that, being stripped of all visual identity just like Green Run, it only improved gameplaywise, whilst giving little regard to the immersion factor Zombies is known for.
And then along came Mob of the Dead...
I ain't putting this at first place because of how it plays. If that were the case, probably Origins. Rather, Mob of the Dead does something I really did not expect from Treyarch, considering Die Rise.
The genius in Mob of the Dead does not come from its gameplay, but rather from how it expertly manages to give us that true Zombies experience that was missing from preceding maps. It was a risk too, departing from the established story to tell something completely different, but for me, it whole heartily paid off.
Think about how Alcatraz looks. As I've said many times before, Green Run and Die Rise were devoid of a look, no sense of immersion with a vague story that was unrelated to how the map plays. What does Mob of the Dead do, well for starters, it makes a connection between the two, gameplay and story and having them really service one another.
Take for example, why do you do the first steps of the easter eggs in Green Run and Die Rise, you do them because you want to do the easter egg. Why, do you do the first steps of the easter egg in Mob of the Dead, why do you build that plane. Because you want to get to the Pack-a-Punch machine. Why collect the skulls, beacuse there's a Blundergat waiting for me. This is a very simple way of combing the two, gameplay and story, you do one because it effects the other.
Now, let's talk about Perk-a-Colas. Yeah, Perk-a-Colas. What's the Perk-a-Cola in Mob of the Dead: Electric Cherry. Noticed anything about its function and name, how it calls to mind an Electric Chair, very fitting for the supernatural prison setting. Also, what about the new weapon introduced: the Thompson. Very fitting for the Prohibition era in which Mob of the Dead takes place. Also, what about Afterlife, interesting gameplay mechanic that also services the supernatural setting of Mob of the Dead.
These little things make Mob of the Dead feel far more believable than many other maps; it really shows that Treyarch put a good amount of effort into making a setting that seems actually plausible. I could go on and on about everything else that Mob of the Dead does well, but I'll say this one last thing.
Buried and Origins learned from Mob of the Dead. If you like either of them, you owe it to this as well. Mob of the Dead had the Thompson and the Electric Cherry to make its setting more believable, well, Buried had Vulture Aid and the Remington New Model Army to make its Western setting also seem more believable. Mob of the Dead had a soundtrack to further immerse the player in the spooky supernatural setting of Alcatraz, well Buried and Origins do that to to better immerse yourself in their own settings. Mob of the Dead had its own unique HUD, well Buried - you get the idea.
Sometimes, it's not how a map plays that counts. If that were the case, what would be the difference between Zombies and Special Ops. Sometimes it's how a map feels that counts; how alive it looks, how believable the characters are. It's for that reason that I believe Mob of the Dead to be the best of the Zombies season that Black Ops II had to offer, and even if it might not be the best map there is, it's definitely the most important. Because it reminded us just why we value Zombies so much more, and why Infinity Ward's offerings will never come close to matching it.
I think that's all I have to say. Hope I didn't go on for too long, I tend to ramble when I have loads to talk about.