The second downloadable content pack for this popular first-person-shooter franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops Escalation (Treyarch and Activision, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, 1,200 Microsoft points or $15), keeps players riveted with new places to engage in firefights and an unforgettable undead experience.
First, multiplayer maniacs get four new maps to apply their combat skills, including:
Zoo: An abandoned Russian zoo complete with empty exhibits and a monorail sets the stage for covert action.
Convoy: An ambushed U.S. military convoy lies in ruins on a beat-up highway. Warriors can attack underground and on top of the decimated roadway while admiring the 1950s decor.
Stockpile: The eeriest of the bunch is set in a frozen Russian farm town that's hiding weapons of mass destruction. A massive warehouse (with controllable doors) will contain most of the fighting.
Hotels: A deserted 1950s-style Cuban luxury hotel and casino, the El Royale, includes a drained pool, bar area and elevator access to a second floor that makes a perfect spot for snipers.
The locations definitely breathe some new life into Black Ops, with Convoy being the standout.
However, a star-studded adventure in a new zombie land, Call of the Dead, easily will consume a majority of the player's time.
A gamer or group of up to four players survive endless waves of the undead as they take control of Danny ("Machete") Trejo, Robert (Freddy Krueger) Englund, Michael ("The Walking Dead") Rooker or Buffy the vampire slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar.
How cool is that? I might have preferred Bruce ("Army of Darkness") Campbell to Mr. Rooker, but it's still a solid lineup of cult icons.
The grungy group looks as if they're ready to star in an action movie and each offers B-movie vocal nuggets, such as Mr. Trejo's "I haven't taken a hit like that since the '70s."
Stuck in a location plucked right out of a John Carpenter movie a snowstorm in a frozen Siberian wasteland featuring a shipwrecked oceanliner and a lighthouse illuminating the frozen shores the warriors must continuously fight off hordes of aggressive and hungry undead.
Cool weapons either bought (collect cash from zombie kills) or grabbed through access to mystery boxes, include a ray gun, a Scavenger that shoots lightning bolts, and a little ditty called a V-R11 gun that turns a zombie into a well-dressed human that then attracts his flesh-eating brethren to chase him.
My only beef is our heroes never get to use their signature weapons. I couldn't find a machete for Mr. Trejo, double-barrel shotgun for Mr. Rooker, a razor glove for Mr. Englund or a stake for Ms. Gellar.
I did find a cool zip line, a health revival that included using two grenade pistols, a way to freeze zombies (shatter them with a gunshot), and creatures that come up from the ground, drop down from ice-covered caves, and even legless permutations that crawl for their supper.
And here's the pop-culture kicker to the entire event. The grandpappy of the undead, George Romero himself, stars as the villain. He uses a light rig as a weapon and acts as the pied piper of zombie land, calling his flesh-eating creatures to attack the heroes.
Don't shoot George, it just makes him angry. Guide him instead into cold water to keep him calm. The famed director acts in a near godlike fashion in the orchestration of his minions, with Wagnerian bouts of anger and deadly, ground-shaking attacks.
Solo players also get a must-see computer-animated video introduction to the Call of the Dead mission with a foreboding voiceover by Mr. Romero.
This clever precedent for grabbing celebrities and placing them into a zombie game should cement Treyarch's Call of Duty legend.
I'm voting now for the next foursome to include Mr. Campbell, Michael ("Reservoir Dogs") Madsen, Rosario ("Sin City") Dawson and Quentin ("Grindhouse") Tarantino.
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