Call of Duty has never wanted for memorable moments. Your first taste of Nuketown - pure, face-clawing masochism in model village form. The first time you had your guts torn out by an attack dog in World at War. Watching zombies chow on "Tricky Dick" Nixon. "No Russian".
And now, the sight of Sarah Michelle Gellar unloading an Uzi at a zombified George A. Romero as he tries to mash her with an enormous electrical hammer. That burning smell? That's your pop reference input gland evaporating.
Buffy and Romero aren't the only B-movie cameos the second Black Ops map pack has to offer: there's also Freddie Kreuger (Robert Englund to chums), Huge Leathery Mexican Dude (also known as Danny Trejo) and The Walking Dead's Michael Rooker, who's too unimportant to nickname.
They're the stars of Escalation's single zombie map, a frost-bitten island dockyard dominated by a candy-striped lighthouse and a wrecked frigate, linked by zip lines and crammed full of ghoul-generating passageways.
Visibility-killing ice storms sweep in periodically a la Gears 2's Nowhere map as you tot up scalps, accrue multipliers, unlock new routes around the map with your points and try to stay away from the seemingly invincible Romero. "I just want to talk," he booms mockingly, lunging for your face. We'll let our shotguns do the talking, thanks.
If "Call of the Dead" lends Escalation its punch, the follow-through comes care of four new "standard" multiplayer maps, each breaking down to accommodate different modes, loadouts and playstyles as elegantly as you'd expect from the battle-proven Treyarch.
Stockpile centres on a weapons depot with sliding metal doors, an obvious (too obvious?) place to hold out when playing defensively, while Zoo is a warren of in-door aquariums, pens and aviaries - all thankfully uninhabited, all good ambush spots.
Hotel caters to snipers, with two plush high-rises providing clear views of a charming shopping courtyard, but there's enough in the way of booths, kiosks and sneaky flanking stairwells to keep close-up combatants entertained. Convoy, finally, artfully distributes chunks of two-floor building around a bombed-out concrete bridge. Mind the gap if you're storming the latter.
Besides being great places to pick a fight, the Escalation maps are packed with pulpy personality, colourful little exercises in Cold War schlock. It's this characterfulness more than anything else which makes the hefty 1200 MSP price tag bearable.
Escalation feels less like a map pack as a theme park for Vietnam veterans, not just contested territory but an environment you'll want to explore - rooting under the crust for the inevitable Easter eggs. Black Ops has never felt fresher.
Escalation is out now on Xbox Live. Download here.
High quality deserves a high price
- Sarah Michelle Gellar!
- Compelling map designs
- Great vibe
- Won't win over COD detractors