You'd think a new map pack would be the ideal jumping on point for Call of Duty - everyone's in it together and all that, mainly because nobody knows which hedge is tactically the most efficient to hide in, and there will surely be some thrilling community camaraderie as you all work together to learn these brand new levels one by one.
Wrong. Hopping on a new Call of Duty map pack the second it comes out is like a testing ground for the most devoted, besotted worshippers of the franchise. You'll be pitted against people who can shoot with pin-point accuracy, probably bending the laws of physics to their whim (or, if you were playing online games when I was a kid, just using cheats) and completely ignoring things like weapon recoil, while at the same time having some sort of inherent understanding of the new layouts before you've even discovered the shutter doors can be toggled on Stockpile.
That's probably why Activision has opted for an alternate marketing tactic in the run up to Escalation, Call of Duty: Black Ops' second DLC pack, thrusting its co-operative Zombies mode into the limelight and having the four competitive maps play the rest of Girls Aloud compared to Call of the Dead's Cheryl Cole.
We'll start with Call of the Dead, then, which itself opens with George Romero narrating about his love of zombies while on the set of a movie featuring Robert 'Freddy Krueger' Englund, Michael 'Henry Lee Lucas' Rooker, Danny 'Machete' Trejo, and Buffy 'Sarah Michelle Gellar' the Vampire Slayer. This elongated opening gets a little bit irksome after about, ooh, the second time, but I suppose when you've got George Romero providing voiceover you want to get your money's worth. And most of it can be skipped after the map loads, too.
The real twist to the normal Zombies rhythm is that Call of the Dead has an undead and virtually invulnerable George Romero chasing you around, shifting the focus from battening down at key locations, racking up the cash required for advancement, to performing delicate laps of the arena. You've also got to keep your distance with the zombified director on your heels as attacking him directly causes him to go berserk. Then there's a bonus side mission to rescue Nikolai Belinski and the rest of the original Zombies quartet, but you've got to embark on a rather long and fiddly series of fetch quests that I still haven't quite been able to manage.
It's not reinventing the entire Zombies gametype, but Call of the Dead does add a nice bit of variety to the roster. There are a couple of new additions, such as the V-R11 gun that can turn zombies back into humans and a Deadshot Daiquiri perk which boosts your accuracy, but it's a shame Treyarch doesn't employ the same individuality with its characters inside the mode as we see in the lavish introductory sequence. Players are teased with scenes of Trejo sporting machetes and Rooker with double shotguns, before having everyone start on round 1 clutching their pistols - failing to fully incorporate the spirit of the introduction is a missed opportunity.
And while you might get lured in by the glitz of Call of the Dead, you're more than likely to stick around for the adversarial maps. On this front Black Ops' staple multiplayer modes are bolstered with a cache of four: Hotel, Convoy, Zoo, and Stockpile.
I tend to play Call of Duty on the periphery, cruising around the fringes of the map, afraid to step into the active warzone taking place in the middle, so a few laps around Hotel can be a lonely experience; it's simply too big for this kind of play. You've got to get stuck in at the core, unless you're that one sniper on each team who'll get locked into an immediate and permanent duel across the courtyard on the right hand side of the map.
Hotel strikes me as a mix of Modern Warfare 2's Bailout, with plenty of right angles and close-up confrontations but fewer prominent sniping opportunities. You get to drink in the leisurely sights of a pool, a steam room, and follow the ornate hotel lobby around to a check-in desk before branching out into a small casino and plush upstairs halls. I think the setting is more of a bona fide Cuban resort than a hotel, but when glass is shattering and bullets are screaming through the air I doubt you'll care much for the distinction.