Call of Duty: Black Ops 3: Awakening DLC Review – (PS4)

As someone that normally avoids military-laden shooty-fests, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 pleasantly surprised me. What’s surprised me even more is how much I go back to keep playing. Again, as someone who isn’t the best when it comes to competitive first-person shooters, I am amazed at how often I’ll boot up Black Ops 3 just to play a few matches of Kill Confirmed or jump into the insanely fun bonus mode “Gun Game.” No matter your skill level, Treyarch managed to make the game fun and keep players feeling like there is forward momentum with unlocks.

Needless to say, this is the first time that I have ever been looking forward to see what new map packs would bring to a Call of Duty game. Awakening offers four new maps to the multiplayer and one new Zombies campaign (which let’s be honest, is practically an entire game in itself). There’s a healthy mix of good bad and ugly with Black Ops 3’s first DLC pack, so let’s dive right in and look at each map individually. 

Skyjacked is Treyarch’s re-imagining of the favorite Black Ops 2 map, Hijacked. Where the original was set on a boat, this one takes combatants high into the air on a futuristic airship, presumably over Germany, judging by the “Polizei” logos all over it.  Skyjacked is a small, narrow map full of hallways that funnel players towards the center, which often becomes an unpredictable kill box. There’s a lower deck area (actually calling it a deck is being too kind. It’s is a glorified vent system) that can be utilized to pop up behind your enemy, but often it feels far to confined, along with the rest of the map’s narrow passages.

In game modes with more players, the chaos levels can be high and I often found problems with the spawns due to the small map size.  Despite this, it can be a fun map once you learn the nuances and where people like to camp spawns — and of course to avoid the middle if you want to live. It’s not my favorite map, but that’s more personal preference rather than bad design.

Running the Gauntlet

One of the more fun maps, Gauntlet feels much larger than Skyjacked’s cramped quarters. It’s far more aesthetically interesting too. A military training facility of sorts, it holds three distinct areas — jungle, snow, and a rainy urban street. A network of pathways connects these three areas and keeps the action flowing. Rather than being a funnel, Gauntlet keeps the action moving to the different areas of the map.

The only thing I felt was missing in Gauntlet was am underwater area (I’m a sucker for the swimming mechanic in Black Ops 3), but the experts at Treyarch probably found that it killed the flow of the map, so I’ll trust their design, being that Gauntlet works well as is. I just want to know why a military training facility has a bottomless pit in the middle of their arctic area.

Rise is easily the worst map of the bunch, which is disappointing because it actually features an extensive underwater area along one side and could have had a lot more potential. The layout feels like it promotes opponents getting behind you rather than driving face-to-face encounters. I have never found myself getting shot in the back as much as I have while playing on Rise.

This is another one that you’ll want to avoid the center area on, as it becomes a predictable bloodbath. The dull construction theme doesn’t do it any favors either. The cluttered and poor layout is easily forgettable which makes me hope that Treyarch avoids comparatively unimaginative maps in future packs.

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The last map is Splash, a detailed, bright and colorful water park that is vastly the most interesting of any of the maps in Awakening. It’s riddled with tunnels and holes like Swiss cheese which keeps players moving around like mice playing a deadly game of mouse versus… other mouse. Despite being a water park, it doesn’t have nearly as many underwater areas as I would have thought. Again, swimming is a fascinating aspect of of the new movement system, so I hope that future map packs explore underwater as a central mechanic rather than a side feature.

Splash does currently have an exploit that allows players to glitch into unintended areas of the map and rain hell onto unsuspecting players, but as soon as Treyarch fixes that, this happy water park turned gladiator arena is comfortably the most creative map of the bunch. With three more map packs to go, I’m eager to see what other clever creations they are producing for each of those. 

Equal Rotation

Each map requires different strategies and knowledge for the different game types, so if you traditionally stick to a single game mode, I encourage trying out some of the other ones that may help you look at the maps differently, learn varying strategies, and just generally enjoying all of the multiplayer content in Awakening. Skyjacked, for example, funnels conflict to the center on Safeguard, but Kill Confirmed tends to see a lot of the combat on the outer edges as players avoid the center kill box and opt for longer sight lines.

With new map packs comes the fear that old maps will become obsolete or that one particular new one will become a repeatedly voted favorite, leaving the others barely seen. In every playlist that I played, the balance of map rotation seemed to evenly distribute most of the maps — new and old — and players often voted for different maps rather than just repeating Skyjacked or Combine over and over. 

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We cant forget about the new Zombies campaign, Der Eisendrache, which adds a whole new way to play Zombies in a Wolfenstein-esque German castle, and yes, there are Nazi zombies. This is the follow up to The Giant campaign that was given exclusively to season pass owners. Filled with even more secrets, Easter eggs, and story, Der Eisendrache will have players continuing to pore over every bit of it to unlock the mysteries Treyarch has hidden within. Maybe we’ll see them go back to the voodoo and noire inspired Shadows of Evil style for future DLC packs, but the classic Nazi Zombies campaign is an excellent change of pace for Awakening.

If you’re still playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 or you’re looking for a reason to come back, Awakening may be just what you were waiting for. It’s not perfect, but it balances the low points (Rise) with high points (Splash and Gauntlet), and has a damn fine Zombies campaign to boot. Black Ops 3 continues in its quest to bring variety, creativity, and intrigue to its content, and Awakening doesn’t fail to impress. 

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Awakening review code provided by publisher (via season pass). For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.