What is it? An expansion pack with four new competitive maps, one zombie survival mission, extra guns and a new grappling gun playlist.
Influenced by: XCOM, Tarzan
Play it on: Intel Core i5-2500K, 8 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760
Copy protection: Steam
Release date: Out now
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Multiplayer: 4-12 online competitive and co-op
Link: Steam store page
If you can find a match (which is surprisingly difficult for such a big game), the opportunity to play Call of Duty like you’re the Bionic Commando makes Advanced Warfare’s second DLC pack, Ascendance, just about worth the asking price. The campaign’s grappling gun has been stitched into the multiplayer, which is an entertaining change of tune for a game that’s already the oddball of the series—and if the rest of the pack is business as usual, it’s business carried out with commendable panache.
The grappling gun is available in one playlist, and confined at the time of writing to the Ascendance maps. It replaces your custom exo ability (though you can still dash, boost jump and slide as normal) and is a joy to wield. The gun can be fired twice in succession and has a quick cooldown, which makes chaining moves a cinch: you might launch yourself down an alley, boost-jump at the corner to reorient, then grapple through a window to catch a sniper on the trot. It’s fiddly at first—you’ll fetch up against plenty of intervening objects—but satisfying to master.
All the Ascendance modes feel different for the grapple gun’s inclusion. It allows for rapid flanking and rearguard actions when assaulting objectives, and makes the tricked-out SMG wielder a true terror in vanilla deathmatch. But it’s Uplink, I think, that changes the most. Given a certain amount of covering fire and nerves of steel, ball-carriers are able to whip themselves through or over defensive formations with insulting ease.
While they hold up reasonably well without the grapple gun, the new maps are clearly designed to give its potential full play. Set in the foothills of Mount Rushmore, Site 244 is a lurid homage to the XCOM series that consists of three wide lanes amid the wreckage of a crashed spaceship—the perfect place to zipline, providing you don’t meet a bullet coming the other way. Climate is a sun-kissed chrome oasis centring on a two-storey island that houses one of the map’s Domination points, linked by bridges and surrounded by paths and high platforms that are screened by rock formations. It’s one of the more idyllic Call of Duty maps, at least till somebody trips the map streak and turns all the groundwater to acid.
Perplex is the most unusual, striking and the hardest to master of the lot, a chic, towering jumble of apartment blocks (to which more are added when you activate the map streak) that puts me bizarrely in mind of Q’Bert. In theory, victory here is a question of height, but the angularity of the terrain makes it easy to slide around the perimeter of an uphill fight by hugging the wall. Last and least there’s Chop Shop, an underwhelming industrial map that consists of two courtyards linked by galleries and a central chamber that can be locked down pretty solidly, given a well-coordinated team.
Chapter two of Advanced Warfare’s zombie career is a marked improvement on the first. It takes place in and under a branch of Burgertown, queen of post-apocalyptic fastfood joints, and is home to a handful of new zombie types, including paunchy elites in Goliath suits. The Infection map has more visual character than its predecessor, and also breaks down in more intriguing ways. There’s a dark, part-flooded sewer that’s home to an anti-virus pod (and a surprisingly helpful crocodile); tunnels where you’ll find the map’s exo suits, not that this will help much if you’re cornered in the process; a warehouse full of free-standing shelving units that’s of particular service in the advent of zombie dogs; and a fuel depot where movement is least restricted, both for you and your foes.
The presence of NPCs you can find and defend in return for a weapons upgrade adds another wrinkle of risk and reward, but for the most part it’s more of the same. As with previous offerings, the key to survival is working out when it’s worth a run on the traps, supply points, and upgrade stations and when to stick to the areas that are easiest to defend. The consequences of getting knocked down remain severe—there’s nothing quite so harrowing as having to reclaim lost upgrades and abilities late in the day, when the map is overrun.
With its grappling playlists, Ascendance reminds us that the best expansions are those that expand your horizons—jolting you out of old habits. While no gigantic leap forward, it’s a cut above the throng of map packs and worth a shot if the game’s fundamentals are losing your interest. But there's a big caveat: it only matters if you’re one of the few people still playing Advanced Warfare on PC and can get a group together.
The player population has dwindled dramatically since launch (peaking at under 5,000 for the last few days), and while there are often seem to be a few Exo Zombies players available, the Ascendance competitive playlists are barren, even at what should be peak hours in the evening. That in mind, if you’ve been absent from Advanced Warfare and the recent DLC packs seem like a reason to return, check to see if your friends are still playing first.