After a rocky launch earlier this week, the first downloadable map pack for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has settled into place and started attracting a lot of virtual soldiers. The so-called Stimulus Package includes five multiplayer maps for 1,200 Microsoft points ($15). Three of these maps are completely new, while the other two are from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Of the three new maps, Bailout's sunny residential streets and sprawling apartment complex offer the most visual variety, though all provide good settings for the chaotic, lightning-quick combat for which the series is famous. That said, none of the maps are standouts that really change the game in any intriguing ways, so they don't offer a particularly strong incentive for players that have strayed from the servers. Similarly, those who are still engrossed in the cycle of prestige will likely welcome the variety and the return of some old favorites. If you find yourself on the fence about the Stimulus Package or just want to hear more about the new maps, read on.
As mentioned earlier, the Bailout map feels the most novel of the bunch. The map is roughly rectangular, with a long driveway littered with cars running lengthwise down the center. Along either side of the road are apartment buildings with hallways, balconies, and multistory rooms that you can sneak your way through. Some of these provide long sight lines down the road, making them attractive for snipers with claymores, though the number of ways in or out of these places makes prolonged tenancy difficult. The central road is a dangerous place, though it is the quickest path between the many tough-to-defend headquarters points. Bailout is like a cleaner, cozier Skidrow, distinguished by its seemingly smaller area and rectangular footprint. It also nicely captures the strange suburban warzone feeling of the campaign level Exodus.
Salvage is set in a wintery junkyard littered with smashed cars and sections of large concrete pipe. A house and a large garage set at opposite ends of this squarish map offer defensive anchor points for Capture-the-Flag matches. The area between these points is crisscrossed with paths that wind around, over, and through the aforementioned junk, and a few elevated positions provide better sight lines at the risk of increased exposure. Claustrophobic firefights are the name of the game, and enemy air support is even more fearsome, thanks to the lack of cover. The arctic whites and grays make Salvage feel visually familiar, and the large hanging magnet and lonely doghouse are welcome pieces of flair.
The final new map is called Storm. Yes, the weather is inclement and you will see flashes of lightning illuminating the sky. The setting is industrial, so warehouses, shipping containers, and elevated walkways carve up the open paved areas, leaving a lot of compartmentalized combat areas. This creates a combat flow reminiscent of Sub Base as you move from buildings into open areas and sprint up stairs to travel between sectors, perhaps cruising by an eerie and distracting row of mannequins on the way. There is a decent interplay of elevation here, though the industrial aesthetic also feels very familiar.
The other two maps are oldies but goodies. Crash is set in the heart of a war-torn desert town where a helicopter has crashed and broken into pieces. Lots of buildings and windows make this a fun place for snipers, and sneaky types can also thrive by moving quickly along the streets. Overgrown takes you to a rural village bisected by a dry riverbed and dotted with houses. Long sight lines and cramped buildings provide a great variety of combat. Neither of these maps has been changed in any significant way, so if you've played them a lot, it will be like deja vu all over again.
The Stimulus Package maps can currently be played as part of only two playlists: Stimulus and Hardcore Stimulus. Both automatically cycle through different maps and modes, so if you're hoping to pick your poison, then you are out of luck for the time being. You'll have no trouble finding a match in either of these playlists, and the issues that plagued the DLC's launch have been rectified. So is it worth the higher-than-usual price for this 60 percent new, 40 percent recycled map pack? Well, if you're looking for some variety in your regular MW2 play sessions, then odds are you've already downloaded the Stimulus Package. If you're still undecided, then it depends on how much disposable income you've got lying around. For 1,200 Microsoft points, you can buy some of the best games that Xbox Live Arcade has to offer, and the novelty of the three new maps is good, but not great. Ultimately, the Stimulus Package feels like a tough sell to all but the MW2 faithful.