Call of Duty: Zombies
A Game Mode That Could Easily Be a Whole Game
So a lot of folks seemed to really enjoy my article on Call of Duty. If you read to the end, you’ll know that there was so much I had to say about the series, that I thought it best to leave my thoughts on the Zombies mode for a whole other article.
Lo and behold, here comes that exact article!
Before I begin, let it be known that my spiel on Zombies is significantly different from my one on 'Call of Duty' as a whole. By this I mean that all I have is praise for this game mode, and I think it to be among the best zombie experiences available. That said, I've only logged time with the Zombies mode in the Black Ops games, so you’ll have to settle for my opinions on that.
Zombie culture has always been supremely interesting in my eyes. It was obviously no stranger to morbid themes of death and the restlessness of unfortunate victims, and yet it was beyond common for video games to include a significant chunk of humour and absurdity in their take on this classic horror trope. The 'Dead Rising' series encourages players to slaughter the undead with the most over-the-top method that their inner engineer could dream up, while Zombies Ate My Neighbours had you engage in glorious 16-bit combat against giant antichrist toddlers via popsicles and bazookas, all whilst rescuing barbecue dads and cheerleaders. That is objectively funny.
On the flip-side, you’ve got games like Resident Evil and Dead Space that spike up the fear factor that would realistically come along with these scenarios. Whether the world is devoid of light, crawling with things that want to eat you, or is just plain depressing, there are certainly games out there that attempt to capture the undead despair and fear of the fight against zombies.
'Call of Duty’s' Zombies mode is by no means the only game to find the sweet-spot of horror and humour, but I think the way that they pull it off is nothing short of noteworthy. The environments that can be selected are often dark and apocalyptic, and even maps like Shangri-La (which is fairly well-lit) have a hostile feel to them at the very least. The zombies themselves, with their glowing red eyes, creepy walks, creepier voices, and ever-increasing numbers, give off a similar feel. Not to mention that every single Zombies game/session is guaranteed to end with your death.
But it doesn’t shy away from out-of-place, humourous inclusions either. Aptly-dubbed wonder weapons like the Ray Gun and Wunderwaffle call for a slight tilt of the head, while tactical grenades like Monkey Bombs (which attract zombies via a mechanical chimp wielding cymbals before detonating) are straight up hilarious. Toss in some sodas that give you superpowers, some pub music to go along with small portions of certain stages, and hilarious characters like Nicolai or the TranZit bus driver, and it becomes clear that 'Call of Duty:' Zombies is no stranger to absurd elements.
Overall, I think Zombies checks off the criteria for the entire, overarching zombie trope. You know you’re going to die to the screaming undead, but there’s also funny music and lasers. I think that’s something to be admired.
Another reason that I enjoyed the game mode so much was its blend of character/world-building elements. When you start a game, you typically begin as a vanilla character with nothing more than a pistol with limited ammo and a couple grenades. This will obviously be worth peanuts before long, so you’re going to have get better equipment to deal with the zombies.
You gain points for killing zombies and making it past rounds, and these points can then be spent on weapons that are typically found on walls throughout the map, or in the infamous Mystery Box, which spawns a random weapon or grenade for you to wield (provided a certain cursed teddy bear doesn’t pop out instead). Ammunition still isn’t guaranteed to last forever though, so managing and expanding your arsenal became crucial to success (rather, the closest one can consider to success).
These points gained from your progress can also be spent to unlock more areas of the map, giving you more space to move around/run away and usually giving access to more weapons and utilities, but at the cost of creating more spawn points for zombies.
I found that the ways in which the player and the world grow as you progress to be interesting in the sense that there are multiple ways to explore the area and strategize. Each map comes with its own unlockable weapons and areas, with each area boasting its own utilities as well, such as Kino Der Toten’s teleporters or Call of the Dead’s ziplines. It always came down to how well the player managed their weapons, space, and whatever else the map had to offer; strategy and endurance was the name of the game.
Another interesting component of the game (which is also a personal preference of mine) is the blend of run-of-the-mill weaponry with supernatural abilities and transformations. I’ve always been fascinated by the “technology meets mysticism” idea, and some of the latter maps in particular integrated this perfectly. In the Black Ops III map Shadows of Evil, for example, you’re transported to a hell-like alternate Earth where your mission is to stop a rapture of some kind. That kind of scenario is interesting enough on its own, but the supernatural elements also work themselves into the gameplay, with two prominent examples being a weapon called the Apothicon Servant, which shoots black holes to capture and destroy zombies, and a Beast transformation, which allows players to morph into a hideous monstrosity and kill zombies with electric tendrils as opposed to handheld weapons. Another honourable acknowledgement is the Origins map, which gives you access to elemental staffs as weapons, including fire, ice, lightning, and air. Each staff utilizes its shots in a different way, and the sheer deviation of the weapon type is nothing short of engaging.
I just find something so satisfying about having access to both traditional weaponry and magical abilities. Not only does it expand your options, but I just feel like it makes the world that we know seem so much closer to a world of incredible, albeit terrifying, manifestations and helps to accommodate the wild fantasies that gamers tend to foster, such as obliterating the undead with the forces of nature themselves.
However, I wouldn’t dare talk about 'Call of Duty:' Zombies without giving a nod to my absolute favourite experience within it. So, without further ado, let me tell you all why I love TranZit/Green Run.
Where do I even begin? There are so many things you can do here. You start off in this dreary-looking bus station with a couple of zombies floating around, and your first task is to construct a generator in order to open a door, (um, okay?) which leads to the outside world where a bus is waiting for you.
This was the first instance of the never-before-seen “buildables” in 'Call of Duty:' Zombies. During your travels, you could come across tiny pieces of junk strewed across the map. These parts could be brought to nearby construction tables (also found throughout the map) and be used to create tools to aid you in your resistance. Final products include the aforementioned generator, an automated turret, an electrical trap, and a handyman’s version of the assault shield, affectionately called the “Zombie Shield.”
What I found so engaging about buildables was that, along with adding another utility to your ever-expanding arsenal, you could only carry one buildable at a time, and most of the buildables required a power source to operate, meaning you also needed the generator/turbine.
Ergo, it made a lot of sense for players to team up together and each carry a buildable, followed by setting up the equipment when deemed appropriate. While not entirely necessary thanks to the different building locations, having teammates to play with certainly helps to diversify what you can use the buildables for. You could assemble the sentry turret and carry it all the way back to the bus station, and then have you and a friend hold your ground in said location if you so desired.
This nicely tranzitions (HA!) into my next point; the sheer size of the map. You see, TranZit/Green Run isn’t entirely a map of its own, but is essentially all of the starting maps in Black Ops II interconnected by a road that’s typically traversed by the bus (I say typically because, even though it’s possible to get from one section to the next on foot, there’s a good to fair chance you will meet your demise if attempted).
This essentially means that you’re playing on every single map at once, with complete access to each map’s features and utilities. You can hop on over to Farm where you can buy a trusty shotgun off the wall and store your weapon inside the refrigerator to save for a future TranZitsession. In the same game, you can catch the bus to Town, where you can ‘roid yourself up with a plethora of Perk-a-Cola’s and store some of your allocated points in the bank for yet another future TranZit session, all while making various other stops such as the Power Station and Diner, and even explore areas that the bus doesn’t stop at like the Tunnel or the Pylon, the entire world of Black Ops II: Zombies is your oyster in this mode!
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! You can do things like upgrade the bus, equipping it with a plow to run over zombies that get in your way, and a ladder that gives access to the roof as a vantage point against the undead.
You can explore this vast map to completion, and even make it your goal to discover all the easter eggs and hidden secrets!
The fridge and the bank that I mentioned earlier were a charming addition in my eyes as well. Designing utilities within the game with future sessions in mind is really cool! It allowed you to almost build on the progress that was made in prior sessions, making this mode really feel like an entire narrative and not just separate playthroughs, or it could even be used as a safety net if you find yourself in a paranormal pickle.
But without a doubt, this mode is at its best when its multiplayer aspect is maximized. Four players made this game mode absolutely riveting; there’s nothing more thrilling than being the only one in an area, voice chatting with your teammates as you do everything in your power to hold off the zombies while you wait for the bus to arrive with the rest of your squad. Just when it seems like all hope is lost, up pulls that tattered old shuttle, and out leap your teammates as they demolish the horde that was moments away from doing the same to you! As you breathe a sigh of relief, you quickly run around the area to make sure you’ve acquired all the equipment and perks you want, and then hop back on the bus as it brings the four of you to the next area, each one of you primed and ready for the next excursion.
Out of all the modes I’ve played, TranZit just does it all for me; it feels like a real adventure! I loved each individual map and the features it offered, and TranZit’s ability to unite them all under one map makes this among the finest zombie-based experience in my opinion.
Overall, 'Call of Duty’s' take on zombie culture is borderline perfect to me. It’s intense, it’s funny, it’s multi-faceted, and it’s ever-expanding. I greatly look forward to delving into what WWII’s rendition has brought along.