Call of Duty WWII Zombies: Will It Work?

Going back to my early teenage years, I always spent more time on one particular game mode than anything else: Call of Duty’s Zombies. Whilst World at War was slightly before my time, Black Ops 1 introduced me to an intensely fun world of headshotting the undead with ray guns and zapping them with Wunderwaffes, so much so that I probably spent an unhealthy amount of time in front of the screen because of it.

And yet, nine years after the dawn of the immensely popular game mode, Zombies seems to have hit a lull as developers try to keep it popular. And now, a month before the new mode is released alongside Call of Duty WWII, the question needs to be asked: has the mode lost its way?

To be a hit success and once again revitalize the supporters it once had, WWII Zombies desperately needs to avoid the mistakes its recent predecessors have made. Predominantly, it needs to bring back the survival horror nature of the game. Let’s compare the original map, Nacht der Untoten, to one of Infinite Warfare’s maps, Zombies in Spaceland. Whilst the former was claustrophobic, creepy and all based around surviving for as long as you could, the latter went off the deep end with Easter Eggs, pop references and David Hasselhoff. It felt more like an ironic parody than anything else, and that was why it drew massive criticism and few players.

Before that, Advanced Warfare’s efforts weren’t much better. The survival aspect was still there, but too much focus on elaborate missions and big changes to an already popular format that Treyarch had mastered meant it was a big disappointment. It followed the futuristic, technological vein that Advanced Warfare had adopted, meaning many of the older, historical nuances in previous Zombies modes were abandoned in favour of pointless exo-skeletons and player reliance on traps. It was hardly played and set a bad taste in the mouth for Infinite Warfare, which seemed set up to fail before it was even released.

Now, of course, Treyarch themselves are not prone to criticism. Whilst Black Ops 1 was a great follow up to World at War’s mode, Black Ops 2 went a bit far with making the game more of an Easter egg quest than a round-based survival mode. Black Ops 3, rather than learning from these mistakes, went even further in the wrong direction, appearing to ignore pretty much all the player feedback by once again making most of the focus about completing Easter Eggs. It drew too much of a focus on playing as a team towards story goals, something that quite simply doesn’t appeal to the 90% of casual fans out there looking for some basic fun. No matter how many times you shunt in entertaining quotes from Dempsey, Nikolai or Richtofen, it’s never going to make a final boss seem like a good idea.

So what does WWII’s Zombies need to do to avoid all these problems? Well, firstly, it needs to dial back the Easter Eggs. It’s okay to have a couple here and there as little secrets, like the many musical teddy bears from World at War, but the developers should certainly be keeping the focus small. No big story-based quests. No missions that need to be completed to get important items for survival, like weapon upgrades. No hidden boss fights. No characters taking too much of the limelight. If COD: WWII needs to learn anything from its predecessors, it’s that Zombies is, first and foremost, a survival horror mode. It should play on fears rather than trying too hard to be funny.

Just as importantly, the mode needs to remain simple. Far too many of the recent maps, dating back perhaps even to the end of Black Ops 1’s reign, were just too complicated, putting far too many mechanics and requirements into play. Zombies was so addictive because you could pick up a controller and jump in without having to give too much thought to strategy, but that became impossible with newer maps that forced you to memorize major aspects of the level design if you wanted to succeed.

Finally, WWII’s Zombies needs to keep the same style as Treyarch without downright copying it. It sounds hard, but it’s actually quite simple. Keep simple level designs, put a few traps in, get creative. But please stay away from trying to be funny. So far, it looks like a true return to the horror and historical aspects, which is brilliant, but without much other information, it’s impossible to know how far it will go.

Time will tell if Call of Duty: WWII can bring Zombies back to its deserved best, but all I can say is that I really hope they smash it out the park to leave the efforts of the last few games well and truly to memory.

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