The Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Zombies mode is the latest in an exhaustive line of CoD Zombies modes, but Black Ops 4 could actually be the first entry in a long time that convinces me to give it another shot. When Call of Duty: World at War released in 2008 I didn’t spend nearly as much time online as I do now. That’s why it was a genuine surprise when I finished the first-person shooter’s campaign and found out I had unlocked a new mission called “Nacht der Untoten.” I recognized that the name was in German, but what the heck could that be?
My first experience with Nazi Zombies felt fresh. Not only was wave-based survival a relatively fresh concept for an online shooter at the time, but it was unlike everything else in Call of Duty’s modes. I wound up having a blast in the mode, especially when I’d team up with other players that went to my high school. It was a cooperative mode where we could chill out over Xbox Live, and then headshot some zombies until we inevitably died. My group was never great at the mode, and we didn’t keep up with the DLC, but we still shared plenty of laughs.
Fast-forward to 2011’s Call of Duty Black Ops and Zombies had once again returned. This time things had taken a turn for the weird as a who's who of the Cold War were playable characters: John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, Fidel Castro, and Richard Nixon. Since I was no longer in high school, I didn’t really have buddies to play with, and I only spent a few days playing it online. I never learned the map’s secrets, let alone mastered the mode.
That was really the beginning of the end for my relationship with Call of Duty’s Zombies modes. The mode had really turned into a completely different beast after all of the DLC maps, and it became too complicated for me to enjoy. I just wanted to fend off some waves of zombies and use in-game currency to upgrade my weapons, but there were puzzles to solve, secrets to unlock, and so much to do. I remember jumping into my first Zombies map in Black Ops 2 only to be berated over the voice chat for not knowing exactly what I was supposed to do. It was an awful experience and one that showed that the mode had clearly passed me by.
This cycle continued with each release (and eventually the modes started appearing in even non-Treyarch games), but I kept giving Zombies another shot. I always wanted to recapture that magic of the first time I had played Nazi Zombies. Instead, things continued to grow more nuanced as the modes became increasingly confusing. I can’t blame Activision for catering to its hardcore community, and it’s actually great to see, but I couldn’t understand how so many people were able to keep up with the strange story that had spanned multiple DLC map pack across titles.
This is exactly why I was surprised (in a very good way) with what Treyarch had to say about the future of Zombies in Black Ops 4. While they don’t seem to be simplifying the mode any, they seem to have identified that the mode had become incomprehensible for many gamers. They’re finally making a concerted effort in improving the onboarding by adding in new tutorials and difficulty modes. From the point of view as a more entry-level Zombies player, it will be a relief to not feel like a total burden on my team and to actually have a chance at success early on.
Another huge feature comes in the form of allowing players to customize their Zombies experience. This is absolutely awesome and will allow players to really cater the mode to what they want to get out of it. I will probably never be the person that loves to discover all of the hidden secrets, but I’m always down to get some sweet kills on some undead enemies. By adding some sandbox-like tools, Treyarch is allowing everyone to have fun. It’s a great example to set.
During the Call of Duty Black Ops 4 reveal, lead writer Craig Houston got on stage. He told fans that the game “marks the beginning of a brand new [Zombies] storyline, separate and distinct from the Aether story.” One that would feature “a new world, with new characters and new enemies.” This was all music to my ears as it really cemented Black Ops 4 as a perfect beginning point to get back into Zombies.
All of this being said, I also have to commend Activision for really striking a great balance. While the awesome looking “IX” map (which features an awesome Roman gladiator motif) and the “Voyage of Despair” will star the new characters, they’re also continuing the old story with a new map called “Blood of the Dead.” I might not personally be that interested since I’m not invested in that long-running storyline, but plenty of diehard fans are, and it’s great to see everyone happy.
In addition to everything I’ve already mentioned, Activision is also adding a new Zombie Rush option to the mode. Details are still a bit scarce on what exactly it will entail, but they’ve said that it will provide a simplified version of the mode. It sounds like the perfect way to get used to the concepts, and then eventually move onto the full settings. I wish all developers embraced choice and options like we’re seeing here.
The past couple years I’ve gone into the arbitrary Zombies modes in Call of Duty basically knowing that I’d bounce off it after a few rounds. This time? I actually have optimism that I’ll be able to have a good time in Black Ops 4. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to round up a friend group to play, and it’ll be just like 2008 (although hopefully, I won’t be suffering from acne as some things can stay in the past) where I’m talking about anything and everything with a few friends all while shooting zombies in the head. What can possibly get better than that?