Black Ops 2 Zombies Mode adds value, but still not a main course
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Call of Duty’s recurring Zombie mode is successful because its smart. Players need to work together, and you can’t brute force your way through the mode. In campaign, as long as you make it to the next checkpoint, you can be crazy as you like. In multiplayer, players brazenly sprint into the open with shotguns, charging like bulls. You can’t get away with either behavior when playing the Zombie modes. It requires a measured, careful approach.
Zombies Mode asks you to consider risk vs. reward; zombies might drop power-ups, but only if they’re killed once they’ve cleared a barricade. This means purposefully putting yourself in danger of being overrun. You also need to coordinate point accumulation with teammates to make sure one person isn’t carrying the team, or similarly, that there’s enough spare change to go around for every member of the team so you can open up that next room, unlock that next piece of the map. The game strips you of any sense of power you might’ve had in other multiplayer modes by blocking access to your custom classes.
These things make the mode feel tightly focused, as teamwork and communication will be the determining factor in how long you last, not how much XP you’ve accumulated with a certain gun. This has been the case with every previous Zombies Mode though, so what makes Black Ops 2 different?
The magic school bus
Black Ops 2 breaks Zombies Mode into three types: Survival, Grief, and Tranzit. Survival is your standard “classic” Zombies Mode: Hold out on a single map as long as possible, unlocking doors and weapons with points so that you can travel further into a map, discovering more guns and fighting arenas. The game starts you off with three selectable maps: Bus Depot, Town, and Farm, but later on you can visit a power plant and roadside diner as well.
Tranzit takes each of these maps and connects them with a moving vehicle, a first for the Zombies Mode and any Call of Duty multiplayer. You can’t drive the bus featured so prominently in the game’s commercials, but you’ll be able to deck it out with added features like reinforced barricades and a wedge-shaped plow in the front. The bus moves around the maps in order, which mean it’ll come back eventually if you jump out to explore an area and miss the ride out.
Each area feels significantly smaller than maps in the original Black Ops Zombies Mode. In that game, you were moving through labyrinths and mansions, almost giving the game an action-y, Resident Evil vibe. You’ll quickly discover each map’s boundaries, and it’s disappointing to not have that sense of a deep, inviting dungeon crawl. Overall, the maps add up to a larger playing area with more variety in scenery, but I miss the fun of finding the next door and seeing what’s on the other side.
Each map in Tranzit does have a nice little challenge, however; the game has added buildable items, and each map contains several parts which you can combine at workbenches to create new weapons to use against the undead. In Bus Depot, you’ll combine a fan, a mannequin body, and a battery to create a sputtering, pulsing zombie magnet. At the diner, you’ll throw together a car door with a dolly to create a sort of improvised shield and/or miniature, portable blockade. This was my favorite, as I could use it to contain choke points when the zombies started flooding the map faster than I could put them down. This system of constructing items isn’t as robust as something like Dead Island or Dead Rising 2, but it’s a fun challenge to go hunting for the parts and see what you can make at each area.
It should also be noted that Tranzit is the “story” piece of Zombies Mode. Like Left 4 Dead and earlier Call of Duty Zombie Modes, the narrative is easily ignored. There’s a whole wiki article devoted to explaining the lore of Zombies Mode, but if you understand what’s going on while playing, you’re smarter than me.
Zombies: UMAD BRO?
The final mode is Grief, which sends two teams to a single map and has them simultaneously cooperate to survive while also searching for every opportunity to stab each other in the back. Only one team can win, but you can’t shoot each other outright; you have to trick and lure zombies to do your dirty work for you.
Again, there’s a good balance of risk vs. reward here: you could just not fire a single bullet and try to kite enemies into the opposing team, but you won’t earn any points that way, and once the other team is down, you still need to survive. What are you going to do if you just focus on leading zombies into the opposing team, only to find out at the end of the match that despite your success, you don’t have enough money to buy ammo or a better gun?
The idea sounds great on paper, but comes across a little half-hearted in its implementation. It feels like multi-team Survival, since there’s no reliable way to exploit zombie AI and turn them into your weapon. There could have been weapons or environmental factors – a “meat gun” perhaps, that would act as a zombie attractant, or a way to direct the flow of incoming zombies – but no, as far as I experienced, you’re just two teams who happen to be on the same map, but can’t shoot each other.
Your enemy may be brainless, but you can’t be if you hope to succeed. Black Ops 2 expands on every piece of the core Zombies game play, and that’s a good thing. However, it’s still not quite large enough to compare with the game’s other modes. Even in comparison to the original Black Ops, this trip down Zombie Lane feels small and insignificant. This may be the biggest Zombies Mode yet with the most game types, but it’s still a distraction from the meat and potatoes of Call of Duty: the twitch-reaction multiplayer and rollercoaster ride campaign. Zombies Mode adds value, but it’s not yet one of the central drawing points of the series.