There are lots of ways to approach the latest Call of Duty. I choose the option marked “Zombies.”
“Zombies” is a stand-alone game mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops that showcases the series’ shooting mechanics to fine effect. It’s built right into the game. I skipped over the single player and the standard multiplayer. I’m sure Black Ops’ storyline and settings are great. But all I played was “Zombies.”
I played “Zombies” the way it was meant to be played: co-op multiplayer. Duck and I are stuck together in a bombed-out entrance hall of a Nazi hotel, office building — some fancy place for fascist bigwigs, now undead. The electricity is out and the boarded-up windows can barely keep out the lurching, grasping, swarming SS, SA and whatever else the Nazis left behind to un-die.
Duck and I keep running across our dark besieged zombie shelter, checking the sturdiness of our blockades. The zombies’ arms come squirming between any boards we nail across busted-up windows. We crisscross the room, plugging undead leaks. And, usually, after a lull when everything feels snug and secure, they come again. Crowds of zombies tear away the boards we’ve used to barricade our windows. They push through the destroyed doorways. Undead are squeezed out by some of the best warsimulation technology in the world.
The attacks are ferocious, and they feel accurate. Accurate weaponry makes close-quarters combat intense and dangerous. Long-range rifles take on the quirks of their international manufacturers. A good sniper rifle might have a predictably off-center aim. Or a powerhouse gun might require hoarding rare ammunition. The Call of Duty franchise stages its action in fairly accurate models of space. It’s what gives the series’ war scenes such comprehensible scale. The same software that allows players to inhabit every imaginable war-torn landscape is used in “Zombies” to evoke the claustrophobia of being under siege.
While Duck hammers some boards onto the downstairs window, a glowing SS officer or whatever — I don’t ask — grabs me from behind. At first I try to back up a step and shoot him. But I’ve forgotten to load my rifle. And then there’s another zombie behind me. Where are they coming from? Duck!
He snipes them away. They die in a circle around me, crumpling down where they stand like withering petals. We quickly board up the window. We blast another incoming wave of zombies with shotguns. We snipe from behind barriers of battered furniture. We need bigger weapons. Mounted guns loom if we can only turn on the power. Suddenly, a zombie trembles with blue electricity.
It’s war. Against Nazi zombies!
THE GOOD: “Zombie” comes with the latest iteration of a little game called Call of Duty: Black Ops. Think of it as a really great mainstream freebie.
THE BAD: “Zombies” is a creative gameplay addition to a franchise that sometimes feels like a streamlined, high-powered and entirely predictable combat simulator.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Already a sleek, solid shooter, Call of Duty: Black Ops branches out into artistry with “Zombies.”