Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Zombies does plenty right, but thus far it has slipped up in one big area that older entries excelled at.
By Richard Warren
Published Mar 22, 2021
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Zombies has been a success thus far, with clever mechanics like armor and upgrade trees greatly improving the survival mode. Simpler main easter eggs allow newcomers to take part in the story, while the addition of the game’s Outbreak feature has helped to get some new eyes on Call of Duty’s third game mode. Other big quality of life changes like exfils, free DLC and cross-play have only helped the mode grow, so much so that a standalone Call of Duty Zombies game has been rumored.
However, for all the positives of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Zombies, there is one key issue that holds the game back from surpassing Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 as the peak of Zombies. While the most obvious example of this issue is seen in the dry Operators and their lack of dialogue with one another, it also shows in the game’s map design. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is mechanically strong, but it lacks the level of personality seen in all the other games that came before.
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Despite having so much going for it, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s biggest Zombies-related issue is a major downside for the mode’s longtime fans. While Operators being mostly silent is a shame, as character conversations that revealed how the cast felt served as a major form of storytelling in older titles, it is far from the only example of this issue. The problem shows clearly in every facet of the Call of Duty Zombies mode, but the clearest example is seen with the maps.
Visually speaking, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Zombies first two Zombies maps have the same exact feel. Though one may have a snowy backdrop while the other is centered around a Vietnamese jungle, this is little more than a change of scenery. Players are exploring a secret German base in one map and a secret Russian base in another, with the same overall vibe coming off. Visuals and tone are just the tip of the iceberg, though, as the far greater issue is how similar the maps are in terms of their gameplay and overall flow.
Apart from mini bosses, Wonder Weapons, and easter eggs, Die Maschine and Firebase Z feel almost the exact same. Assault Rounds in Firebase Z are the only real difference to speak of, as there is little else to do in the map besides getting the RAI K-84 and training Zombies into the high rounds. Both maps share the same weapon pool, the same scorestreaks, the same trial system, and the same perks. While this is understandable from a gameplay perspective, as it allows players to bring anything they have unlocked into every map, it simultaneously strips each map of any standout features. With even the Pack-A-Punch camo being the same, there is truly little that sets Firebase Z apart from Die Maschine — a pattern that could unfortunately continue with the next survival map.
Comparing Black Ops Cold War’s Zombies maps to the maps of old showcases a difference in styles that is night and day. In World at War, players traveled between an asylum, swamp, and factory. The first Black Ops game saw players fighting in the Pentagon, the mythical city of Shangri-La, and the Moon. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 took players to Alcatraz and World War 1, while its follow-up saw players fighting in a medieval castle and a version of Stalingrad overwhelmed by dragons. Even the divisive Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Zombies maps were unique, throwing players into a colosseum, the Titanic, and Olympus. In comparison, Die Maschine and Firebase Z’s settings feel uninspired and lack creativity.
Original settings are far from the only important difference, however. Many of the old Zombies maps offered special Mystery Box lineups, too. For example, players could only use the Remington New Model Army on Buried, as it fit with the theme of the Underground Western Town. The Tommy Gun fit with Mob of the Dead’s Alcatraz, serving as an exclusive weapon before returning in Revelations down the road. The M27 Assault Rifle gave players a reason to spin the box on Nuketown, with the list going on and on for most of the maps. Special equipment like the Time Bomb and Gersh Devices only added to this variety, while maps boasting exclusive perks helped them to stand out from their peers.
Finally, and most importantly, each map had a different playstyle, with Treyarch constantly taking risks. To be fair, not every decision paid off, but it is hard not to appreciate how the bow-focused gameplay of Der Eisendrache was nothing like that of Zetsubou No Shima’s plant system. Players had different items to build, with certain maps like Mob of the Dead having additional tools to acquire alongside the Wonder Weapon. Whether it was the Skull of Nan Sapwe or the Gauntlet of Siegfried, powerful special weapons could be obtained through extra side quests, adding another layer to gameplay. Zombies fans could craft map-exclusive items to help them, ranging from Origins’ Maxis Drone to a the Ragnarok DG-3. On top of all this, small touches like map-specific Pack-A-Punch camos and HUD designs brought extra personality to several locations.
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Make no mistake, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a solid Zombies game. However, while all the content so far is good, it is the same type of good, lacking in style and variety. With the game only in its second Season of content, though, there is still plenty of time to course correct. While meaningful Operator conversations, diverse Pack-A-Punch camos, and more interesting map concepts would go a long way with fans, they are only some of the changes that should be made.
For starters, future maps should have some Zombies exclusive weaponry inside the Mystery Box and on the wall buy spots. Whether it be something small like a melee weapon or a secondary Wonder Weapon, this would instantly spice up gameplay and making each map stand out. Next, some neat new buildables should be seen on different maps, with the system going beyond just scorestreaks and grenades. Some form of special equipment that is only seen on one map would make every trip to the crafting table exciting, and the concept of buildable traps returning would be awesome to see as well.
Lastly, Call of Duty Zombies’ future maps need some more complex mechanics for longtime players. While standard armor and trial systems are welcome, not everything about Zombies should be so by-the-book. Each map should have a different flow, with special systems like those tied to Arthur from Buried or Shadows of Evil’s trials becoming the norm once again. While eliminating the setup process from Zombies maps looks good on paper, as it speeds up each map and removes complex puzzles that newcomers would be confused by, it also makes every map feel the exact same. There should be more to a map’s regular gameplay than getting the strongest gun and running in circles, as players should have plenty to strive for before reaching that point.
Hopefully, future Call of Duty Zombies additions find a balance between the maps of old and the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War style. If not, the latest Zombies offering will simply remain “good,” failing to reach its full potential due to a repetitive style not seen in the Zombies modes that came before.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
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Call of Duty
Xbox Series X
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
Xbox Series S
About The Author
(1380 Articles Published)
A lifelong gamer and comics fan who loves writing about everything in nerd culture… and has a small addiction to trophy and achievement hunting.
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