When Call of Duty: Zombies hit the iOS app store way back when we praised it for what was, at the time, a great adaptation of the console secondary game mode. Now, over two years later, the zombies have finally returned with Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies [$6.99], the first true sequel to iOS CoD Zombies (strange psuedo-sequel notwithstanding). While Black Ops Zombies does succeed in providing improved visuals and extra variety in the addition of the excellent Dead-Ops mode, a frustrating selection of controls, spotty multiplayer, and a very limited map selection on the onset may make some fans hesitant to purchase now.
For the uninitiated, Black Ops Zombies is a first person shooter zombie survival game based off of the survival mode found on some console versions of Call of Duty. Zombies is map-based, with each map typically featuring numerous rooms and weapons that must be unlocked in order to provide the player with better weapons and defense. There are some small secondary objectives, but the primary goal of each play through is to simply survive as long as you can. Zombies come at you in waves, and you earn money for each one you take down, giving you the currency needed to unlock everything. There are also power-ups, such as extra ammo or double currency, which can randomly drop from the slain undead.
If you do a side-by-side comparison between Black Ops Zombie and its predecessor, you’ll see a definite upgrade in visual quality and presentation. The graphics look much better, especially on the most recent iOS devices. Even the menu system looks great and offers personality that isn’t normally found in something of that low a priority in game design. Granted, it’s certainly not the best looking game we’ve seen on iOS, but it’s an improvement nonetheless. Surprisingly, I did encounter the occasional slowdown on my 4S, which seemed odd.
One of the most important questions in my book in regards to first person shooters is its controls. Black Ops Zombies adds additional control functions, such as crouching and sprinting into the mix. In addition, Black Ops Zombies brings back the same three control options (joystick, swap, and tilt) from its predecessor. Each one offers some advantage over the other, but I never found any of them to fully satisfy my expectations and not make me feel like I was compensating for playing on a touch screen. Extras such as various difficulties and auto-aim try to alleviate the problem, but it doesn’t fix it all the way. Also there were some questionable design decisions, such as not having a fire button on the screen and forcing the players to double tap to fire. While this may work on paper, I can’t count the amount of times I wasn’t able to fire my gun when I wanted to.
Another design choice I really don’t understand is the limited map selection in Black Ops Zombies. Basically, as of release, you have access to one map, Kino Der Toten. While it’s certainly a good map, the fact that players only have access to one map at the onset is a little ridiculous. We have confirmation that there is at least one more map coming in a future update to Black Ops Zombies, but until then, expect to get tired of Kino Der Toten until that happens.
Thankfully, some of the potential tedium is addressed with the inclusion of Dead-Ops Arcade mode, a top-down arcade shooter with dual stick controls. The premise is very simple in Dead-Ops: enter rooms, kill zombies, collect weapon upgrades and score enhancing gems, move into next room, repeat. Even still, I had a blast with Dead-Ops and thought it was a perfect game fit for iOS controls. The weapon variety, fast paced gameplay, and nice graphics all work in tandem to create an incredible experience. In fact, with some modifications, it probably could have survived just fine as a standalone release. Still, I appreciate that it was included with Black Ops Zombies, especially with the current lack of map variety.
Finally we get to the multiplayer, which really is the main draw for Call of Duty zombie games. Black Ops Zombies brings back four player coop mode and ups the ante with support for voice chat. When you manage to get a game going and everything is smooth, multiplayer simply increases the amount of fun exponentially and is well worth the ticket price. Unfortunately for me, I found the majority of my games to be filled with lag and frame rate jerkiness, even when lowering the detail slider. I know it has something to do with the net code, because as soon as my companions would inevitably drop out, the game would run fine. Lag on its own wouldn’t necessarily be a big deal, but when you combine it with the spotty controls, the problems just seem to compound. The included voice chat is nice, but in practice I’d usually end up muting my companions because I would just hear a lot of loud noise and static coming from their end. Dead-Ops multiplayer fared somewhat better, but I still encountered some significant lag, which is disappointing.
World at War Zombies was simply revolutionary for its time and, while Black Ops Zombies certainly improves on nearly every aspect of its predecessor, our expectations of what makes a great game have certainly changed. It’s not enough to simply add a new map and a better visual paintjob and call it a day. Yet, outside of Dead-Ops, that’s the sort of feeling I get while playing Black Ops Zombies. I think this feeling would have been far less prevalent if the game launched with just a bit more content than one map or if multiplayer wasn’t so laggy. In any case, if you were a fan of World at War Zombies, and you’re willing to be patient with content releases, you’ll love this sequel. For others looking for improvements in the general gameplay (or control schemes for that matter), you may want to wait for a content update or two.