Black Ops 2 ups the ante on Zombies with a campaign, sandbox mode, and griefing
[Disclosure: Activision paid for airfare and ground transportation, as well as a hotel room for one night.] The presence of zombies in Call of Duty started as something of a joke; a pet project built internally, later inserted into the main game and revealed as an unlockable at the end of Treyarch's World at War. Since that time, the Call of Duty zombies have gained a following all their own, and the simple wave-based survival game of four years ago has evolved into something that could easily be its own game. Mark Lamia, studio head of Treyarch, called the zombie modes of World at War and Black Ops “a social game.” It's the mode you run to if you want to play with people instead of against them, as the oncoming horde of the undead will test your survival and coordination skills. Black Ops 2 seems to want to offer something for every FPS fan, no matter the skill level or tastes. Zombies are no exception to that rule, as the mode now boasts several options for co-op and single play, as well as an entirely new mode in Black Ops 2.Survival is the most familiar mode to returning zombie slayers. In this mode, up to four players fend off wave after wave of the zombie horde until every player has bit the dust. It's the quintessential zombie killing experience from World at War and Black Ops distilled into a simple game type. However, it's not the main mode like it was before. The big draw for zombie killing this time around is a mode called Tranzit, which contains an “expansive world” that will act as a sandbox for players, Lamia said. Although it won't be as detailed as the single-player's story, this is also where the story behind Call of Duty's zombies comes in. The map is far larger than before, and introduces two new concepts: the bus and buildables. The bus is self-explanatory: it really is just a bus that the characters in Tranzit have boarded up and fortified for use as transportation across the game's new areas. We didn't get to see any raw game play of the bus in action, but the trailer revealed that the vehicle sections would be much more than simple loading screens. Zombies will tear at the planks and boards, and crawl along the bus' sides, leaving it up to you to blast them off before you're overrun or nabbed from the sides. Buildables were likewise never shown, but Lamia said that Tranzit mode would have items scattered about its map that were designed to be combined with other such items to form defenses, weapons, items, or even help in accessing new areas. It sounded like an homage or following in the footsteps of other zombie killer games that feature item crafting like Dead Rising or Dead Island, but Lamia couldn't give any details as to whether the buildables in Black Ops 2 would reach that level of complexity.
Griefing has become a legitimate strategy
The most interesting of the modes revealed was called Grief. It's an interesting twist on the standard humans vs. infected-style gameplay of games like Left 4 Dead, and Lamia revealed that the title of the mode doesn't refer to a deep feeling of sadness, but the process of griefing other players. In Grief, players are split into either two teams, though there are actually three opposing forces. Immediately you have humans vs. zombies, but the humans are then further divided into two teams: CIA and CDC. The CIA and CDC teams can't kill each other, but they can perform special actions in-game – Lamia was vague about what, exactly – that will make it harder for the opposite human team to survive. Since the last human team standing wins, the game mode becomes a passive-aggressive tug-of-war balancing act between being aggressive and facing down the horde while also trying to lure the undead to your human competitors. You'll want to work with them one minute to save your own skin, then stab them in the back as soon as you can to eliminate the competition. It sounded like a blast, and I can imagine constructing a set of custom games with a double-agent twist that turns everyone paranoid. Zombie mode is more open to players than ever, as options in Black Ops 2 will allow you to tweak settings like starting round, turning on headshots-only, or dialing down the difficulty on solo play. Since the mode now uses the multiplayer engine instead of the modified single-player engine it relied on before, the mode now supports things like leaderboards and stat-tracking as well. While it's disappointing that Treyarch wasn't taking questions and we didn't get any hands-on time with the new and improved zombie game in Black Ops 2, it's clear that Treyarch is approaching the mode with accessibility and variety in mind: buildables mean less reliance on the game and more autonomous strategy, Tranzit may lead to a more fully-realized world and fleshed-out story, and Grief turns what was previously co-op only into a competitive game. Zombies may be starting to overstay their welcome as the perennial favorite enemy in video games, but if Treyarch can deliver with their new zombies modes, we may not mind them sticking around for a bit longer.