A wise man once said that the only thing more fun than shooting zombies was shooting Nazi zombies. The developers of Call of Duty: World at War certainly knew this, and crafted a fun and unique Zombie mode as a bonus level at the end of the single player campaign. Many found this mode to be more fun than the actual campaign, and hoped for an entire game based on the concept. While Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies (hereafter referred to as simply Call of Duty: Zombies) isn’t the full game we were hoping for, it is a faithful port of World at War’s Zombie mode.
The game includes a brief tutorial and World at War’s original map, Nacht der Untoten. If you never got a chance to play the Zombie mode, it’s a bit different than other zombie games you might have experienced. Instead of advancing through a level like a typical shooter, you have barricaded yourself into a building to make one desperate last stand against the undead hordes zeroing in on your position. Think Left 4 Dead, but trapped in your safehouse!
Fortunately you have some weapons to aid you in your battle. Starting off with a simple pistol, you can “buy” new weapons during the course of the level by walking up to chalk outlines of these weapons on the walls of your building. Purchasing these weapons is accomplished through points accumulated from – what else? Killing zombies! Points can also be spent on erecting barricades in the level to slow down the advancing undead, or to clear debris blocking your access to other parts of the level (such as the second floor).
The zombies come in a relentless and endless wave, meaning your goal is to just survive as long as possible. A single player alone will only be able to advance so far against the mob, though the game does allow for up to four co-op players to battle together. While I didn’t get to test this particular style of play on the iPhone, I did experience it in the original World at War Zombie mode and it was a lot of fun. Battling the undead is definitely a great team sport.
One of the first questions anybody will ask about an action game port on the iPhone is whether or not the controls are any good. Fortunately Call of Duty: Zombies ensures that there is at least one control scheme you’ll be able to succeed with. The game actually comes with three separate schemes – one that uses the tilt functionality of the phone, one that uses the touch screen only (sliding your finger around), and my favorite, dual analog sticks.
Touch screen control is the default, and utilizes a virtual analog joystick in the bottom left for movement, and virtual buttons on the right for bringing up sights and shooting. Looking around/aiming is accomplished through swiping the screen. While this scheme generally works well once you get used to it, having to touch so many points on the screen gets cumbersome when you’re facing large numbers of zombies.
The tilt control is arguably the worst of the lot. Again movement utilizes the virtual joystick, but aiming is done by tilting the iPhone. The effect feels like you’re flying through the level instead of walking, and aiming is really imprecise without a lot of practice. With two other superior control schemes to choose from, I considered this more of a novelty than anything else.
The dual joystick mode will feel the most comfortable to gamers used to playing console games. The left joystick controls movement and the right joystick controls aiming and shooting. You can shoot by simply tapping the joystick, which means less range of movement required to play (which is a very good thing in the game’s later rounds).
Because a phone is not the ideal environment for a fast-paced shooter, Call of Duty: Zombies does add a few features to assist. The game is pretty generous with its auto-aim functionality. While you can bring up your gun sights for precise shots, a shot in the general direction of a zombie will generally hit its target. While this might be annoying and feel dumbed down on a PC or console, for the iPhone it becomes a necessity. Another nice feature is a visual clue when a zombie is near, denoted by a zombie head icon and arrow on your screen pointing in the direction of the threat. Because fast turns are not always easy, this alerts you to danger just out of sight. Speaking of fast turns, the game also adds a “quick turn” swipe gesture you can use in some of the control schemes to do a fast 180 and get that corpse sneaking up behind you.
Graphically Call of Duty: Zombies looks very nice. While the zombies can seem just a tad on the simple side at close range, the environments are well done. Animations are great and frame rate is relatively smooth throughout. While the game doesn’t look quite as good as some of the more recent premium shooters to hit the App Store, it’s certainly a capable likeness of the PC version. The intro cutscene is fantastic, and really adds to the feel that you are playing a premium title.
The sound quality is pretty top-notch, particularly with headphones. The zombie sounds are terrifying, and really add to the atmosphere of dread. Music is used sparingly and will largely be drowned out by the sounds of gunfire and dying zombies, but is serviceable in maintaining the tension.
With a retail price of $9.99, Call of Duty: Zombies is certainly classified as a premium iPhone game. While the presentation and functionality of the game may warrant that price, it’s a little harder to justify the amount of content. With only one map and really only one basic way to play (kill waves of zombies alone or with a friend , repeat until you die), there’s a good chance you get a little bored before getting your money’s worth. Activision does promise new maps, but it’s unclear right now when and at what price point these will be released.
Ultimately the decision on whether or not to buy Call of Duty: Zombies will depend on your amount of disposable income and level of enjoyment with the PC version. The game is certainly executed extremely well, and is a fun and faithful translation. However, with only one map so far I can’t personally justify the premium price point. The addition of a new map or two would go a long way towards making this a high recommendation for zombie fans, so I’m hoping Activision delivers some DLC in the near future.
UPDATE – 2/21/10:
In light of the recent release of the new “Verruckt” map for Call of Duty: Zombies, we’ve decided to revisit the title and let you know what’s been updated.
The first thing that should be noted is that in conjunction with the new map, the developers have released a 1.2 update that adds some new functionality and gameplay improvements. The patch lays the groundwork for future DLC by allowing in-game map purchases without leaving the application. It also adds nine new weapons including the FG-42, Gewehr-43, PPsh-41, M1 Garand, and Springfield. There are some improvements to multiplayer gameplay and performance, as well as 23 new achievements to unlock (13 for Nacht der Untoten and 10 for Verruckt). The game also tweaks the tutorial to give players a better sense of the control options available to them.
If you’ve been brushing up on your German, you’ll know that “verruckt” means “crazy,” and that is exactly the theme of the new map. Taking place in a run-down mental institution, you’ll find yourself navigating the hallways and floors of a large asylum, complete with creepy dentist chairs and gloomy lighting. The new map is much larger than the original Nacht der Untoten map, thus giving you more time to gather your thoughts and back yourself into a corner before the first wave of zombies rolls in.
There are a couple of nifty additions to the gameplay with the Verruckt map. First, you now have the ability to purchase electro-shock barriers. These will deep fry any zombie (or friendly player) unlucky enough to walk through one. The other addition is Perk-A-Cola machines that will allow you to purchase benefit-granting sodas such as “Double Tap Root Beer” or “Jugger-nog.”
The new Verruckt map is extremely well done, and easily my favorite of the two available maps. I’ve always had a fascination with insane asylums, and there’s not much creepier than fighting the undead inside of one. The cola perk system is a nice bonus, and the electro-shock barriers are great fun. The new weapons I tried were also a blast to try out, if you’ll pardon the pun. Those who have grown weary of playing the original map over and over again will certainly have a great time exploring all the nooks and crannies of Verruckt.
While the performance improvements and tweaks are free in the 1.2 patch, the Verruckt map will unfortunately set you back a steep $4.99. While quality-wise the level is probably worthy of commanding a premium price, it may be hard for some to stomach paying 50% of the original purchase price for one more map. A couple more maps at that price point and you could easily be shelling out $25 on an iPhone game, which seems a little “verruckt” in and of itself.
Fans of the game will definitely want to check Verruckt out, as it does significantly expand the game and offers a fun and fresh new environment to kill undead in. Taken along with the 1.2 update, Call of Duty: Zombies is now a much more well-rounded package than it was originally. While the update and new environment are welcome, however, I didn’t find that they would significantly change the original score in any way. For that reason, I’m sticking with the original rating with the caveat that there is a little more substance to the app now – you’ll just continue to pay a premium for it.