It’s a strange world we live in, where a military-themed FPS like Call of Duty sees annual releases alongside sports titles like EA’s Madden games. It’s an aggressive scheduling decision that no one else has managed to match, keeping Activision’s stranglehold on the multiplayer scene strong, loosening only slightly for occasional competing released like Halo or Medal of Honor.
In order to keep this annual rhythm going, Activision ping-pongs development for Call of Duty between two separate teams, Infinity Ward and Treyarch, giving each team a reasonable 2-year window to complete their respective games. This also has the side effect of flavoring each year’s game to their respective team, particularly in the area of multiplayer. This is no more apparent than in Treyarch’s signature multiplayer mode Zombies, which has infected their biannual shot at Call of Duty since World at War.
With this year’s Black Ops 2 being Treyarch’s turn at bat, Zombies has risen once again, with a few new tricks up its putrescent sleeve. The formula is the same as it’s always been: slaughter zombies for cash in a small arena, use said cash to buy better weapons and expand said arena, lather, rinse, repeat. There have been some brilliant variations on the theme like 2010’s “Call of the Dead,” which pitted a quartet of b-list actors against a zombified George A. Romero, and an airless romp across a lunar base.
The big change this year is “Tranzit,” which takes the usually intimate maps and blows them out to a series of pseudo-open-world arenas, joined by a robotically driven bus (Johnny Cab’s mass-transit counterpart?) which draws zombies to it faster than creepy moms to a Twilight screening. This new format is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but the retro-futuristic theme of this new map makes it sing.
There’s also Survival mode, which will be familiar to fans (stay alive as long as possible on one map) as well as a new competitive team-based mode called “Grief.” “Grief” is incredibly amusing, as you cannot directly damage your enemy’s team members, but instead rely on traps and the zombies populating the map to do the dirty work. It’s basically non-stop trolling of your opponents, and it’s hilariously scummy at times.
The beefy Zombies additions—which are sure to be further enhanced with the obligatory DLC further down the road—are stacked up with a solid single-player experience that jumps back and forth in time to add a futuristic flair to the Cold War covert ops of the flashbacks. It also features the voice of Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), making his sophomore return to Call of Duty as your hard-bitten brother-in-arms. It’s not the sort of thing we really talk about here at FEARnet (the horrors of war aren’t really the horror we’re looking for), but it’s solid, intriguing, and full of the over-the-top setpieces that have defined the franchise. There’s nothing as earth-shattering as the first Modern Warfare and its nuclear devastation, but it’s got all of the blistering cues of a great, lead-spewing action flick. It's a fantastic diversion when you don't feel like going online, and makes Black Ops 2 a fantastic package, especially with the new Zombies additions.