Sometimes, Undead is Better: Looking Back on Call of Duty’s Zombies Mode
Ah… Zombies Mode. What started as a fun little bonus at the end of Call of Duty: World at War has now evolved into a mainstay of the series, going from a tiny repurposed multiplayer map using weapons from the main game to huge, completely custom maps with unique weapons, interactive characters (that are even played by celebrities from time to time), and lengthy (if well-hidden and optional) main objectives – the Easter eggs. Its importance to the series can’t be understated – what was once exclusive to the games made by Treyarch spread to the releases by Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer as well, and while Black Ops 4 made the controversial decision not to include a campaign, leaving out Zombies Mode was never on the table.
There’s no denying the importance of Zombies Mode to the Call of Duty series as a whole; a sizable portion of the series’ fans adamantly play this mode to the exclusion of all else (myself included), and the zombies map being the major selling point of most DLC packs (yes, kiddies, only two games ago, DLC maps were not free) all but confirms its central role… However, there are a lot of ups and downs to all the various undead experiences that have been released throughout the years, and it can be hard to know where to begin; which ones have the most to do? Which ones are the most fun to survive on?
In this article, I’m going to walk you through the good and bad of each and every map; from the olden times of 2008 (thirteen years ago; Zombies Mode is nearly old enough to play itself!) to mere months ago. We’ll start at the bottom, and work our way up…
(Potential Spoiler Warning: Story events won’t be discussed in great detail, but general setup, gameplay elements and vague story snippets will be brought up to help explain things.)
Just want to find out how your favorite (or least favorite) map did? Use this handy table:
WORLD AT WAR
BLACK OPS II
BLACK OPS III
BLACK OPS 4
45 – ALL OF BLACK OPS COLD WAR
It crashes on Windows 7… It crashes on Windows 10… It crashes on PS4… And it does so at a consistent, predictable rate.
Not that any of these maps would have ranked particularly high on this list anyway; the new Borderlands-esque gun rarity and equipment systems based on RNG are truly terrible, and having the playable characters be mostly mute operators from the multiplayer mode doesn’t help matters any… The overall weaponset – a pitiful attempt to cash in on New Modern Warfare‘s own gun system – is poorly thrown together as well, and there being a new Zombies “Battle Royale” mode is just adding insult to injury; especially considering many of its accessibility-focused features snuck their way into the main mode. But these problems are all forgivable enough so its maps could definitely be higher on this list than they are… If those were the only issues.
However, the game’s habit of running horribly drags it right down into the dirt; with an overclocked, liquid-cooled i7 4790k (running at 4.6 GHz), a 1080 Ti GPU, and 16 gigabytes of DDR3 RAM (clocked at 1866 MHz), I struggled to turn even half of the numerous video settings up to medium… And even with my video settings toggled just right, the game still has oddly bad frame-pacing (on a similar level to Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 on PS4). The game outright refuses to run well, which is something that’s never happened on my PC before; only Cyberpunk 2077 competes with it. The PS4 version runs smoother in comparison, but looks like a disgusting blurry mess (somewhat like Advanced Warfare on PS3; more on that later); this is especially weird considering how well New Modern Warfare was able to run while still looking decent.
I could still forgive all of these hiccups pretty easily… If the game didn’t CONSTANTLY crash. Every other game in the series, I can consistently play long enough to get in-game rounds into at least the 30s, and do several other runs in a single session with no problem… Cold War, on the other hand, has a nasty habit of crashing like clockwork; oftentimes to the desktop, but just as often into a Blue Screen of Death. The console versions are a little more stable, but not enough to be on par with any of the titles that came before them; they still cause plenty of crashes on systems that have never had them happen with any other game. Trying to play with a friend inevitably means that one of you will run into one kind of crash or the other before Round 10 has a chance to show its face; supposedly, there have been patches since to make the game a little more stable, but a few friends and I tried it several times over several months worth of updates, and not a one of them has actually helped things along – if anything, it’s only gotten worse. While I used to be able to at least load into a game and play a few rounds before things fell apart, now, I can’t even get a round to start without causing my GPU’s drivers to crash! I tried my best to get a bit more perspective on the game before I ragged on it too much, but…
… The game is so high and mighty, that soon (at the end of next week) it’s going to stop supporting Windows 7 and 8 entirely! What, are they worried that performance won’t continue to be stable as they optimize it for DirectX 12? That sure would stin- OH, WAIT! IT HASN’T RUN WELL ON ANY SYSTEM AT ANY TIME! Ironically, this little change hasn’t convinced me to upgrade to Windows 10 – it’s done the opposite. Any operating system that this dumpster fire of a game supports can’t be one worth adopting.
None of the game’s maps were going to rank highly anyway – the little time I did get to play on Die Maschine and Firebase-Z wasn’t very fun, probably would’ve made Rank 35 at best; and after trying twelve times today, I couldn’t get Mauer der Toten to load into gameplay without crashing even once – but as things are, I’m grouping all of this game’s maps together, along with all of the uninspired schlock the game as a whole has to offer, and I’m throwing it ALL in the trash; it wasn’t even worth listing in the easy access table above. Overall recommendation: SKIP. You could buy a Model 2 SEGA Genesis and a copy of Sonic 2 for the same amount of money; but I’d even take a McDonald’s Game-‘n’-Watch knockoff over this.
44 – ALL OF BLACK OPS DS
To be fair, what did you expect? It’s on the Nintendo DS. How good could it possibly have been?
The one and only thing going for this one is that you can play it on the go, but you’d have more fun (and get to play on some REAL maps) if you got the Android releases (Call of Duty Zombies has all the World at War maps, and Black Ops Zombies has a handful of Black Ops‘ better ones); heck, you’d have more fun with Nazi Zombies Portable – a free fan project – on your PSP. The controls here are just as clunky (if not more so) than those on a smartphone’s touchscreen or the single-stick PSP, and for your trouble, you’ll get to enjoy truly epic and memorable maps like a House, a Temple I guess, a Facility of some sort, and the Overlook hotel… It’s got quite the tagline: “Don’t overlook the zombies that are coming to kill you!” How about, “Don’t overlook all the better games on your shelf!” You’ll put up with these bargain-bin maps for however long you can bear wrestling with the controls and framerate – which generally amounts to about three minutes, maybe five if you’re feeling adventurous – and then you quit. Thrilling.
A personal story to really hammer the point home; I bought this game while on a school trip to Boston once. We had a chance during the free time of the trip to visit local shops… I checked out a game shop, and I got this, thinking it would be pretty cool. I played ten minutes worth of it during the lunch break, and promptly decided that I needed to go back to the game shop and exchange it (I still have the copy of Warioware D.I.Y that I traded it for; a game I strongly recommend!). I hadn’t ever traded a game back in that quickly before, and I haven’t since. If it wasn’t fun enough for me back then (context: Shrek 2 on Game Boy Advance was. Ouch), I can guarantee that it won’t be fun enough for you, ever.
The devs gave it their best shot, but this is fun for a grand total of five minutes, if that; and using the word “fun” there was probably being overly generous. Overall recommendation: SKIP. You’d have more fun playing Black Ops: Declassified‘s Survival Mode, and that’s about as low as it gets.
43 – CLASSIFIED
Really, taken as its own thing, this isn’t the worst of the “proper” zombies maps. It adds a navigable segment onto the end of the map to make it a little easier to train on than in Five, and it also threw in an Easter egg, which the map previously lacked (bar the hidden song)… And, of course, it gives the map a bit of a visual overhaul. So, what drags it down?
The custom perk system of Black Ops 4 was almost universally detested, as was its low-damage (and arguably not very well-designed from a visual perspective) weaponset and its rebalanced point-rewarding system (which ended up just massively nerfing points you could get from using weak SMGs, completely removing most point that they had); so any map that’s in Black Ops 4 is going to be dragged down a bit already just by those overall mechanics. Don’t worry, though: Classified has plenty of other hiccups of its own that push it this far down. Gone is the amusing and politically charged cast of the original – no more Tricky Dicky and El Comandante for you, it’s the Ultimis crew! While it was kind of nice to see them again (they hadn’t been featured since the first Black Ops), they didn’t really fill the void as well as the devs had probably hoped… There’s also an overarching feeling that the main objective-laden Easter egg isn’t very worthwhile – whether it’s done or not doesn’t impact the story one bit. The map also lost its unique “boss zombie” – the Pentagon Thief only shows up briefly in the introductory cutscene, and the map itself just uses the same tired Hellhounds that most maps do… And overall, Classified also suffers plenty just for what it is – the original Five wasn’t really that great a map to begin with (more on that when we get there).
The biggest problem overall has to be with how you get the “cinematic” Easter egg. Most Zombies maps, completing the primary objective is what lets you see the story unfold, and as challenging as getting there may be, they’re a nice reward alongside the achievement/trophy. But to see the ending cinematic on Classified (without just going online and looking up the cutscene, of course), you have to reach Round 150. Anyone who’s played a couple of maps before will tell you that around Round 50 (usually before), most guns – Pack-a-Punched or not – stop doing too much damage to zombies; and this is especially true in Black Ops 4, between the low-output weapons, multiple Pack-a-Punch levels, and complete lack of Double Tap Root Beer. Imagine trying to cope with this for a hundred and fifty rounds. There are cheese strategies you can employ to pull it off, but what fun is that? You’ll lose obscene amounts of time (likely ten hours or more, and even more if something goes wrong and you die; which in that many rounds is bound to happen), and all you get for your efforts is a minute-long cutscene; oh, and that cutscene sets up a very important story element in the next “Aether Storyline” map. If you didn’t see it, you’ll have no idea why things are the way they are when you load up Alpha Omega.
It’s really not too bad a play, all things considered, but we have 42 more maps to go here, and nearly all of them are more fun to play on than this one; and none of them butcher an original map quite like this one does. Overall recommendation: You could do worse, but not much.
42 – TAG DER TOTEN
They probably thought that naming this map “Day of the Dead” was a touching homage to George Romero, but I’d call it disrespecting the dead, considering what we got. Tag has pretty much all the same problems that Classified does, but it’s slightly less irritating with its Easter eggs, the cast choice was a tad better, and it’s based on a much better map.
That still doesn’t help things much; it’s overall just as much a butchering as Classified was, and you could make a case for this one being even worse. Dense, adaptive snowstorms have been replaced with a bright, sunny day… As stated above, including Victis was a more interesting choice than Ultimis was in Classified (largely because Victis doesn’t have extremely similar counterparts with the exact same voice actors), but they’re no replacement for the all-star cast of Call of the Dead. The original and iconic boss zombie, George Romero, sadly was not included due to his passing by the time of this map’s release – the devs hardly could have helped this, but there’s a gaping hole without him there, and they didn’t even attempt to fill it (couldn’t they have tried another horror director, like John Carpenter?)… Also, the new Wunderwaffe DG-Scharfschütze wonder weapon (a Wunderwaffe sniper, wahoo) is no replacement for the VR-11 or Scavenger.
A new area was also added to help make the map into more of a proper training circle, but it’s plagued with slowing, freezing water and has several raised platforms that are easy to fall off of but not so easy to climb back up, which makes training around it feel at best pointless, and at worst outright dangerous. Another added area – the laboratory that was originally only visible in the distance – just feels like a cut-and-paste drop-in from Ascension and adds nothing to the navigability or the atmosphere; if it weren’t for the fourth perk machine being located there, you could just as well skip it entirely and it wouldn’t make much difference. The last additional area is a little “timed survival challenge” island with a giant, Golden Pack-a-Punch machine… Considering the loud house music it plays, I’m surprised that the machine wasn’t also studded with diamonds and cursing at me in a twelve-year-old’s voice.
The one really good part here was the return of Victis; though most dislike them, they’re still a solid enough group when you give them half a chance… Unfortunately, it taking this long for them to return not only hurt their overall performances (the interplay between them lacks a little of their old punch, and sadly drifts more into Green Run territory than Buried), but particularly hurt Misty; her voice got much gruffer as the years went on, which can be a bit grating to hear. As glad as I was to hear Stuhlinger’s mad ramblings again, they just weren’t put to good use here, and that’s a darned shame… Especially considering this is probably the last we’ll ever hear of them.
That Easter egg… Well, it’s reasonably fun to do, more or less; not great, but not terrible… However… I won’t spoil the story here, but I will say that the final cutscene makes for a terrible, unsatisfying conclusion to the Aether timeline as a whole, and while previous Black Ops 4 maps were all leading up to this, Tag feels especially cheapened by it due to its proximity to this terrible finale (and considering it would lead into Cold War‘s “Dark Aether” story, that makes the sting that much worse).
It’s… Fairly playable, at least?.. It’s just not very fun due to all the changes, and considering how great the original map was, that’s a far bigger blow than Classified “ruining” Five… And there’s only just enough sparks of Call of the Dead left to push it further up on this list. I’m not even sure if it deserves to be ahead at all; I’m just not allowing for any ties, here. Overall recommendation: SKIP. Yes, I would say skip – the original is so much more fun to play on that there’s no reason whatsoever to play a vastly inferior retouched version.
41 – BLOOD OF THE DEAD
While I have a lot of disdain for the previous two Black Ops 4 re-imaginings, this one is by far my least favorite of them, as well as my least favorite map ever.
It’s this high up because it does some things very well: it’s much more actually changed (layout-wise) than Classified and Tag were, and certain flawed elements (like the intense run to get into the main prison, and Brutus’ more central role in the gameplay) at least stand out as very ambitious; and, of course, properly capturing Mob of the Dead’s visual aesthetic is worth some points, too.
That’s where the positives end, however. The first question at hand is whether the map needed to exist at all – Classified and Tag der Toten were just using existing locations, but Mob of the Dead was in its own little dimension, and worked best as a standalone (and lent extra credence to the minor but powerful trick Richtofen would pull during Black Ops 3‘s storyline). Giving it the benefit of the doubt there doesn’t help matters much: Blood of the Dead marked yet another map that featured the Primis gang as its cast, and after a whole game’s worth of them back in Black Ops 3, this was getting more than a little tired – and they could never replace the Mob-Stars. The map’s new Wonder Weapon was just another alternate version of the Blundergat with fire properties (which has largely the same ups and downs as the Acid Gat, which is also available)… And casting Brutus as the main villain overall stood out as a particularly bad choice – he’d originally seemed like a mostly unrelated instrument of punishment (especially considering more than one of him would appear on the bridge) sent by the unseen force that was really in control, but deciding to make him actually the ex-warden behind all the events in that dimension served only to drag down the mysterious and fascinating lore of Mob.
What really cements Blood of the Dead as a bad map is just how much the restructuring actually interferes with the gameplay; while Mob was well-designed and easy to navigate, Blood is a nightmare of mish-mashed and re-routed priorities that never makes it clear just where you should and shouldn’t go. I know the original map like the back of my hand, and yet with things shifted as much as they are, I consistently failed to make any real progress… And the new bits don’t help matters any. The aforementioned “intense run” which players go through at the beginning of a session to get to the main prison is more than likely to kill you with the rate it spawns zombies and the speed they move at – and in early rounds (when you’re supposed to do the run), you rarely have the firepower necessary to push through it (this is hard now, with the added health that was patched into the mode; it was even harder at launch). Pair these issues with the terrible gunplay and perk system of Black Ops 4, and the fact that you can’t start the main Easter egg until Round 17 (experienced eggers know: the sooner, the better) and you have a surefire recipe for failure.
What really kills this map, though, is that it didn’t really need to happen from a development standpoint either; Black Ops 4 started out with two Chaos storyline maps and a third already in development at the time of launch. By pushing themselves to try to keep up a new storyline while simultaneously carrying on the older one (not to mention also putting plenty of effort into the colossal failure that was Blackout), Treyarch burned themselves out, and all the later maps would suffer for it; had they just stuck with Chaos, things wouldn’t have exactly been sublime (God knows Voyage of Despair and IX aren’t even near perfect), but Black Ops 4 at least could have had a chance to be good. Blood of the Dead just ended up being a poor rehash that forced Treyarch to stick with their established story, which they were clearly running out of ideas for; and since Cold War‘s “Dark Aether” storyline is still clinging to Aether’s coattails as well, it doesn’t look like Zombies is going to get any truly good releases for quite a while… And that downhill slope started with Blood of the Dead.
This map may have had more effort put into it than Classified or Tag, but twice as much work amounted to five times as many screw-ups, and there’s next to none of the old charm left over for this one – they’ve squeezed that fruit dry as a bone. Overall recommendation: SKIP, SKIP, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SKIP.
40 – VOYAGE OF DESPAIR
(This is the last Black Ops 4 map for a while, I promise)
I won’t be ranking overall CoD games that have Zombies Mode on this list; there’s simply too many factors that can enter into the equation, and every game has something to offer. Still, if you end up considering getting into Zombies at the end of this article but aren’t sure where to begin, the fact that Black Ops 4 has four maps at the bottom of this list should tell you something.
I’m not sure what the pitch for Voyage of Despair was, but I think it may have been something like this: “I have a great idea, Tim. Why don’t we make a map that takes place in the MIDDLE of the new storyline we’re trying to push, but make it the FIRST map players get access to?” “BRILLIANT! What a fresh concept! We’re gonna make MILLIONS!”
And thus, the worst original map in Zombies Mode history was born. It begins with a cutscene that seems to assume that you know the characters involved; and yet, how could we? We only just got here. Other one-shots like Dead of the Night, Mob of the Dead and Shadows of Evil do the same thing, but they double up on character development as the map goes on so by the end of the Easter egg, the characters have been fleshed out enough to have served their purpose; we meet the main “Chaos” cast on this map, and yet by the end of Ancient Evil, I still don’t feel like I know much about them… Diego ended up being the only character to stand out somewhat, and when he’s playing off of the giant oaf stereotype, the eccentric scientist stereotype, and… Did Scarlett even have a personality? This may be the least interesting bunch of characters since Five Across the Eyes. It’s one thing to want to take things in a different direction – some things about the Chaos storyline are a refreshing change of pace from the comparatively over-established Aether story, like the new focus on ancient lore and occult magicks… It’s just that the good points are all tackled much, MUCH better in the follow-up Chaos maps, making Voyage look like a rough start in comparison; and that’s because it is.
The map is bursting at the seams with special zombies – between elementally-charged Catalysts, big Stokers armed with shovels, and oversized spider-nuisance Blightfathers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a round past 5 without a couple of these things showing up. On paper, it sounds like the variant zombies would add some much-needed variety to the game, but in practice, they don’t fit in right with the gameplay at all (generally resulting in unwanted point losses or unintended earlier round completions), and unlike trademark specials like Brutus and Astronauts, they don’t fit in with the map’s visual design either: It takes place on a boat, the RMS Titanic. Stokers you could make an argument for, but what are the others doing here?.. It’s, uh, magic. Yeah.
The more arbitrary stuff aside, the map still isn’t designed very well. In attempting to keep a ship-like shape (which is commendable, I suppose), they made a layout that unfortunately leaves far too many tight corridors to get trapped in, and the few watery segments – in stark contrast to those in Zetsubou no Shima – have awkwardly positioned air pockets; while they change the players’ movement around to the clumsier underwater controls, zombies move at a rate that seems almost unimpeded, making water exceptionally dangerous… And, naturally, navigating these areas plays a big role in the Easter egg, but even more annoyingly, it’s also required to do something as basic and essential as activating the Pack-a-Punch.
Pair those flaws with the map’s ridiculously convoluted Easter egg (killing a randomly spawning elemental zombie of a specific type by a tiny, hard-to-see outlet is not my idea of a good time), the usual downsides of Black Ops 4‘s guns and perks, and one of the most phoned-in hidden songs in the series’ history (seriously, Drowning sounds like some girl on YouTube singing lyrics she made up on the spot over a royalty-free backing track), and you end up with a voyage that truly does make you despair. This is a rare example of a map that has absolutely nothing going for it – it’s not fun to survive on, it’s not fun to explore, it’s not fun to do the Easter egg on, it’s not fun to mess around with the weapons, it’s not fun to roleplay on… It’s just trash. Overall recommendation: SKIP. Even a giant sea creature showing up and giving you a triple-barreled rotating grenade launcher doesn’t save this shipwreck – come on, how can you screw THAT up? They found a way.
39 – GRÖESTEN HAUS
It’s a teeny-tiny house from the tutorial that was slightly retooled into its own map when the WWII audience complained about only having one Zombies map to start. There’s no perks, no weapon upgrades, and no real Easter egg – just survive with the handful of weapons they give you. What was likely intended as an homage to Nacht der Untoten is just about as good as it, though it’s ultimately a little worse.
It was nice that they chose to hide the mystery box behind a little Easter egg and have it upgradable with another one, so that gives it a little hint of extra fun, but aside from that, you’ve still got to acknowledge the fact that you’re probably just going to end up camping in the box room until you eventually die or quit because you’ve gotten sick of it. Overall recommendation: Average for those who like playing barebones, terrible for those who don’t. Play a couple rounds in between better maps, and then forget about it.
(Note: WWII’s other late-addition survival maps – Altar of Blood, Bodega Cervantes and U.S.S. Mount Olympus – get grouped into this ranking, too. It’s not that they aren’t all better than the Haus, because they are; they’re just very generic and roughly the same amount of fun overall.)
38 – NACHT DER UNTOTEN
If you heavily value nostalgia, Nacht would probably be a good ten places or so up this list, at least. Me, personally, I tried to keep nostalgia mostly out of my rankings, and if you’re a newcomer to Zombies Mode, Nacht isn’t going to impress you much.
Nacht is a more solid experience overall than the Haus, I think – not just because of the nostalgia factor (which still definitely plays into things, believe me), but because the map design is a little more interesting, and there’s something that feels familiar and comforting about its simplicity, nostalgia or not. It still makes for a good enough introduction to the game mode (but not good enough to replace a few further up this list), and the mystery box (which contains the highly coveted Ray Gun) and secret gun cabinet (which contains the nighly coveted Scoped Kar98k) show a hint of the playfulness that the early World at War run had before things got a bit more serious starting with Black Ops, and even more so starting with Black Ops 2.
The altered versions made for Black Ops and Black Ops 3 either improve the map, or make it worse depending on your opinion, though the revisions aren’t major enough to separate the versions on this list: a musical Easter egg is added, the Mule Kick machine gets thrown in, the silent soldier characters are replaced with the Ultimis crew, and zombies are updated to the modern mechanics so they can hit through windows and move a bit faster. I personally like the original version a bit more (the slow zombie movement suits the layout better, I think, and I never use Mule Kick anyway), but like I said, the differences are pretty inconsequential.
It was a great start for the game mode as a whole, but compared to some of the multi-layered epics we got later, it leaves a lot to be desired… There’s a reason the whole map was fit into a tiny chunk of Tranzit. How far we’ve come… Overall recommendation: Fun all around, but only in short bursts. I still go back to Nacht every so often, but when you get a group together for a zombies session, it’s rare that you’ll end up here.
37 – REVELATIONS
Gameplay-wise, this map doesn’t really deserve to be this low on the list, and if it weren’t for the later release of Zombies Chronicles, it’d probably be a couple spots higher up. Unfortunately, the devs decided to make a big map full of nostalgic references, and then release a pack that contained almost all of the maps that were referenced shortly afterward. As such, the impact of Revelations in retrospect is left as far more limited. Revelations does a pretty good job blending its different reference maps together visually, but even without the proximity to Zombies Chronicles, it still comes across as a bit forced; ignoring the few story inconsistencies (why would Nacht der Untoten be significant enough to come back if everyone who was actually there died and Ultimis never canonically went there?), the “I ‘member that!” vibe still feels like it’s trying to carry some of the weaker elements of the map… And not doing too great a job at it.
While the different sections do make callouts in multiplayer easier (“I’m between Origins and Mob of the Dead, in the Buried tunnel!”), they unfortunately end up feeling either too small or too large – Shangri-La and Verrückt have nice big chunks to themselves, while Mob of the Dead’s segment is crammed into a single (half of a) prison block, and Buried only got a brief tunnel on the way there (which is loosely connected at best). This tends to make the map feel disjointed, and when several areas are connected only by portals or jump pads, it makes splitting up a particularly risky choice; not as ill-advised as in Tranzit or Moon, but still surprisingly risky considering how interconnected the map’s portal system is (the portals in Shadows of Evil and Shaolin Shuffle are much more reliable in comparison).
One thing that really drags the map down its updated weaponset – partially in an attempt to advertise the new weapons added to the multiplayer (and thus entice players to buy loot crates to get a chance at unlocking them), Revelations makes a big point of having plenty of them available from the mystery box and certain challenges. Hilariously, almost all of them suck; the Banshii’s damage and spreads are notoriously unreliable, the Peacekeeper Mk. 2 is fine but has difficulty keeping relevant when its performance is at best on par with the ICR (which can be bought off the wall), and the slew of new melee weapons you can earn from completing “time attack” challenges – that is, completing so many rounds in a short period of time – are so weak that by the time they activate, you won’t get much use from them anymore, and the amount of points and easy Easter egg progress you probably missed out on during your rush make it even more pointless! As amusing as this is to write about, it definitely drags down the gameplay a bit, as it makes better box weapons harder to obtain – including wonder weapons, which you sorely need if you’re going to even attempt the Easter egg…
Ah, yes, the Easter egg. This map has what may be the hardest egg in this entire list, or close to it! Even if it didn’t require completing all of Black Ops 3‘s other Easter eggs first (Gorod Krovi is nearly as unkind just by itself, and there’s four more to do on top of that), it would still be a colossal pain in the butt to accomplish; but that little extra requirement is the icing on this cruel cake. The ingredients in the batter? Several required wonder weapons, careful direction of clumsy (and often unresponsive) AI, lengthy defense sections, and plenty of objects that need to be fed zombie souls! That makes for one nasty pastry.
Despite all its flaws, the map can still be somewhat fun to play on, and there’s definitely not a shortage of things to do; but abject mastery of the map demands a hefty price that many players won’t be willing (or able) to pay. Overall recommendation: Give it a try, but if you get bored or frustrated with it, don’t feel too bad about giving it up. Might be fun if you’re a real masochist.
36 – NUKETOWN ZOMBIES
Remember when Nuketown making comebacks was fresh and interesting? Me neither.
This map can be a surprisingly fun one to survive on, but it has one thing really working against it – the RNG. Since perks and the Pack-a-Punch machine fall from the skies at random times and in random locations, your experience will vary from game to game, but only in a simplistic way – the map still only has four perks, so it isn’t as if the drops could influence your perk loadout. What the dropping mechanism does, therefore, is choose the rate and method at which you can progress your “build” – no other maps are nearly as restrictive in that regard, unless you count The Tortured Path (which we do not for the purposes of this list).
With that out of the way, what remains is a remarkably passable barebones survival map; the visual design is spot on, the layout is pretty intuitive, and it even has a little background story connecting it to the events of Moon. It also had a glimmer of exclusivity hanging over it – for a month after Black Ops 2‘s launch, only players who bought a special edition of the game could play it, and it remained a season pass exclusive for three months afterward. Kind of a cool bonus for those lucky few!.. Though as one of those lucky few, I can tell you that absolutely nobody I knew was envious.
Fun fact, modders have brought this map back in an enhanced version of its original form for Black Ops 3! Maybe it’s not exactly the fan-port you might have wanted, but it brings the game one step closer to being a complete Zombies experience, and that’s good in my book.
All things said and done, it’s pretty much just Nuketown with zombies, and without the randomized machines gimmick, it’s nothing more than barebones survival. Overall recommendation: Good for a casual play, but nothing to devote any real time to.
35 – INFECTION
For an embarrassingly long time, this was the only zombies map that I’d completed the full Easter egg on. There were two main reasons for that – one, the fact that a big part of the egg required grilling a burger to feed to a robot (an exceptionally dumb but oddly fascinating premise), and two… The damned civilians.
You see, every so many rounds, a civilian will pop their useless little head out of whatever hole they were hiding in and demand to be escorted somewhere for a safe extraction. You can completely ignore this if you want, but if the civilian gets killed, all the extra zombies that spawned on them (since the civvies sort of count as players) will remain, you’ll get no points for killing them, and the Power Drain effect will activate for 60 seconds (at least; more if it’s a multi-survivor bonanza) – this not only prevented you from buying new perks or weapon upgrades (even simply buying ammo counted), but deactivated all of the perks you’d already purchased, and required you to reactivate the associated power switches for those perks once the effect expired to get the perks functional again… This means that you either have to break up the flow of your game to deal with this newly spawned objective, or ignore it, and then have your flow broken up forcibly by the Power Drain.
Now, my main zombies partner and I have a little rule: if we haven’t completed a map’s easter egg, we’ll keep going back to it – not without mixing it up, of course, but we never outright abandon maps – until we complete it. For a lot of maps, I’ve never really minded this – going back to Moon and Ascension (which you can’t do with just two players) just means more fun times… But I hated the whole civilian rescue aspect of Infection so much, that I dedicated myself to completing the egg so I would never have to go back to Infection ever again.
That’s a real shame, because aside from a somewhat bland visual design (which is true of all of the Advanced Warfare maps, honestly), Infection has a lot of things going for it: The weaponset is pretty good, and the Magnetron wonder weapon (which works like a more powerful Paralyzer without flying or infinite ammo) is fun, too. The layout of the map is overall excellent, and blends especially well with the Exo Suits the game is famous for. It also features the first appearance of one of the coolest celebrities to ever cameo in Zombies Mode – Bruce “Don’t Call Me Ash” Campbell! While he wouldn’t be playable until the next map, just seeing him in the end cutscene got me a little extra hyped for Carrier’s release.
If you can stomach the civilian rescue aspect, Infection is a decent little map, and if it weren’t for that, I’d probably rank it at least a couple spots higher… But with them in there, I just pray that you enjoy the feature more than I did. Overall recommendation: Play it if you can, but it’d be alright if you didn’t.
(Fun fact: We completed this Easter egg on the PS3 version, with its muddy textures and inconsistent frame-rates… Surprisingly, the core gameplay was pretty much identical. That’s something you don’t get with the Black Ops 3 backport, let me tell you!)
34 – FIVE
If this ranking were based purely on quotable lines, this map would absolutely be on the top. The cast really nails that “tongue-in-cheek socio-political satire” vibe that Ultimis’ crew never quite got right, and unlike WaW Ultimis, it hasn’t aged particularly poorly (was Takeo screaming about the emperor ever funny?). I also appreciate that Five doesn’t take itself too seriously – Ultimis would be getting more serious from Ascension on with the start of Richtofen’s Grand Scheme, while Five is just about having a blast surviving in the Pentagon, with freaky gun thieves and stinkin’ gas gremlins popping out when you least expect them.
However, like Voyage of Despair, the map does suffer from keeping its design too close to the location – while the layout feels very organic and natural for where you are (no random holes in the walls to make it more navigable), it does make for a very cramped experience… The initial spawn area of the boardroom is packed to the gills, but the War Room is no different, and the labs? You’d better believe that they’re a tight squeeze, too. The elevators necessary to navigate parts of the map only add to that feeling, and just when you think the teleporters being activated will make things a bit easier, you find out that their destinations change on the fly; oh, and zombies can use them, too. Talk about a hassle!
It’s also somewhat disappointing that a map with this kind of potential doesn’t have a main Easter egg; while these giant objectives wouldn’t become a regular feature until the next map, it still feels like a missed opportunity not to have one in the Pentagon… And as feature-packed as the core survival aspect is, this lack of an egg ends up being a bit of a letdown. You’ll find yourself just wanting something to DO on the map, because the design is so cool and the characters are so fun!.. But sadly, there is nothing.
Still, the fact that the sixth map of this whole mode’s history shows so much potential is only indicative of just how spectacular it would soon become. Overall recommendation: Do not pray for easy lives, my friends. Pray to be… Better maps. Absolutely give it a few plays if you can, but like all other “pure survival” maps, time spent on it will be fleeting.
33 – THE BEAST FROM BEYOND
You may have noticed by now that while this list will be talking about all kinds of zombies maps – from Aether to Exo to Wyler to Geistkraft to Chaos – one thing that won’t be entering into this ranking whatsoever is Call of Duty Ghosts‘ Extinction Mode; while it shares some similarities to the Zombies Mode we know and love, it ultimately plays more like a fusion of the special operations and survival modes from Modern Warfare 3. It’s a very different experience, and while I think it can be a worthwhile one, it’s just too different from Zombies to include in this list.
So why, pray tell, did Infinity Ward decide to just merge the two modes together for this map?
Despite being in one of the CoD games I play the most (these days I mostly jump between Black Ops 3 on PC and Infinite Warfare on PS4), Beast From Beyond has gotten one of my lowest total playtimes of any map across the entire series, barring little one-shots like the Haus. This is a bigger tragedy than you may expect: the map still features Infinite Warfare‘s excellent weaponset and perk system, and has a very cool theme – a spaceship marooned on a distant planet in the semi-near future, along with a way to briefly return to the theater where the whole adventure began – behind it that works very well in the visual department. The overall layout of the map is great, too; some tight corridors here and there, but enough maneuverability so that it just feels right. The Easter egg is also pretty fun, and features several layers to aid in its replayability (even more if you consider the Director’s Cut variations), as well as a tense and thrilling boss battle.
What drags the map right down into the dirt is its overreliance on Cryptid (generally called aliens, but there’s a whole story with how they were the first creatures to live on Earth and… Oh, just forget it) enemies to keep the difficulty up. The first five rounds of every single game (at least; more if you can’t get the power on in time) feature not zombies as your enemies, but instead entirely Cryptids; only the weakest kind of them, mind you, but even those are much stronger than your typical zombie. When you’ve activated the “normal” rounds again, these things will still be spliced into the general undead population, along with more powerful species as the rounds go on. While these things are much more thematically interesting than the overdone specials on Voyage of Despair, they’re not much better gameplay-wise, and they can be a real pain… But what’s really damning about these things is that if you take too long on a round without killing anything (likely while trying to do Easter egg steps or just exploring), the game will replace some remaining zombies with these ankle-biters. While zombies can easily be outpaced while you’re trying to get things done, Cryptids are nasty little rats, and they’ll stick to you like glue! Since Infinite Warfare was nice enough before and kept those straggler zombies alive in all the previous maps, this just feels like a slap in the face.
The map also suffers from taking itself overly seriously; I get that the final map in a season will always have significant story focus as it delivers an ending, but making the final map a futuristic spaceship in a game about space and cutting out most of the humor and quirky bits (earmarks of this game; more on that later) made Beast From Beyond feel samey in a game that otherwise hadn’t thus far.
Sometimes, what sounds good in theory and looks good in screenshots ends up playing like hot garbage, and there’s no better example of that than Beast From Beyond… There’s still lots to like about it, but whenever you find yourself having too much fun, the map will spit a Cryptid in your face and you’ll hate it again. Overall recommendation: It’d be better to just play Zombies or Extinction separately than play this weird amalgamation. Only play it if you want to unlock Director’s Cut.
32 – SHI NO NUMA
“What are you doing in my swamp?!” Not much.
Thing is, I actually kind of like this map. Whenever the full gang is together in Black Ops 3, I’ll still pitch Shi no Numa from time to time, even if there are lots of better options… But despite my efforts, I don’t recall us ever actually playing it. There’s many reasons why I might disagree with this decision: the dense and oppressive swampland environment and unique shamble of the zombies there has always stood out to me, and the diverse “x-shaped” layout paired with a plethora of traps and the gondola ride make the map feel huge, even if it’s actually pretty small (which adds to the navigable nature of the map, which always gives maps a boost in my book). I also loved the Easter egg song The One when I first played the map back in the day, and it’s still among my favorites.
However, I understand my friends’ resistance, since with Shi no Numa, we have a map that’s dragged down by its lack of optional objectives and smaller size, and it’s at this point I’d like to make things perfectly clear: Just because a map is on the lower end of these rankings, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s terrible and not worth playing. This map is far from bad – aside from the presence of some slowing water (which is easily avoidable), I can’t think of anything on the map that annoys me – but when you compare it to maps that are also fun to survive on but also have other things to do, especially considering this map’s limited perks and lack of Pack-a-Punch due to its age… It’s just not going to hold up, numbers-wise.
One thing that would kick Shi no Numa up a spot or two is the Easter egg that’s exclusive to the mobile version of the map, where you get to search for a hidden grave and receive a free Wunderwaffe DG-2 for your efforts… If that were to be updated a bit and added to the newer revisions (maybe have you carry Parachute Pete’s body to a grave and then defend it for a bit while another player digs the grave), this would be a nice little detour. As things are, though, I’m not counting this Easter egg in this map’s ranking – the mobile version has hiccups of its own that would just drag the map down even lower.
Shi no Numa is still a great little slice of survival and worth playing today, but sadly (or not) there are still plenty of superior choices. Overall recommendation: Definitely play it from time to time, but don’t expect too much of it.
31 – VERRÜCKT
I like this map a lot, too. Does that make me crazy? Possibly.
Verrückt has all of the problems that Shi no Numa does, plus a few more of its own; the map’s hallways and corridors are terribly tight, and the complete lack of a truly open space makes it feel even more treacherous – especially when there’s HUGE open spaces in the middle of the map and surrounding it, and you can’t get to either of them. The mystery box’s location also often remains a mystery – there’s no way to look into the sky to see where the blue light the box emanates is coming from, and no handy map-board like in Kino der Toten, so it’ll take manual navigation of all the potential spots to find it. The map is also split up from the start – every other map starts all four players at the same spot, but Verrückt splits players into groups of two on opposite sides of a powered door; the only way to reunite is to reach the top of the building and activate the power switch!
The final straw may be the map’s most questionable feature – a room my friends and I affectionately call, “The Mini-Bar”. This is an itty-bitty little room on the Quick Revive side of the power door (right behind the machine, actually); there’s a hefty price tag required to open it, and once you get inside, all you get is a BAR wallbuy (there’s another one elsewhere, in a far safer location) and a little hole in the wall you can look out of and use to shoot down into the distant hallway – in the World at War version, you can use the BAR’s bipod to take better advantage of this. Still, all it really amounts to is a closet’s worth of space, and trying to survive inside of it drives up the map’s challenge even more.
However, these flaws also work to the map’s benefit: what would make other maps infuriating instead carves out a niche for Verrückt as the premier survival challenge on the market. While other barebones survival maps often feel like their play limits are just based on your patience – keep running around in circles and buying box weapons and you can play until you get bored – Verrückt’s limitations make every round that passes by feel like an achievement, and with the macabre environment of a decrepit insane asylum as your immediate environment, you’ll find yourself surprisingly sucked into the experience.
Choosing a version of Verrückt to play does present a problem, however. The World at War cut has the benefit of having an original cast that wouldn’t appear in any later maps (which are the canonical characters when it comes to the overarching Aether storyline) and the aforementioned bipod-enabled BAR, but it also features zombies that move at truly horrific speeds – there’s a reason this kind of undead agility would never return to the series again, except when Romero energizes zombies briefly in Call of the Dead. The Black Ops version doesn’t have these “Zoombies” and adds in the Mule Kick perk, but replaces the original crew with a forced injection of Ultimis, and swaps the Springfield rifle with the Kar98K, which hurts the “American weapons on one side, German weapons on the other” theme the original map unerringly adhered to. The Black Ops 3 version still has Ultimis, and the weaponset takes a hit since it features none of the iconic World at War weapons, but it does replace Double Tap Root Beer with the superior Double Tap 2.0 and adds an extra musical Easter egg with a few steps. No version quite nails what you may want from the map (unless you like the Zoombies, but be forewarned – the map is hard enough without them), though if the Black Ops cut had the original cast, it would definitely win out.
You may have to be crazy to like it, but if you do, it’s crazy good (unlike Pop-Tarts). Overall recommendation: A great choice for a quick and fun challenge, but not enough staying power to really carve its niche.
30 – THE FINAL REICH
Well, at least this Reich was better than the third.
Our introduction to WWII‘s zombies experience is a bit of a mixed bag, all things considered. It has all of the things that could make it a great map – decent playable characters, decent survival-friendly layout, decent visual design, decent weaponset, decent perk system, decent Easter egg… Why is it this low, then, if it has all that going for it? Well, Final Reich unfortunately ends up squandering its gifts by playing things too safe: while the map has all of the things I just mentioned, it doesn’t really nail any of them, either.
The cast gives an alright performance, but not a memorable one; how Sledgehammer could get David Tennant and Ving Rhames but still leave players with no memorable lines after four maps worth of yammering is beyond me. The layout and visual design is pretty appealing when you first get into the game, but quickly grows boring as there are so many open spaces that “training” (leading zombies behind you to control their movement, a common tactic) becomes trivial, and the visuals begin to resemble the settings of other games like Wolfenstein a bit too much as it goes on. The guns function well enough, but begin to blend into each other as many of their performances (i.e. damage, shoot speed, reload speed, clip capacity, etc.) are overly similar; this was true at launch, and is even more true since Sledgehammer added more near-clone guns in with updates later on. The wonder weapon – the Tesla Gun, essentially an electrically-charged rocket launcher – feels visually uninspired, and its four variants don’t do much to make it any more interesting to use. The perk system being overridable – that is, being able to continue buying new perks at the expense of losing whatever was in your earliest-activated slot – was a nice touch, but with perk features being as simple as “do more damage” or “reload faster”, they end up feeling more like multiplayer perks than unique zombies perks (a feature forgivable in the days of World at War, but by this point, Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare had preceded it and trounced it). Finally, while the Easter egg is as fun to do as any (and the ending boss is actually quite a fun one), there isn’t much mystery surrounding the steps to achieve them, and some of them feel like they only exist to make it feel more like previous eggs.
The only thing this map (and WWII‘s Zombies Mode as a whole) actually does very well is the zombies themselves. The standard undead are molded in a disgusting, distorted way that really helps them pop, and their animations are just as grotesquely fascinating. Their vocals – angry guttural shrieks paired with aggressive and unnatural German – only exacerbate their macabre charm. Special zombies, too, are well-crafted; they’re appropriately redesigned in ways that soundly match their role in the gameplay, and all the variants blend in well with the standard undead horde. That’s not good enough to push this map any further than it is, but it goes to show that there are some things that the devs could get spot-on, and I wish the same care had been taken with some of the other elements, here.
All in all, The Final Reich has enough good elements blended together that you’ll have fun along the way, but none of what it does is very memorable, and you may struggle to recall the events of the map even mere weeks after playing it… Being forgettable isn’t as much of a crime as being outright bad, but it’s not a good thing, either. Overall recommendation: Play it and enjoy it, but it’s okay to forget it afterwards; it’s okay to forget it entirely, too.
29 – THE DARKEST SHORE
This map deserves a thank-you for having the one and only line I actually remember from the entirety of Geistkraft Zombies: “This island… This goddamned island!” I couldn’t agree, more, er… Dustin? Was that his name?
The Shore doesn’t suffer as much from WWII‘s generic vibe (a trademark of Sledgehammer, apparently, since Advanced Warfare has a similar problem) as the Reich does, but nor does it manage to escape it; in fact, in some ways, it’s even more generic. The visual design across the whole map is about as boring and samey as it gets – in fact, this may be the least explorable map that I have ever come across. You know that feeling you get when you play a map for the first time, and you just feel inspired to try and look around every part of it to find out some of its secrets? You’re not going to get that feeling here. Cement walls, rockface and iron bars… That’s all you get. Consider that those exact things are hallmarks of Mob of the Dead’s design, it’s odd how banal it ends up being, here; Final Reich at least had some diversity between its wintry streets and foreboding bunker, but the Shore is just gray, gray, gray (or, for my European readers: grey, grey, grey)… And considering fog is a major element of this map, it can get even grayer! As a final note of contempt, the map’s wonder weapon is a new level of bad – they just sawed off the front portion of the Tesla Gun from the last map and stuck a big buzzsaw on it. Even if this “Ripsaw” performed well, it would still be lame; and it doesn’t. I love melee weapons as much as the next guy, but it’s a very risky playstyle to work with; the execution move you can do is very powerful, but it locks you in place so long that you might as well throw your Geistschild (the game’s replacement for Juggernog: absorbs three “kill-hits” and then needs to be replenished, for increasingly higher prices) away.
However, the Shore fares better than Final Reich because it does have some interesting elements that serve to make it more memorable. The opening sequence – which has players gunning down zombies that are coming out of the water in a bit of a D-Day homage – grants points but doesn’t progress the rounds; this keeps it as a fun little opportunity rather than being an annoying forced progression like Beast From Beyond’s opening Cryptid rounds. It also has a horrifying signature zombie – the Meuchler. While not as memorable by sheer design (it’s basically a larger than average zombie with a dog collar and two extra arms), the horrible wail it makes and how threatening it can be with its aggressive pursuit and attack patterns (and the fact that it emerges most often during fog rounds, where it’ll be harder to spot it until it’s too late) have a way of sticking with you. Lastly, the Easter egg feels a lot more focused and unified this time around, so it ends up being more fun to do.
All of this culminates in an experience that’s similar to Final Reich, but different enough that it at least justifies its own existence… It might not be the greatest shore, but it is the darkest. Overall recommendation: Give it a try! You might not love it, but you probably won’t hate it, either.
28 – THE SHADOWED THRONE
It’s nice that WWII‘s maps keep getting better at least, right?
In fact, that theme of upgrading is surprisingly consistent – everything gets a little better with each new iteration. In this case, the main upgrade was the setting, but it was a sorely needed boost after our visit to Cement Land last time; and Sledge really raised the bar here by dropping us in a European city, with fascinating blends between Gothic and Art Deco architecture throughout its multi-building layout. There’s also an oppressive zeppelin flying overhead; and unlike the one on Final Reich, which did nothing, this one occasionally fires bolts – these can possibly damage you, but they’re more likely to mutate ordinary zombies into fearsome Gekocht, which are nightmarishly fast and strong and require preemptive disabling of regular zombies to prevent their transformations. Even the wonder weapon of the map is good – the Wunderbuss, a Blundergat-like gun that has an alternate firing mode that can regenerate its own ammo, is cool and functional, and it makes the Tesla Gun and Ripsaw look like children’s playthings.
These are good changes to be sure, but the rest of the mediocre bits are more or less untouched – the cast is still boring, the guns are still mostly unimpressive… And so on and so forth. The map also suffers a bit from having a more involved Easter egg – while the bonus difficulty is usually a good thing and makes for a better challenge, there’s a few too many layers reliant on RNG and note-taking with this one, and the fact that unlocking the Pack-a-Punch requires getting so far into it really hurts the map’s core survival rating. The story behind this particular egg is also less engaging than the previous two – while actually playing the Final Reich Easter egg felt less than stellar (especially if you were trying the “hard mode” version of it), it did lead to some intriguing story development, and Shadowed Throne’s mostly amounted to shouting at a guy over the two-way radio.
Hey, at least you can pretend you’re playing on a zombies version of World at War‘s Downfall! This map is pretty fun and it definitely marks a big score in the design department, but its lack of a good story and overly complex Easter egg result in it fading a tad into obscurity regardless. Overall recommendation: There’s fun to be had, but there’s a risk that it may not last too long.
27 – ANCIENT EVIL
Have you ever wanted to take a ride on the TriStar logo and then fight it afterwards? Well, have I got the map for you!
The reason I make a reference to a film studio here is twofold; there’s the obvious Pegasus joke, and then there’s the fact that half the time, this map feels more like a movie than a game – and not a very good one (perhaps a better studio comparison would be Boll KG). There’s cinematic events happening all over this map, and they’re constantly getting in the way! All you’ll want to do is progress normally, but you still have to “play” the sequence with Pegasus saving you every time, you still have to watch the long ride over on Pegasus every time… And there’s no way around it. If you want to get to the Pack-a-Punch and your fourth perk pedestal, you have no choice but to take part in this tour de farce. Any further progress just means the performance gets to unravel further, and how this script made it past the editors is beyond me. The playable characters only make the plot more hackneyed than it already was; and yes, the usual Black Ops 4 stink of special zombies and crappy guns is still as present here as ever.
Sweep all that out of the way, however, and you’re left with a map that’s actually quite good. The visual concept was nothing short of inspired; the way ancient cultural lore and architecture, both realistic and fantastical, is incorporated into the map is fascinating to behold… And no less so because of Black Ops 4‘s oversaturated color-work, which actually (for a change) works to this map’s benefit. It’s equally satisfying to navigate – aside from a few tight stairwells here and there, most of the layout feels intuitive and properly blended. The wonder weapons, too, are really cool; they’re essentially four different styles of fists that are chock full of witchy magic. You can use that magic to great effect (like spawning choking vegetation tendrils or bloody portals that will send zombies to the shadow realm)… Or you can just punch everything to death with massively increased melee damage. The fact that this worked was immensely satisfying to me.
If the cinematics were toned down a bit, the special zombie spawn-rate was more relaxed, and we had access to a better weaponset, this map would be ranked much higher than it is… Sadly, even with as much as it has working in its favor, those things will quickly begin to irritate you. Overall recommendation: Play it and you’ll probably love it the first time or two, but future plays you’ll just be begging for all the cinematic grandeur to end… And it won’t.
26 – IX
IX somehow managed to drag down what should have been the best barebones survival map into the low-mid ranked muck. It would almost be impressive if it wasn’t so tragic.
The map is, on paper, a multi-level and more interconnected Shi no Numa – you start from the center of the ground level and work your way to one of four buildings (only two at the start) that form that familiar x-shaped layout. The buildings allow access to the upper and lower levels – the upper levels can be navigated across by bridges in a square-shaped pattern, while the lower levels have a center-area of their own and navigation is more circular. Perfect in its simplicity, this layout is an absolutely infallible one for survival… On paper.
Unfortunately, there are a couple hiccups that keep the layout from being the best that it can be. The ground level center – which should be a hub for quick, uniform travel and basic circle-training – has a set of fire traps that activate on Round 5. These damage zombies as well as you, and on a level much more noticeable than the magma pockets on Green Run, essentially making the area worthless once it’s lit except for a rushed detour. Why this feature couldn’t only be a thing for the challenge – there’s a trophy that requires you to spend 20 rounds there without leaving – is beyond me, but it’s more unintentionally frustrating than it is a cogently planned limitation. Another issue is how thin the bridges on the upper level are; if there’s a single zombie on it, you won’t be able to get to the other side. Widening them just a bit would have at least enabled some risky but rewarding maneuvering, but as is, if you’re stuck on a building, you’re stuck on a building; and the buildings aren’t so big.
The worst part, though, is the underground; especially before you unlock its central door. Granted, the area is supposed to be labyrinthine in its design… But it ends up being much more difficult to navigate than it may seem. Areas that seem connected are more often than not cut off by an excess of paid doors, and it’s easy to get lost with how similar everything down there is visually. This does get cleaned up a bit once you open the central doors… But it’s only so soon that you can accomplish that, and picking the right exit from there will still sometimes throw you off; oh, and there’s some fire traps down there too… Not nearly as many as directly above, but enough that you’ll still probably get a couple of burns. Considering how tight the whole underground section is (not as tight as the bridges above, but closer to that than I’d prefer), this contributes to making no area of the map feel safe to navigate, even if you’re a funky slide master.
There’s still enough of the paper layout left to keep you happy overall, and the challenge zombies – from giant centurions to majestic Bengal tigers – are fun to fight and really fit in well with the tribute-tower vibe. Each individual tower is well-designed, too – not as visually striking as Ancient Evil, but you’ll be able to tell which is which once you’re inside them from a single glance. The Easter egg is pretty good, too – one of the most involved I’ve seen in a map that gives off that “barebones” vibe. Lastly, the wonder weapon is… It feels a bit off to say “unique” in a category of weapons that’s almost unequivocally unique in and of itself, but… Come on, a live scorpion? A scorpion that shoots frickin’ laser beams? That wins out on weird factor alone, even if it’s only average as far as weapon performance goes.
If it weren’t for the usual overabundance of special undead, kiddy pop-guns and poor cast (though they do give their most interesting performance here out of their three maps), this map could be great… Unfortunately, it ends up dangling into WWII territory; jack of all trades, master of none. Overall recommendation: Generally fun for survival, but you may find yourself frustrated by all the flaws.
25 – DESCENT
Under the sea, under the sea! Everything’s average, not great not garbage, take it from me!
I really, really wanted to fall in love with this map. I have a morbid fascination with the ocean as well as a fear of it, so few things can get my gears turning better than some hydro-hijinx; Ecco the Dolphin and What Lives Below give me more chills than any land-bound horror game ever could. As such, I was completely ready for the inevitable fishmen special zombies, and maybe even an aquatic boss battle like the one with the Kraken in Ghosts!.. Except it never came. What we got in its place was two unskippable boss battles… With a regular zombie guy.
Yes, unskippable, and to a way, WAY worse degree than Ancient Evil. On Round 13 and again on Round 20, all players are teleported to the boss arena, and forced to fight old man John Malkovich. You get no choice in the matter – gun’s out of ammo? Shotgun not a good choice for the position the boss is in? Too bad! Whether you’re doing the optional Easter egg or not (which, like Classified, is NOT the trigger to seeing the final cutscene; beating the Round 20 boss is), you’ve got to take part in these battles; and each one lasts at least a couple of minutes. This is more annoying than Infection’s take on the matter, even.
The boss battles are at least pretty fun… While they’re not anywhere near the best I’ve played, they’re well balanced for what they are and when they come up, so it’s better than being stuck fighting Blightfathers. Another thing that gets this map this far is the fact that it’s still visually excellent – even on PS3, the intense rain and ocean effects on the upper deck are impeccably rendered, and the underwater lair is no less fascinating, as the usual gray and white future vibe of Advanced Warfare‘s maps is greatly enhanced by the more frequent blue and green tones and wetter areas. It’s also highly navigable (especially with your Exo suit, but this map is less reliant on those than the others are) and great fun to play through outside of the boss battles – that’s why they’re so much of a bummer. All I want to do is keep playing on the main map!.. And of course, you’ve got the game’s good weaponset and perks working for you. The cast is alright, too; but getting to play as Bruce Campbell is the icing on the cake, here – he’s not my favorite playable character in Zombies Mode history, but he’s close.
The water’s not crystal clear, but it’s not sludgy either, so why not go for a dip? Overall recommendation: Play it! Have fun. But if you grow to hate John Malkovich by the end of your swim, I won’t blame you.
24 – THE FROZEN DAWN
Frozen Dawn actually marks an important triumph for this list; it cements WWII as the only CoD game where the Zombies maps unfailingly continued to get better. That’s worth some bonus points in and of itself, isn’t it? Black Ops 3 had its Revelations, Infinite Warfare had its Beast From Beyond, but WWII just kept learning from its previous mistakes! One can only wonder how good a fifth map would have been, if Sledge had actually made one instead of throwing in some dumb one-shots and a boring alt-mode… Well, maybe they didn’t learn THAT much.
In any case, Frozen Dawn marks the apex of WWII‘s offerings by cleaning up a lot of Final Reich’s weaknesses in a better way than the previous two attempts. The Easter egg is now full-fledged, fun to do and ties in properly with the story they’re trying to tell. The environment is the most interesting one yet; taking place in an ancient temple beneath a forgotten glacier leads to some beautiful contrasts between the light-blue and white, and the dark brown and gold; and it’s a well-charted design, too, as it absolutely nails that labyrinthine feeling that IX couldn’t get, while still feeling intuitive to path your way through, and fascinating to explore. The wonder weapons, too, have risen from uninspired, singular hoke to four distinct ensorceled melee weapons of old, with awesome mystical features like at-will teleportation and waiving potential deaths… Yes, folks. This map is… Memorable. If only just, I can actually remember it without going back to refresh myself; something I did have to do for the other three on this list.
It’s still got the dreary cast, the boring guns and the mediocre perks, and the zombies no longer blend very well with the environment – their costumes didn’t change throughout the entire game, so you’ll still be battling the same Nazis as everywhere else… Still, this is the first map on this list that I’d say is actually worth playing for any kind of player; again, it’s still mediocre in a lot of areas, but there’s absolutely something to enjoy here for egg hunters, barebones survivors, high-round-seekers, wonder-weppers and map explorers alike. Overall recommendation: Play it! It is what it is, but odds are that you’ll end up having some kind of fun.
23 – GOROD KROVI
Tenshi wished on a dragon’s scale, and that’s what started Gorod’s tale! Around the map the dragons flew, but nobody knew what the phoque to do!
(The things I have to do to get around swearing on this site, honestly…)
That’s the name of the game, here: the mystery. This is the only map on this list that I’ve absolutely needed a guide to do most of the major portions of; everywhere else, I try to figure out as much as I can on my own before I rely on some net-based guide (preferably text-based with pictures; video guides get on my nerves), but that didn’t get me far enough… I barely got to ride a dragon, let alone roast zombies with a mini-friend or fight Mecha-Nikolai. There’s so much going on between the frequent timed events and the crazy computer lady that you have to keep track of that it can be a bit overwhelming; once you get used to it, it’s not so bad (and actually has a nice flow to it), but getting over that hump will take some more practice than usual.
Gorod has a way, though, of kind of of shoving its Easter egg down your throat. It’s nowhere near as bad as the forced boss battles on Descent or the cinematic foppery of Ancient Evil, but you will still find noisy pods slamming into the ground in front of you and ghostly orbs flying over you at intervals so regular, it’s like the map is a used car salesman and is desperately trying to sell you its secret; which is kind of ironic considering how hard figuring out some steps is:
“Look kid, it’s a giant robot eye! You can complete all kinds of tasks for her, they’ll be fun to do!”
“Oh, okay… What does she want me to do, then?”
“Oh, that’s for you to figure out.”
Despite having awesome, magisterial dragons as a regular feature, the map has a way of making you simultaneously love and hate them: One minute, you’ll be soaring through the skies on your firedrake mount and playing with your pet salamander, while the next minute, you’ll be cursing as your navigation efforts are once again mucked with by Franky Flamespitz and his garlic breath. Thankfully, there’s a way to get an immunity to this; but it’s a fragile one, and if it breaks at a bad time, you might find yourself more than lightly toasted.
There’s also a bit of boredom to be found in the map design; it’s pretty much just broken-up buildings. While this is sort of new for Zombies Mode, we’ve seen it time and time again in the campaign and multiplayer modes. Everything else here is solid, though; the layout’s good, the cast is doing alright, and the unique wonder weapon is really cool – it combines a ray gun with a Gersh device into two akimbo pistols, which is a cool package for such powerful tools! Gorod is a nice little romp and is more or less what we’ve come to expect from them, but it’s also definitely their worst since they found their niche with Black Ops; if it weren’t for the dragons, there wouldn’t be much to write about, here. Overall recommendation: Play it, but the Treyarch label doesn’t mean as much as it usually does, here.
22 – DER RIESE/THE GIANT
Der Riese’s name is cemented in history as the first “full-featured” map – it has a power switch, traps, perks, the mystery box, two new wonder weapons, teleporters, the Pack-a-Punch, a special zombie round with a guaranteed Max Ammo, and an Easter egg beyond the musical kind. While the new features are in a very early stage – the teleporters only transport you a couple dozen meters away, the Easter egg is just shooting some toys, and many Pack-a-Punched weapons barely get an upgrade here – they’re nonetheless implemented here for the first time, and surprisingly well considering their infancy.
The easiest way to describe Der Riese, I think, is to say, “It’s just good.” It’s a classic survival map with a comfortable layout and a nice design. There’s some hidden lore elements to be found, some traps to activate… It’s just good. It’s got nowhere near the features of our top favorites, but it’s just fun to go back to and survive for a bit – while I still can’t get my crew to play Shi no Numa, there’s always those times when dusting off this relic feels right, whether you’ve got nostalgia for it or not.
Unlike Verrückt, it doesn’t really matter which version of this map you play; they’ve all got their ups and downs. The World at War version has some cool exclusive weapons, like the M2 Flamethrower and the PTRS-41. The Black Ops version gives you access to Mule Kick and the game’s native weapons from the box, but keeps the World at War wallbuys. The Black Ops 3 version doesn’t have World War II weapons, which is a bit disappointing, but it adds a bonus weapon as a reward for completing the Easter egg, has another secret egg to unlock to get access to an additional perk, and gives access to more with Der Wunderfizz. No version is definitive or completely inferior; just pick whatever you prefer and cut loose!
… Or, if you have Black Ops 3 on PC, there’s the fantastic Der Riese: Declassified mod map. I can’t recommend this one enough – it’s a more faithful reimagining than The Giant was since it’s graphically closer, has an interactive return of the Ultimis cast, and brings back remastered versions of all of your World War II weapon favorites… But it also has a great and properly integrated Easter egg rather than just a “shoot the toys” challenge. If you only ever play one version of Der Riese, this is the one to play.
It may only be a barebones survival map, but it’s one of the best, and it’s a classic for a reason. Overall recommendation: Absolutely play it! Your mileage may vary, but it’s always a good drive.
21 – OUTBREAK
My name is Tenshi. I used to work for the Atlas Corporation. There was an incident; a virus escaped… Everybody died. Trouble was… They didn’t stay dead.
Outbreak is another of those maps that is “just good”; while it doesn’t have the nostalgic charm or memorable cast (no offense to the AW crew, they do a decent job; they just don’t stand out much until Bruce joins their ranks) that our big blue German buddy does, it makes up for it with a good Easter egg, more diverse special rounds, and a better layout… And exo suits! These brand new shiny metal endoskeletons were somewhat controversial… While a few more games would use them (or something like them) in their campaigns and multiplayer modes, none of them opted to bring them back into the Zombies experience. Personally, I think this was a good decision; but not because the exo suits are bad things. Judging from how limited the suits became in the future in comparison (by losing their dash and slam), adding a little farty jump into Black Ops 3‘s zombies would just seem silly (hence the low gravity feature being the most boring part of Der Eisendrache). In this game, the suits are balanced just right for the maps’ designs, and it really is best that they stay an exclusive feature.
Aside from that, the weaponset makes for some solid pieces of kit, and the wonder weapon was so consistently useful that it would get featured in every future map – the CEL-3 Cauterizer, a shotgun that combined the power of a pump-action with the saturation fire of an auto-shotty. While not as truly wonderous as these weapons tend to be, it’s nonetheless well worth grabbing one when it appears in the box; which you can control! Unlike other games where the box’s drops are completely random, the “3D Printer” cycles rapidly through holograms of all the weapons it can give you. If you time your press right, you can make it print whatever you like! It’s a feature that I wish came back in other games; the RNG keeps repeated plays fresher to be sure, but sometimes a little extra consistency in the loadout is sorely needed (sure could have used it to get the Howitzer for Spaceland).
The one thing that doesn’t end up quite right is the weapon upgrade system… Each upgrade is only done in baby steps, from ranks 1 to 20 (with 25 reachable by doing some secret steps). The price for every step, however, is still the standard 5000… Considering how weak each enhancement is, this leaves a lot to be desired. There is at least some consolation – if you exchange a weapon at rank 15 for another gun, and then reacquire it later in the same game, it won’t lose those upgrades. That’s a nice touch, but it’s probably not a perk players will take advantage of too often… Especially after sinking so much money into getting that far.
While it’s not exceptional like some of our later entries will be, Outbreak is an all-around solid endeavor that offers a solid B-grade experience; and that’s well above passing. Overall recommendation: Play it! There’s not much to interfere with your enjoyment, here.
20 – ALPHA OMEGA
Kind of funny how a map named after “the beginning and the end” ends up right in the middle, here.
I don’t think anybody expected this map, least of all expected it to be any good… I mean, a re-imagining of Nuketown Zombies? The consensus amongst my friends on this one was that Treyarch was really running out of ideas to reach this far into their backstock, and I kind of agreed with them… Until I had a chance to play it. Turns out, Alpha Omega wasn’t just reworking an existing map; it was making something actually good out of its concept. Who would’ve thought there was so much to work with? With Nuketown Zombies being just a barebones survival set on a multiplayer map (one of only two, the other being Nacht), they’d have to get very, very creative to make Alpha Omega work… And they did.
One of the coolest things about this map is that you can play as a total of eight different characters instead of the usual four – both Ultimis and Primis are available! This is enhanced by some pretty decent writing (Ultimis has a lot more depth here than they did in Black Ops), so the map gets extra replayability; I found myself wanting to know what the other universe’s counterpart of each character would say in particular situations. The Easter egg in particular will help you hear tons of good lines throughout it, and it’s actually a good one – especially since you get to fight the Avogadro at the end! That thing being the Demonic Announcer for the map was also a nice touch, and the way the map explains his origins – along with those of the Pentagon Thief and Marlton’s involvement in the area – developed the story in a way that I never expected from Nuketown.
The visuals also surprised me since they struck a good balance between the overly clean look of the original multiplayer map and the blasted look of the original Zombies map; and by adding an underground bunker that you can actually access this time, the diversity of the map is vastly improved. The layout, while being a little too cramped for comfortable survival in most of the bunker, is surprisingly well done; everything from the positions of the powered doors to the amount of houses and shortcuts between them feels well thought out… Why did all this effort go into Nuketown Zombies while their revisits to the Of the Dead duo both completely bombed? It boggles the mind.
Of course, you’ve still got the terrible systems of Black Ops 4 to work around here, and the map is a little too small for all the stuff they try to pack into it – if it weren’t for the extra characters, replayability might be on the lower side – but Alpha Omega does manage to stick the landing; if only it had been the omega instead of Tag, Black Ops 4 might have ended off on a good note. Overall recommendation: Play it! It might not set a bomb off in your heart, but you’ll probably still have a blast.
19 – GREEN RUN
This is going to be a long one… I should make it very clear right now that when I’m ranking Green Run, I’m taking into consideration not just the main “Tranzit” experience, but also the three barebones survival maps – Bus Depot, Farm and Town – and the “Grief Mode” versions of those latter two. Just in case you thought I was insane for putting Tranzit this high up; no, I’m just as annoyed by some of its issues as you are… Let’s get them out of the way, first.
Yes… Tranzit was overly ambitious. While the enormous map is one of the coolest ones to explore on this list, actually navigating it is a nightmare if you go into it ill-prepared; if you don’t have Jug, Stamin-Up and a better melee weapon than the standard knife, it really is best to wait for the bus. When you do that, though, you’ll quickly learn that the bus’ AI leaves plenty to be desired; while you can sort of control it by using the door (leaving it open pointedly increases the time the bus remains parked at each stop, and vice versa), there will be plenty of times that you’ll need the bus and it won’t be there (especially at the power plant). It’s a little extra irritating because of how easy it would be to fix this gameplay-wise; sure, it’s less realistic for each bus stop to have a “Call Button” that would make the bus give that stop top priority, but wouldn’t you rather have that than the constant roundabout?
Your mileage will vary if you try surviving on the bus – in motion (especially with the Cow Catcher attached to it), you won’t have to do too much defense on the surrounding windows… But when it stops, you’d better pile off at lightning speed, or you’ll be little more than canned meat. That wouldn’t be so bad if there was more to do at each stop, but there isn’t; in focusing so hard on spreading out resources, each area will only have a handful of things to actually grab, meaning that not only does the big map end up feeling more empty than it should, but if you want a complete build, you’re going to have to visit every bus stop, plus a few spots that you can only run to. And isn’t that running fun with the Denizens hopping on you every couple seconds?
The map is also a bit of a hardass when it comes to procuring decent weapons. If you want to Pack-a-Punch, good luck! You’ll have to drop a Turbine buildable at the power plant, and then make a mad dash to the bank in the town section to get into the pit! Can you get there before zombies destroy the Turbine? Probably not! You’ll either need to sprint and pray on solo, or have a buddy watch the Turbine while you get in the upgrade hole; the zone at least won’t shut if someone’s in there… There’s nothing lamer about this map, though, than the wonder weapon. Feel like gathering four parts from extremely inconvenient locations only to get to kill maximum twenty zombies before the thing breaks and two parts of it fall in some lava so you have to go back to the annoying spots again? The Jet Gun is almost unanimously considered to be the worst wonder weapon in the entire history of Zombies Mode, and I couldn’t agree more. Even Treyarch hates it – they changed the pick-up line from “Awww Yeah! Press <action button> to take Jet Gun!” to just “Hold <action button> for Jet Gun” with a patch. I’d personally write it as, “Ah, heck, it’s the Jet Gun… Don’t hold <action button>!”
A patch pretty early on also gave the map a bit of an extra handicap – it replaced the original hidden song (Avenged Sevenfold’s Carry On) with Kevin Sherwood’s Carrion, and… Well, it ain’t good; it’s not even half as good as the original tune. I don’t know what exactly happened to Kevin Sherwood after the end of Black Ops, but after making such bangers as Abracadvre and Pareidolia, he suddenly started to go downhill bigtime, and Carrion is the first real example of that.
As for the cast… Well, they’re not popular. I think Victis ended up developing their characters and improving their interplay to the point where I actually liked them as the maps went on, but here, their dialogue is blatantly flanderized and frank in an attempt to sell the archetypes to the newcomers… And they’re just not as good at that as Ultimis was, bless their hearts. Richtofen, Maxis and T.E.D.D. do their best to pick up the slack…
… And they actually kind of do! Tranzit – like all Victis maps (Tag doesn’t count) – features two different Easter eggs; you can either side with the manipulative German man, or the manipulative German man… With a beard! Each has their own set of steps to complete; and with the release of the other two maps came a unique, syncing Easter egg! While Moon and Revelations can tell whether you’ve completed the necessary maps to proceed or not, Victis’ game depends on siding with one group or the other consistently in three different maps, with each route having their own endings, and keeping to a side resulting in two unique “final” endings! It’s far from the most involved video games have ever been, but it’s pretty impressive by the mode’s standards set before (and since). The overarching story – two opposing ethereal forces recruiting four random people (who are just trying to survive) to do their bidding – strikes a nice balance between progressing story and keeping things from getting too convoluted.
As many flaws as I listed above, I still don’t think Tranzit is so much a bad map as it is an oddly picky one; while it doesn’t forcibly drag you into boss rooms like Descent did, it still very much demands that you play it “right”. As such, it’s a huge pain in the butt for more casual survivors since it takes far more effort to master than other reasonably complex maps like Mob and Origins… But it rewards people who play along quite handsomely. Feeling good at this map truly feels good in a way that lots of maps just can’t compete with; good at Shi no Numa? Who cares? I’m a regular Ralph Kramden! Figuring out all the little secrets – like the proper utility of buildables, unlocking of persistent upgrades and location of well hidden bits like the Galvaknuckles – is immensely satisfying in all of Victis’ adventures, but especially so here. They also implemented a perk called Tombstone Soda (the name Tombstone Tonic was right in front of your face, Treyarch) that’s oddly appropriate for your environment – having to run to grab your tombstone but getting a chance to get all of your guns and perks back for your trouble is a wonderful risk-and-reward gamble with some serious potential payout.
If the full Tranzit experience was too much for you (and even if you like it, it can get a little grating after a while), you still had options! While Bus Depot was a real guano-dump of a survival map (basically amounting to a big circle and a little camping corner; it’s so braindead that you might as well join the ranks of your enemies), Farm hearkens back to the simpler times of Verrückt and Shi no Numa with only the mystery box and four perks to aid you, and Town was a well-balanced little survival map with a surprisingly good layout for its small size. The best bonus, though, was the Grief Mode – why a competitive Zombies experience has never returned in other games is beyond me, considering how much fun it can be!
Green Run is very much a “love it or hate it” kind of map, and most people tend to lump it into the latter category since we’ve got a plethora of better maps to pick from now; but sometimes, a little bus trip is good for you. Overall recommendation: Play it! It’s okay if you don’t end up liking it, but give it an honest try – you might be surprised.
18 – CARRIER
Carrier is Advanced Warfare at its best, and consequently Sledgehammer Zombies at its best, too (and with Treyarch making Vanguard‘s Zombies Mode, that’s going to stay true for at least another cycle); while they never hit the highs that Treyarch and Infinity Ward would (a trait not unique to the Zombies Mode), considering Infection was their worst effort (and mostly just because of the survivor mechanic), they still managed to do more or less right by us.
The reason this map stands out as the best is primarily because of three things: one, Bruce Campbell makes his playable debut here, and has more reaction lines than he does on Descent. Two, there’s a pachinko machine you can play to convert your grenades into points, which can be great for setup if you’ve got good timing, but is otherwise just fun. And three, the map has an active story progression in the background, like Nuketown Zombies and Black Ops 3‘s main five maps – the playable character who Bruce Campbell replaced slowly takes over the ship’s intercoms, and everybody reacts to it. While these are all small things, you’ll find as we go up this list that more and more often, the attention paid to the little things often attests to the quality of the bigger things a map has to offer as well.
Carrier’s also got the best layout of any Sledgehammer map (proving that Voyage of Despair’s failure wasn’t because of the ship environment), and is the most visually distinct (for Sledge, anyway) apart from Frozen Throne, with its varied rooms and strangely oppressive atmosphere… The only thing that’ll end up dismaying you is the wonder weapon. A laser orb that spreads into a long line passing through the room sounded like a lark, but sadly, the thing’s damage is absolutely pitiful; which stands out as particularly odd, considering how well balanced the game’s weaponset is.
Oh well! At least the buffet on this cruise is good… And check out that view from the main deck! Overall recommendation: Climb aboard, seaman! Unlike the Titanic, this ship stays neatly afloat.
17 – DIE RISE
Sometimes, I could swear that I played a completely different map than most people did when discussion of this one comes up; I’ve never heard a single kind word about it, and the second Mob of the Dead came out as Black Ops 2‘s next map, my friends all made a unanimous decision to give it up. Do I get it?.. Well, no, actually. While I do understand how frustrating the map’s elements can be, I feel like as long as you remember the lesson you learned from Tranzit – to play by the map’s rules – you shouldn’t struggle too badly; and Die Rise is a bit better at rewarding you for it.
Really, there’s only three things actually wrong with the map – the main thing being the death drops. These, I can’t provide any kind of excuse for; while they are a bit thrilling in their execution and I don’t think they could have balanced it much with gameplay changes (magnetizing landing zones would just trivialize their existence, and cutting the jumps entirely wouldn’t have kept the risky feeling of a literal zombie highrise intact), they’re also an omnipresent threat that can occur a bit too frequently. Fact is, they are what they are – they do drag Die Rise down the rankings a lot thanks to their RNG death properties, but their existence alone adds to the map’s oppressive atmosphere, and when – with some skill – you can use that very open air to your advantage (here’s a great example), they’re an element that I wouldn’t want removed; there’s four-dozen other flat maps out there, let Die Rise have its own identity.
The second thing that keeps this map from ascending as high as the top floor is the disproportionate balance between the importance of and availability of the elevators. Elevators are not only important to navigation between the upper and lower levels (especially early on, before too many doors have been opened), but they also contain all of the map’s perk machines and the Pack-a-Punch (for a total of seven machines, one per elevator); and in a randomly generated position, like Shi no Numa. There’s two ways to “control” them – standing on the elevators (which is how you actually ride them, since the machines are on the inside) will speed up their floor transitions, and using the Elevator Keys item (only acquirable by taking the panic drop elevator at the start of the map) will call one of them to come to your floor as fast as possible… The problem is just how useless these keys end up being. Using them will instantly “use up” the keys; and while they do respawn, it’s only in that little hutch that can only be accessed the one way (and if you’re playing solo, not using the keys to reset the drop elevator will burn them up; you need to have a buddy waiting in the hole to grab them again while you do that to keep using them). This would have been so easy to balance, too; they could’ve had the keys work to call elevators repeatedly, but with a thirty-second or one-minute cooldown (first the thirty, then the one; count could reset at the start of each round) until it could be used again, and the keys would still take up a part slot in the meantime. As things are, waiting for the elevators presents a major risk… Especially as the zombies get faster and more numerous.
The last issue is mostly due to two little perk machines – Who’s Who, and P.H.D. Flopper. Who’s Who is one of those perks that I’m not convinced even sounded good on paper – while the idea of reviving yourself is a unique one, the very next map would figure out a way to implement that far in a far better way, and when you spawn in with a 1911 and no perks and are vulnerable to zombies the whole time you’re trying to save yourself, what are your chances of success? Couple that with the fact that a falling death would simply spawn you back at the start – a situation identical to just beginning a game, except now it’s Round 22 and your pistol won’t do diddly-squat – and this perk may be the most useless one that’s ever been designed. Considering that this perk made it from concept to production, while P.H.D. – a perk that would counteract falling damage – was not only unavailable, but also teased in a room you can briefly see from the drop elevator on your way down… I think I can understand a little more of the contempt people have for Die Rise, now!
However, these three things are the only downsides, and while they aren’t small ones, neither are they as major as haters of this map would have you believe. Not enough good can be said about the setting – a Chinese skyrise, complete with apartments, a temple and a sweatshop, isn’t the type of place we see adapted too much, and is well-suited for the Zombies experience. The cast’s acting went through a major change for the better – I don’t know how their direction behind the scenes went, but it was substantially better than the base script-reading on Tranzit and as a result, the interplay between Victis’ members was of much higher quality. The Easter egg is still a double-one, and both of them are just convoluted enough to be fun, without going overboard. The weaponset got a marked improvement – while Tranzit’s was more or less average, Die Rise added a couple other guns from the main modes to make what are some of the best wall-buys in the mode’s history; the SVU is my favorite sniper rifle across any of the games (yes, even over the Drakon) due to its semi-automatic fire-rate, good ammo supply and surprisingly good handling traits, and the AN-94 is a fully-automatic assault rifle that’s so good, I actually often eschewed the mystery box entirely when it was available… And then, of course, there was the Sliquifier: an assembly-based wonder weapon that can be reliably built during the early rounds, has a super-high-damage and slow-burn Wunderwaffe effect which can melt down a whole group of undead in one shot, and leaves slippery puddles that can not only trip up zombies, but also be used for more slick navigation tricks? Sign me up! I used this thing all the time, and while there are better wonder weapons out there, few feel as suited specifically for the map they’re in as this one does.
There’s also a single buildable available in the form of the Trample Steam – while the last map did have a bit of a constructable cacaphony going on (since the Electric Trap and Turret both required a separate Turbine, I can’t remember ever using them past the first tryout and an Easter egg run), the Trample Steam is a simple but powerful device that can not only fling away zombies that step on it, but fling players too, allowing for even more navigation tricks! The last thing to mention here is the layout; and honestly? I love it. It combines the tension of Verrückt with the pathing of Moon, and adds a sprinkle of verticality on top that seasons the stew to perfection; and while it’s not exactly lobster bisque being dished out here, sometimes a nice bowl of wonton is just the ticket.
There’s also a smidgen of bonus points being awarded here for this DLC also including the new “Turned Mode” on Green Run’s Diner; it’s not implemented as well as it would be later, but it’s another fun alternative to your usual options. If only they’d included the new multiplayer gun- the Peacekeeper – in Zombies as well, that would’ve been worth another point, too! Overall recommendation: Play it! You’ll either fall in love with it, or you’ll just fall.
16 – SHANGRI-LA
I used to HATE this map back when it first came out… And mostly for the reasons that actually make the map good. What can I say? I wasn’t skilled at CoD yet, and I was getting downed left and right even on Kino… As such, I didn’t care that the traps and puzzles working with the labyrinthine layout was a perfect choice thematically – I couldn’t survive on it for more than a couple rounds, so it was terrible! Turns out that I couldn’t have been more wrong… In going back to this map to write about it, I was only able to find a few things that I still didn’t like, and lots of the things I used to hate… Well, I no longer did!
But as I said, there are some still some issues, here… The Easter egg requiring four people to do it is less than wonderful, considering that aside from the “Eclipse Mode” buttons, every other step can be done with just two people; maybe it should have just been a quick-press setup or two Eclipse buttons instead, or if not in the original, then it at least should have been changed for the Chronicles re-release? Actually getting four people to play a game together in this age of irregular hours isn’t so easy; and obviously, Easter eggs just don’t happen in public games. There’s also the little matter of the Punji stakes at the start – while they work with the whole temple theme, their practical use is extremely limited, as they can’t damage zombies at all and only really serve to impede progress; especially if you have other players with you, which you absolutely do if you’re trying to do the Easter egg! Making them a timed single-hit trap that delayed a bit after being activated before it sprung out and dealt huge damage would have been a better choice.
The map’s wonder weapon – which I don’t think anyone has ever called by its real name, let’s just use Shrink Ray – is a bit overrated; yes, it has technically unlimited damage and is great for high-round play, but in practice, it’s just a Wunderwaffe or Sliquifier with extra steps, and the Chronicles version is even worse since the actual act of running through a group of zombies is harder to pull off (since small zombies can slow you down and stop you from running through them), even with a slick slide… The ammo count is also on the lower end, and before you Pack-a-Punch it, the shrink duration is really too short to use it that effectively.
One last note of contempt… The Chronicles version of the map replaced the unique Spikemore (a claymore that shoots spikes everywhere rather than steel balls) equipment with simple Trip Mines. Not only does this bring a step of the Easter egg into question – how does a regular shrapnel explosive plug up holes that big? – but it’s a shining example of the main issue with Zombie Chronicles as a whole; its overreliance on existing weaponry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still delighted that we got Chronicles at all… But using an HVK-30 on older maps just doesn’t feel the same as the Commando or the FG-42. Box weapons are one thing, but I really wish they’d gone the Rezzurection route and had remade versions of the original guns for wall weapons, at least.
All of that aside, Shangri-La is one of the most breathtaking maps in the entire series when it comes to settings and the visuals that back it up… I can never get enough of the lush tropical jungles and ancient stone temple architecture on the top level, and mysterious, flame-lit caverns with 1850s mining remnants scattered around. The three special zombies – mischievous monkeys, dominant slow-walking Napalms and tantrum-throwing Shriekers – only add to the setting even more; and unlike Voyage‘s special zombie bargain bin, the spawn rates of these things are balanced just right. Then you’ve got the Mud-Pit Maze, the Water Slides, the Mine Cart… heck, even the main trap aids the setting; not only is the Reservoir Trap effective and almost beautiful to behold (far more than just burning or shocking some zombies), but the fact that they even had the activation prompt set as “Don’t hold <interact button>” shows how well the developers actually understood the theme they were working with, here – I’m almost surprised there wasn’t a rolling rock trap, too!
When you do get people together to do the Easter egg, it’s a delightful one that showcases even more of the setting’s vibe by having you go through rituals and rescuing (well, attempting to) trapped explorers; and for completing it, rather than just giving you a power-up for a minute or so, you instead get all seven perks permanently for the rest of the match! There’s a reason that would quickly became an Easter egg reward staple – because it’s freakin’ awesome! Then, consider that we have Black Ops‘ excellent weaponset and perk system here (and the Chronicles version trades a bit of weaponset ranking for a better version of Double Tap and the addition of Widow’s Wine; I love P.H.D. too, but it’s just not useful here), along with classic Ultimis in their prime (after the World at War stereotypes but before Classified) and a pretty good hidden song (It all ends so vio-lent-ly I know, my sweet Pareidoooooliaaaaaa)… Shangri-La certainly lives up to its name! Overall recommendation: Play it! It’s a blast any way you go about it – but remember, you’ll need four people to experience the best part!
15 – ASCENSION
The monkeys are spreading the infection! Oh my God, it’s happening! Just like in that
Dustin Hoffman Al Pacino movie!
Now that we’re this far up the tier list, the qualifying factors for placements will be less dependent on how much the flaws of a map affect it, and more on how well-executed the good parts are. The reason for that is simple – now that we’re this high, the issues of a map become extremely insignificant; case in point, regarding Ascension, there’s only two issues, and neither of them are really all that bad.
(At this point, I’m going to go into a bit of a rant about a particular perk. The real map discussion will come up at the next line break, here.)
The first problem is simple: they completely dropped the ball when it came to poor P.H.D. Flopper. On paper, the perk is amazing – zero falling damage, zero explosive damage, and a big explosion attack once you dive to prone! How could that go wrong? Simple; by dropping the perk’s utility to almost nothing via exterior factors. There’s only two places on the entire map that the fall damage removal actually comes in handy on – the little alcove on the other side of the lander near the perk, and the stair drop-off left of Mule Kick. Consider how useless the former is (it’s a VERY bad spot to be since the walkway is so narrow and there’s a zombie spawn a foot away from it), and you’re left with only one spot that justifies it on the entire map; and it’s one you can survive without P.H.D. anyway as long as you don’t try to use it after being hit. All the other maps that featured P.H.D. would follow suit – there’s nowhere to really use the fall damage nullifier on Call of the Dead, Shangri-La, Cell Block or Origins. It would have come very much in handy on Die Rise, which of course didn’t have it as an option… And while it does have some use in the jump pad dome on Moon, it’s still not worth taking because of this next reason…
The zero explosive damage benefit seems cool too, until you realize what it actually works on. Consider how you might use it; for example, you can avoid damage from your own grenades. How bad are you at the game that that’s even a risk at all? You also can avoid damage from explosions of the China Lake, Crossbow, and the PaPped M16’s grenade launcher; okay, but the launcher rounds don’t explode unless you’re a certain distance away, so was that actually a risk? The base crossbow is too weak to keep into double-digit rounds, and the upgraded version keeps zombies away from you anyway… So, the effect ends up actually benefiting two weapons – the M72 LAW, and the Ray Gun. An upgraded LAW is basically just as powerful as the upgraded Ray Gun but with far less ammo and a bigger splash, so using it is generally a bad idea; and the Ray Gun’s splash damage is very controllable when upgraded. If you want to get technical, you could also get the War Machine in Black Ops 2… No, just no. What’s the point of avoiding explosive damage if the true explosive weapons all suck and the Ray Gun’s splash damage is easily controllable? You get to run one build with this – the upgraded starting pistols. That’s it. It’s a cool one, but is it worth taking? Even when only five other perks were available… Probably not. Let alone on Origins; where there’s eight other perks and the starting pistol doesn’t get upgraded to an explosive-type weapon.
Last bit to acknowledge here – the explosion dive was nearly pointless. We all tried to use it when we first found the perk, we messed up many times, then we finally got it done right, saw it barely did anything, and wisely never used it again. It wasn’t good when we had the perk, it wasn’t good when we had the persistant version on Buried, and it wasn’t good when they made it a sliding explosion in Black Ops 4. How would I make it good? Two simple ways – one, give every map that features it a couple fall shortcuts that aren’t easy to accidentally slip down; this would give perk users extra navigational ability. Two, actually increase explosive damage a bit; now I actually want to pick up an upgraded LAW or China Lake, because they could keep up with weapons like the RPK and Galil! Take or leave the dive explosion, it won’t matter… But as is, P.H.D. was just a waste of a great idea, and it deserved so much better.
(Perk rant over! TLDR: They completely wasted P.H.D. Flopper’s potential.)
The other problem? Like Shangri-La, the Easter egg requires four players (and like Shangri-La, it’s only to push simultaneous buttons and all other steps would only need two people)… And it’s a bit overly reliant on getting RNG weapons; Shangri-La’s egg only required the Shrink Ray from the box, while this one demands a Gersch Device, the Ballistic Knife, Matroyska Dolls, and several powerful wonder weapons (upgraded Ray Guns and Thunderguns; only weapons with huge damage work for the final step). Considering how often I tend to draw stinkers from the box (how can a gun called the Spectre be so bad? They found a way), this may be the Easter egg I’ve accomplished the least often; my luck’s just not good enough to pick up all that reliably… Makes following the box around Tranzit for an EMP seem like a walk in the park. However, all that being said, Ascension is responsible for the launch of the complex Easter egg as a whole; the very first one in the mode’s history having some issues is pretty forgivable.
Look past that, and you’ll find a layout that’s impossible not to fall in love with; all the varying paths make the map feel huge, but between the Lunar Landers and Stamin-Up (thank you, Ascension, for introducing my second favorite perk of all time), pathing your way through it never feels impossible. There’s a really keen balance here when it comes to distributing the map’s tension; the hardest areas to survive in are also the ones with Lunar Lander pads, so you never feel really trapped… Except in the power room, which is also where the rocket launch button is, and where the Mystery Box first spawns… And in the Pack-a-Punch room, which has two zombie spawns in it and a pretty narrow entrance. Lucky us! This all goes together to help you feel more in control in the safer areas, and make surviving in the more dangerous areas feel truly intense!
The visuals back up that excellent mapping with lots of deep purples and reddish-oranges; it’s amazing how much better concrete can look here than it does on Darkest Shore (ironic, considering Ascension starts entirely in black and white)! The cosmodrome theme just oozes with Russian-flavor intrigue; despite the atrocities of the communist regime, there’s a charm to Cold War bunker architecture that really makes things like Goldeneye 007, CounterSpy, and this map just pop. They even replaced the Bowie Knife with the sickle; yeah, they made a whole new model and set of textures just for the sake of pushing the Russian theme even further. Cheers for that!
Ascension also has the best special round in Black Ops; unlike overly-easy dog rounds with nothing at stake and Pentagon Thief rounds where you could potentially lose an upgraded weapon, the stakes for monkey rounds were balanced between the two, providing a risk by removing player perks if they couldn’t find and kill the monkeys in time to protect the relevant machine, and granting a free perk bottle (that ignores the four-perk limit!) if players could keep the machines completely undamaged. Special rounds would be played overly safe in all future maps (from Die Rise’s Jumping Jacks to Rave in the Redwoods’ Sasquatches, they’ve basically just been free ammo with little to no risk ever since), so it’s kind of interesting that they’ve got some actual risk, here.
As for which version is better to play… Well, like Der Riese, there’s no clear winner. Black Ops has the better guns and Five tie-in quotes on the telephones, while Black Ops 3 has better perks and graphics, and doesn’t require a Ballistic Knife for the Easter egg. Choose at your discretion; either version is better than not playing it at all. Overall recommendation: It’s not rocket science, play it!.. But have a good-luck-charm ready if you’re going to attempt the Easter egg.
14 – DEAD OF THE NIGHT
Hey, who hijacked my article? How the heck did a Black Ops 4 map get this far up the list? As unlikely as it may be, it’s true; Dead of the Night is so good, it almost doesn’t matter that it’s still stuck with all of BO4‘s flaws.
Here, we get a start to the Chaos story that doesn’t make you want to projectile vomit; this map is the first one in that timeline, and actually makes a lot more sense to start out with than Voyage did – not only because we get to see how the story’s main villain got a hold of the zombifying artifact in the first place, but because the story is expertly delivered by an impeccable cast! Keifer Sutherlund (playing a rootin’-tootin’ cowboy), Charles Dance (playing a dilligent butler who is afflicted with an unfortunate curse), Helena Bonham Carter (playing a phony psychic) and Jonathan Warwick (playing a distinguished military veteran) give it their all and really manage to leave an impression by the story’s conclusion; I know these are high-priced actors here, but they do such a fantastic job that the regular Chaos cast looks like utter garbage in comparison!
However, even the finest cast needs a good stage, and where is this production set? Why, a mysterious English country house (mansion, to the layabout) at night, complete with its own mausoleum, library, dining room, wine cellar and greenhouse laboratory, of course! Of all the possible settings, it’s one I never expected to see… But I couldn’t be more glad that we did! Navigating the mansion never proves a problem as the layout gives you just enough leeway to work with, and there’s mysteries abound that only add to that special feeling; a feeling so strong, that the special zombies actually fit in! That’s right – the elemental catalysts that were so annoying throughout every other map in the game actually suit their environment, and when you consider there’s also lightning-fast Nosferatus and big hulking Werewolves to worry about, the specials finally have a place they can truly call home… Oh, and in case you were wondering if they could push that vibe any further; the map is also crawling with ghosts.
Like Zetsubou, the map’s Easter eggs actually feel connected to the area you’re doing them in. The main one has you aiding ghosts around so they can aid you, peering into mystical stones that reveal secrets, melting down silver to craft Silver Bullets (for easier werewolf takedown), guarding grandfather clocks to claim the treasures hidden within, lining up beam deflectors to send a signal to the greenhouse telescope, and even finding four hidden symbols to unlock… The main wonder weapon. Like the love-child of a Ray Gun and a .357 Magnum (and a torrid affair with the KT-4 thrown in for good measure), the aptly named “Alistair’s Folly” fires great green gobs of gooey gunk that explode on impact! It’s such a simple yet effective weapon when it starts out… But if you want it to be more involved, how about adding charge shots that can create pools of awful acid, whopping whirlwinds, freaky fireballs and purgatory-pullin’ portals? All you have to do is upgrade it – with parts around the map – and it’ll be ready to go; but it can still fire normal shots all the while. As a lifelong revolver lover, I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy using this thing… What’s that? Doesn’t sound like your kind of gun? Then how about the Savage Impaler, a powerful auto-crossbow that deals extra damage to Nosferatus?.. And, if you want to get a little more up close and personal, you could grab the Stake Knife, which always kills Nosferatus in one stab, and will one-shot other zombies up until Round 26! This plethora of specialty weapons – combined with the fact that Silver Bullets can double the damage of any gun equipped with them – nearly scrubs away the Black Ops 4 stink entirely; and that’s a real achievement, let me tell you.
There’s no telling how much better this map could have been were it released as part of Black Ops 3… But sadly, it was not, and Black Ops 4 comes as a package deal; if you want to try Dead of the Night, you’ll have to come in close proximity with Blood of the Dead… Better mask up, that’s all I can say. Overall recommendation: Play it! Don’t get the game just for this map, but if you have it anyway, it’s the absolute best experience the game has to offer.
13 – KINO DER TOTEN
How’d a barebones survival map get this high up? Simple – it’s a widely known fact that this is the single greatest barebones map in any of the zombie-laden CoD games, bar none. This is that map that absolutely anybody could play and would want to play, even if they otherwise only ever touched the multiplayer; it’s the Nintendo Wii of zombies maps, and rather appropriately, it’s the only map available in the Wii version of Black Ops.
Kino may have even set the standard when it comes to layout, because every little bit of it feels right; it matches how an actual theater building would be built, yet also manages to be an incredible one to survive on. Most other maps, you have to suspend your disbelief a bit (why is there a hole in Die Rise’s elevator drop building at the exact point you need to jump to the other hole in the other building?), but everything here just makes sense; Treyarch either lucked out when they chose the theater setting and it worked this well for pathing, or it was a deliberate choice – either way, I’m still impressed, and I still enjoy playing on it to this day… And that’s an accomplishment.
See, I generally lean towards Easter egg completion when it comes to my play sessions; they’re always the most involved portion of maps that feature them, and the extra objectives help keep you invested in the experience. It’s not that I don’t enjoy base survival, because I do – I still run Der Riese from time to time, and I don’t always play “optimally” – but if you asked me to play a round of Nacht der Untoten or Five, I’d almost always say no, and I’d have to be in a very particular mood for Verrückt or Shi no Numa to sound good to me. But… I just can’t say no to Kino. If you suggest it during a map-picking phase, I’ll pretty much always support you on it… It’s just that good.
I mean… Come on! A completely safe Pack-a-Punch room that’s balanced by a cooldown timer! What may be the absolute best route for training ever made between the starting room, going towards Speed Cola and coming out the stage; or just doing it around the stage! Cute little gasser gremlins that shake up the enemy diversity without getting too annoying! Ultimis snarking their way around and admiring paintings of themselves! The tight, believable German theater aesthetic! Elena Siegman belting out 115! Maybe I’m letting nostalgia get to me too much for this one, but I don’t care – it’s Kino der Toten, baby!
As for which version to play, it’s the same deal as Ascension; Black Ops has better guns, Black Ops 3 has better perks and visuals… And then there’s the Wii version! Horrible graphics and motion controls, sure, but there’s also one special little difference… There’s a wallbuy for the AUG. THEREFORE, THE WII VERSION IS BEST, PRAISE LORD NINTENDO. Overall recommendation: Play it, of course! Maybe it’s not strictly Kino, but who doesn’t want to play ON Kino sometimes?
12 – ATTACK OF THE RADIOACTIVE THING
Wow, took us a while to get back to Infinite Warfare here, didn’t it?
There’s something Infinite Warfare got about Zombies Mode that CoD at large didn’t after Black Ops; how ridiculous the premise was. When Treyarch started weaving intricate stories into the mix, things got much more serious, and both Exo and Geistkraft Zombies would follow that direction… While I do love how complex and interesting those stories could be, I still lament the near-complete loss of more bizarre locales and weapons; something Cold War‘s complete lack of originality demonstrates all too well. Infinity Ward, however, would have none of that – if they were going to ditch their more cinematic Extinction and enter the realm of zombies, then they’d do it their way… And what was their way? A group of amateur actors being portaled into era-specific movie tropes by Pee-Wee Herman!
This time around, players get sent to a 1950s seaside town; complete with an ice cream parlor, snack shack, beach grocery, small broadcast studio, motel, and trailer park… And it’s teeming not only with zombies, but radioactive beasts as well! With Elvira guiding you and jukeboxes across the map piping old rockabilly favorites, the intent is all too clear; while IW‘s preceding maps captured their respective eras notably better, Radioactive Thing is not even close to being a slouch in that department… This map makes it clear that at this point in the rankings, the Final Reich situation is flipped on its head. No longer will maps on this list be jacks-of-all-trades, but masters of none; from here on, you get to have your cake, and eat it, too.
Radioactive Thing has an interesting array of freebie buildables available, much like Tranzit; but unlike Tranzit, these things aren’t (nearly) mandatory to survive, they actually do an awful lot for a freebie, and only one of them is required for the Easter egg – and only for a brief moment, at that. This is just about the perfect balance that a map with buildables can achieve, and considering their unchanging part spawns and efficacy – whether it be shockwaves protecting an area from the horde or temporarily turning a zombie into an ally – they’re horribly powerful. What’s even more neat is that the map’s wonder weapon – the M.A.D. (Modular Atomic Disintegrator, which does what it says on the tin) – can be upgraded entirely by tracking down parts around the map; the quick thrill of building a Sliquifier combined with the fun of using a wonder weapon as you do it! The fact that one of the upgrades lets you siphon ammo from deposits around the map is still baffling to me. And then, of course, there’s the outright broken freebies – the cleaver and the crowbar are both free to pick up, and let you kill zombies in one melee strike up to Round 11 (even longer with the perk Slappy Taffy). As a melee lover (ran Ballistic Knife and Bowie Knife combo in Black Ops whenever I could), I took to this so strong, that it actually made the map almost too easy; don’t worry, though, zombies always catch up before long.
As was the tradition by this point, the map does feature a boss, and what else could it be but a giant enemy crab?.. Well, a mutant one. Crogzilla is a nasty and enormous brute, and you’ll no doubt develop a vendetta against him as the game goes on – you can always see him in the distance, scuttling ships and trudging through the ocean, and when a special round spawns a bundle of mutant Crogs, where else would they come from but out of the creature’s back, fired like so many bombs (you can even shoot the eggs down before they open up on the ground if you’re accurate enough)? Taking the beast down using a giant bomb and sheer firepower later – which is no easy feat, he’s one tough customer! – is one of the most satisfying boss kills I’ve ever taken part in… Take that, CancerMan!
(Yes, that’s an actual Dragon Quest monster – look it up, they’re practically twins!)
Of course, there’s the usual other good points to list here as well; Infinite Warfare‘s great guns and excellent perks – along with a new one called “Change Chews” that adds randomized elemental effects to just about any gun – great layout for general survival and training (along with a highly-priced shortcut that really opens the map up wide once you can afford it), a decent cast performance (not their best in the game, but undoutedly above Beast From Beyond) and one of the game’s coolest quirks: beating the Easter egg (which is also a very fun one, though the last step can get complicated) lets you play the map as the guest-star… In this case, Elvira. What’s not to like? Overall recommendation: Play it! This is one map that won’t make you go nuclear.
11 – RAVE IN THE REDWOODS
It wasn’t enough for Kevin Smith to emotionally kill us with Yoga Hosers; now, he’s trying to do it for real!
This time around, the map goes for a ’90s theme and drops the acting party into a lakeside campground rave; complete with glowsticks aplenty, black light paint on just about everything, a booming 15-track electro-house score (16 if you include the hidden song – which you should, Puppet Strings is great!), and an overalls-clad musclebound killer with a big ol’ buzzsaw! As always, Infinity Ward nailed the visual presentation, and with the cast taking on suitable new roles – Andre, who was a soldier in Radioactive Thing, is here a grunge-rocker (wearing a flannel, naturally) who melee-attacks with a pair of drumsticks – and the special zombies being big lumbering Sasquatches, the theme is pushed so far that there’s no questioning it was nailed; the real question then becomes, how does the rest of it hold up? Is the layout good? Two words: Turtle Island.
Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the layout is exceptional as well – the only area that can get a little claustrophobic is the kiddie cabins, and it’s easy enough to avoid them and pivot to less-cramped locations; or you could go all in on zone-camping by Racin’ Stripes, if you’re insane. There’s ziplines all over the place to aid in navigation, and there’s even a scalable rock-climbing wall… But once you discover Turtle Island, it’s hard not to fall in love with it. It’s a HUGE circular area split up by a few large rocks, and a cabin at the top of a nearby hill houses the Pack-a-Punch portal, Kevin Smith, and a bucket of hot dogs – oh, and the way off the island, via another zipline. It’s loads of fun to train around on the bottom section, and when that gets boring, zombies won’t spawn in or behind the cabin, so you can defend straight-up; like the developers looked at Bus Depot and thought, “How could this be implemented properly?” I won’t sugarcoat it; sometimes, it can be pretty broken how easy it is to rack up kills on Turtle Island… But hey, you can always leave it to get back into the tenser action! It’s just always there as a nice option for when you want to grind up some points but not have a headache about it…
… And the Easter egg may indeed give you quite the migraine. It’s reasonably easy to do in theory – shoot off arms on step one, then legs on step two, and heads on step three… Sounds like no problem at all, until you realize how hard it is to actually shoot a zombie in the arm. Get your practice in and do it as early as possible so zombies won’t move as fast; that’s about all you can do. When you do figure it out, though, you get to duke it out with the Slasher a couple times, which is always a scary good time, and at the end of it all, you get to face his Splatterhouse’d mutant form… And killing him lets you acquire his weapon (which is bizarrely similar to WWII‘s Ripsaw). That buzzsaw isn’t the wonder weapon that sells things, though: it’s the Vlad crossbow! It ends up feeling a bit like the Wrath of the Ancients – especially since there’s four distinct and powerful upgrades. Directly comparing the two, the Der Eisendrache equivalent is more consistent and fun overall… But the Trap-o-Matic variant of the Vlad stands out as my favorite. Being able to set up killing lines wherever you like works perfectly with my run-‘n’-gun playstyle, and it gets bonus points for being the only dual-wielded variant; akimbo weapons are almost always my favorites.
Rave is also unique weaponwise since it features two absolutely busted wallbuys – the Reaver shotgun, and the Type-2 assault rifle. The Reaver being a semi-automatic shotgun, it’s already going to rock the house thanks to its utility and the game’s attachment system (you can earn attachments either in Zombies or Multiplayer and there’s no restrictions – so yup, it’ll be Extended Mags on the lot); but if you acquire the Machete variant from a lootbox, you can insta-kill zombies in one melee strike up to Round 12! The Type-2 is only amazing if you happen to have its Butcher variant… But whooooo-boy, if you do… It transforms the rifle’s dual-pistols mode (that kind of flexibility is part of what makes the game’s weaponset great) into akimbo shotguns instead. Just brutal…
The map also features randomized buildable traps which you can make out of three different kinds of gems that zombies can drop, and several challenges you can complete to earn extra equipment, like Rewind grenades (which can restore all of your ammo in an instant) and Repulsors (which can create a large Thundergun-esque pulse in front of you)… Earning all the merit badges takes some doing, but it’s definitely worthwhile! Overall recommmendation: Play it! It might not be the best campground you’ve ever been to, but ten rounds of this is worth a lifetime of Friday the 13th: The Game.
And now, for the top ten maps in the entire mode…
10 – ZETSUBOU NO SHIMA
“What are you doing in my swamp?!” Actually… Quite a bit, this time!
I know I wasn’t the only one hoping that another Zombies map that takes place in Japan would come up someday, and while there weren’t all that many of us clamoring for it, Zetsubou still came along to wave us a friendly hello… And what a hello! I’d describe the map as the pinnacle of the “cinematic” Zombies experience – all of the events are directly tied to gameplay and optional (though skipping too many of them will inevitably hurt your survivability), and going through the Easter egg really feels like you’re progressing within the map, rather than just doing a bonus objective… And that’s where this map gets its strength from. Everything on the map feels unified – the special zombies being Spiders and verdured Thrashers syncs oh-so-nicely with the overgrown, abandoned test facility look, as does the presence of mutating spores, abundance of growable plants that all grant incredible boons (like dropping power-ups, grabbing and holding crawlers, attracting and killing zombies, granting a free perk, and even allowing an “imprint” so players will reemerge from the plant with the guns and perks they imprinted themselves with)…
The Easter egg is one of the best I’ve ever found as far as discovery of it goes – I was able to figure out nearly the entire thing without looking anything up because of how great the map’s subtle cues are; “What’s that big web for?” “What’s inside of that huge cave?” “How come I can drop a cage with this button?” While it’s certainly not easy, neither is it ridiculously obtuse: there’s none of that “It’s a leaky pipe on a busted-up ship, naturally you’re supposed to notice it and seal it up with a poison-form wonder weapon” nonsense, here… You’ll see skulls with a symbol on them that you can pick up, you’ll see pedestals with that symbol on them, and you’ll naturally figure out, “I should probably put these things here!” This thing is also tons of fun to go through – you get to use incredible equipment like the KT-4 (which is a lot like my beloved Sliquifier, but it works less gradually and it can fertilize plants) and Skull of Nan Sapwe (which can tear zombies apart and reveal hidden areas; for some reason I feel obligated to call this thing the “Skull of Prince Abubu” and I can’t figure out why), fight two bosses (both a Giant Spider and a Giant Thresher; both are good fights!) and explore lots of secret areas (there’s so many secret rooms you can visit that the map practically doubles in size when you’ve found them all)… This map may win out as the most memorable one in the whole series, just based on how much you can do and how much work goes into it…
… There are still some points lost here for a few reasons. There are some frustrating sections to the Easter egg (that damned rainbow water only wants to go in the bucket half the time sometimes), and while it’s great fun to go through all the steps and unlock more things, dying resetting all of that is bound to result in some serious burnout; for as cool as it all is, if you focus on the egg hard enough, you can go for up to half an hour without killing a single zombie, and your trigger finger will start itching after enough of that… And if you don’t want to do any complicated steps, the vast majority of Zetsubou’s entertainment potential will be securely locked away. That’s what hurts this map most of all; no matter how close you came to finishing the Easter egg, you just don’t get that “never-say-die” replay energy that you do from other maps, and one or two plays is typically enough for a while.
However, doing the steps for those two games-worth still amounts to what will probably be some of your more satisfying plays across the series. Overall recommendation: Play it! There’s a whole greenhouse’s worth of things to do, and while you don’t want to overwater the experience, there’s always those times of year where it really manages to bloom.
9 – MOON
Screw it, let’s go to spa- whoops, wrong game… Still, more people have said it here once the siren sounds than they ever have in reference to Infinite Warfare.
This map got a good amount of flack when it released because of how different it was – “Low gravity, air requirements, hacking devices… Are you kidding, Treyarch? That’s way too complex!” Had they known that Green Run was coming, I doubt they would have been half as judgmental… And despite its difficulty and my incompetence at the time, I loved it from the moment it came out, and only liked it more and more as I got good enough to actually do some of the things that the map had to offer.
At the very start, you get a few brief moments on Earth with slow zombies; rounds aren’t progressed as long as you stay there, so it makes for a good opportunity to earn some extra green before you leave. Stay too long, though, and zombies instantly jump up to maximum speed and gain round 2 health so a single knife won’t one-shot them anymore! Staying at this point is akin to suicide, so you’ve got to jump onto the teleporting pad ASAP and shoot to the moon… Moon has a subtle little message about greed going with this, and in several other ways, which makes it a great map for converting selfish players; if you’ve got a buddy that never buys doors and always takes the wonder weapons for themselves once they’re built, a few games worth of Moon should turn them right around… Take the Hacker equipment, for example. There’s only one of them available, and selfish players will naturally rush to grab the thing… But when they’re suffocating in the majority of the map because they didn’t know how to use it to stop the excavators (random events which can depressurize areas, making the P.E.S. airsuit more of a necessity), losing points to barrier rebuilds (the first two hacked barriers reward 100 points each, but then they take away 300 points to start and that number keeps going up) and getting themselves killed by trying to hack open doors (it saves a ton of money, but takes a long time), they’ll quickly realize that their greed is only hurting them and their team; they’ve either got to learn how to use that Hacker (thus reforming them into a potential leader), or leave it for someone else who can (reforming them into a good teammate)… Moon is also great for making an egg-hunter out of a barebones survivor for that very reason. Simply put: The man in the moon will make a man out of you.
It’s also worth noting that this map features one of the best Easter egg weapons of all time – the Double Zap Gun. Akimbo pistols that fire big shots that always insta-kill no matter the round? That’s good without any further information, but when you learn how much ammo you can carry – 96 shots base, 148 when upgraded – your hype will rise even more… And when you learn the thing also has an alternate firing mode called the Wave Gun, which is functionally identical to the Wunderwaffe and has 14 (28 upgraded) shots of its own… It’s like an angel’s kiss, this weapon. The other unique weapon – the Quantum Entanglement Device, or Q.E.D. – plays into the greed angle yet again, as its wholly randomized results can do anything from dropping an upgraded weapon to stealing all of your points; every roll is a gamble, and the worst results will subconsciously encourage players to be a little more careful with the choices they make.
The Easter egg is an infamous one that’s stuck in players’ minds ever since it debuted, and for good reason; who could have expected that Richtofen would swap places with Samantha to become the Demonic Announcer himself, and that Maxis’ consciousness (stored in the station’s computer banks) would manipulate Ultimis into saturation-bombing the entire Earth? The implications of this Easter egg shaped the entire Aether storyline from that point on; and doing all the other Easter eggs to get that far made reaching that pinnacle (after plenty of work; the Easter egg is a fun one, but it’s no walk in the park) stick with us even more.
And of course, the visual design is fantastic; do I really need to explain why? It’s a secret Nazi outpost on the moon! The low gravity here serves only to enhance the map rather than being a momentary distraction (looking at you, Der Eisen and Rev), and that layout is truly on point… Plus, P.H.D. Flopper is actually useful here, and it’s pretty much the only map where it actually is (of course, it’s not in the Chronicles version, so be prepared to die in the Bio-Dome a lot). Throw in the exceptional weapon and perk sets, and Moon can’t be described as anything other than out of this world! Overall recommendation: Play it! This map turned the tides of what was to come, and you’ve got to see why for yourself!
8 – SHAOLIN SHUFFLE
“The Shuffle” may not be Infinite Warfare‘s best map, but it captured the era it was going for better than any of the others by far; it’s the 1970s! We’ve got Blaxploitation and funk, dive bars and punk rock, disco and a dance floor, and some old-school kung fu to blend it all together; oh, and we’ve got Pam Grier too, of course. Set it all on the streets of New York City’s slums, and you’ve got one baadasssss map.
I said above that Moon was a great map to turn a barebones survivor into an egg-hunter… Well, The Shuffle is a great map to turn any kind of player into a roleplayer. One sip of that kung-fu juice, and what had previously been a discussion between you and your friends about the worsening economy quickly evolves into WA-TAAAA!!! HWOOAAA!!! SH-SH-SHAAA!!! Nobody can help themselves, and that’s totally fine; when there’s four styles of kung-fu to choose from, they all have diverse special moves and you get a free drink every round, it’s okay to let your inner Hong Kong Phooey out. There’s a nunchaku and a katana, too, and they can both be double-Pack-a-Punched if you want to keep up the martial arts fun going all game long… There’s no gun-type wonder weapon on this map, and there doesn’t have to be; but if you’re still aching for something, progressing the Easter egg gives you a regenerating grenade that can cause an entire horde to explode in one deployment. Ohhhhhhh yeah…
Navigation is quick and easy, and mastering the kung fu styles will open up lots of fast travel options (both two sets of portals and several barriers in the way of quick drops) to make jumping between different areas a snap… Going between those areas on the map will also change the soundtrack that you’ll hear: the general map plays funky songs like Slave’s Slide, while the dance club plays disco like The Trammps’ Disco Inferno, and the “Heebie-Jeebies” dive bar plays nasty punk rock like Blondie’s Kung Fu Girls; if you like the alternative soundtracks enough, you can pick up records in those locations to play them across the regular map, too. That’s a big part of what makes Infinite Warfare‘s maps so great; they go out of their way to get appropriate songs for the experience. I didn’t even realize how much I minded the silence on some other maps until I went back to them and couldn’t help thinking, “Man, I wish Tranzit’s bus had a radio.”
The Shuffle deserves extra-special credit for introducting my favorite perk of all time: Deadeye Dewdrops. It grants the familiar “aim-to-head” benefit that Deadshot Daiquiri does, but rather than tightening your hipfire cone, it chose instead to speed up your aim speed (which can stack with the Quickdraw attachment), increase damage if you aim down sights for a full second and a half, and… Remove recoil. REMOVE RECOIL. That is the single most broken and powerful benefit that any perk will ever provide, or even hope to provide. Find it hard to recenter that semi-auto shotty or high-damage full-auto rifle? Not anymore you don’t! Slap a thermal scope on that SMG and go crazy!
The Easter egg this time around is a lot less luck-dependent than Redwoods was, and features plenty of encounters with the centerpiece boss, The Rat King – and he’s not the pizza-stealing kind! This one’s an ex-businessman who used misappropriated funds to make himself lord of the city’s rats, and the battles with him will take everything you have; but you’ve got to show this corportate fat-cat that his devil-may-care attitude just won’t fly… With those crazy martial arts and IW‘s excellent guns and perks on your side, he won’t stand a chance! Overall recommendation: Play it! Start the map up and do it – do it – do it ’til you’re satisfied!
7 – DER EISENDRACHE
We all knew that one guy back in middle or high school that “had an uncle who worked at Infinity Ward” and could thus confirm where the next Zombies map would take place; these guys would claim anything from a pirate ship to a castle just to get a reaction out of people. Nobody took them seriously; I mean, a castle? How would that ever work?.. Well, three years later, Treyarch actually did it, and it was its game’s landmark map… Sorry, Ben, turns out you were right all along. I guess they just saved it for the next game… Despite you telling me about it when Green Run was the new thing… Actually, I take back that apology, Ben, you’re full of it.
Der Eisendrache is a bit unique in that it wears its influences on its sleeve – it clearly took a lot of inspiration from Origins (with its four specialty weapons and special zombies being Panzers), Shadows of Evil (with the paintings depicting invading Apothicons and the final boss being a giant one), and Mob of the Dead (with feeding three heads granting a flaming special weapon); it’s odd how much this stands out, considering that taken inspiration generally isn’t so obvious with Treyarch’s works (Zetsubou has ties to Shi no Numa, but it might as well not), but what’s even more odd is that this couldn’t possibly matter any less… When mod maps tweak mechanics, it’s often uninspired, but when Treyarch did it here, they did it right. I can’t exactly explain how… But they did.
This time around, players get to path around a snowy castle that was used briefly as a Group 935 base. The visuals are second to none here as Black Ops 3‘s saturated color scheme really lets the blue tones of the outdoors and the softer orange tones of the indoors be seen at their finest; at times, it has a fantasy-like vibe that sort of reminds me of Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance. The layout, too, was well planned; “suidice stairs” are very obvious and easy to avoid, but nothing’s so open as to make surviving overly easy. The four jump pads you gain access to, while not as flexible as some of the best fast travel options, nonetheless do give you a decent amount of control over the map despite its larger-than-average size.
The wonder weapons are what get all the attention on Der Eisendrache, and it makes sense – after all, they are the map’s best feature. You start out with the neutral weapon – the Wrath of the Ancients, a bow with arrows that explode on impact – and you can then color it into a different variant by following your preferred Easter egg steps… Unlike the staves on Origins, though, there really is a hierarchy of variant strengths at play, here; the Storm bow, with its huge damage, lingering hitboxes and charged tornado trap, is by far the most powerful variant you could use, and the Wolf Howl bow’s simple, Thunder-gun like diffusion is easy to spam when necessary… But the Rune Prison (or “Fire) bow just ends up working like a less powerful Storm bow that’s harder to get, and the Demon Gate (or “Void”) bow locks zombies in place for an extended time before it kills them (making it far harder to “zap-and-zoop” – that is, fire a shot into a horde and then run through it) and consumes plenty of ammo despite its lesser effect… Though any bow is leagues better than the Ragnarok DG-4. Despite the thing apparently being able to trap Panzers, considering how weak they are here and how ineffectual the actual electric trap the DG-4 makes is, you’ll probably only end up using it when it’s required to travel to the boss battle; if you place it right, that is! Put it an inch too far to the right, and you’ll have to wait for it to completely recharge before you can give it another go… And with the boss scaling with round progression all the while, that’s a real kick in the teeth.
The specials and bosses are the only thing that leave something to be desired, here… But man, they really do. The Panzer is back from Origins, but this time he fires little baby grenades instead of his menacing claw hand… I haven’t died to a Panzer once on this map, and considering the first one tends to spawn when one of you probably already has an upgraded bow (you can easily get Storm done by Round 6 with a little practice), he ends up being even more clownish than he already was. So, where’d all his old power go? The final boss, that’s where! The amount of times I’ve done this entire Easter egg (which is fun and satisfying to do up until the end) only to get killed by Keeper Jim’s one-shot ground-pound… Want another chance to take him down? You’ve got to do the entire Easter egg again! Zombies boss battles were in their infancy here, but Treyarch got a bit too excited about making their first real one (Shadowman was more of a brief puzzle) and really overdid it. This may sound like a very critical statement for the number-seven spot, but really, this just attests to the map’s quality up to that point – despite how dream-crushingly difficult and frustrating that ending can be, my playing partner and I couldn’t help but keep trying again and again. Few maps have the kind of “burnout protection” that this one does; it balanced its frustration and accessibility just right.
Last bullet point here: This map ended up having a pretty decent hidden song with Dead Again… Not the best in the series, but hey, good is good. Overall recommendation: Play it! Despite its construction being partially recycled, this iron dragon is so well made, you could swear it was steel.
6 – SHADOWS OF EVIL
The whole Lovecraftian thing would get really overdone in the stories of maps to come, but Shadows started it, and it started it right.
This is my absolute favorite map as far as visual and sound theming goes; and how could it not be? That slick 1940s “Film Noir” look sells itself from every angle, and the Lovecraftian horrors bleed their way into the world in a foricble, unnatural manner that suits those wriggly beasts just right. The jazzy scoring enhances the experience all the more; from the round beginning and ending themes to the dual Easter egg songs, there’s always some smooth piano and wailing saxophone allaying your nerves; and between the mutant mosquitoes that are Parasites, the meatball-lookin’ Insanity Elementals, and the three-headed heck-beast Margwas, you’ll need the help to keep all your wits about you. One thing that really helps – the unique starting weapon. While every other map in Black Ops 3 starts you off with the MR6 – which is about as boring and poor a weapon as you could ever hope to find – Shadows of Evil has a signature gun called the Bloodhound, a custom 8-shot snub-nosed revolver that’s 250% more powerful than any other starting gun (not counting the OSA on Beast from Beyond); it’s the gun we all wanted on Mob of the Dead after its opening cutscene, and here, we finally have it… Like all the standard starting pistols, it turns into dual-wield explosive launchers (known as the “Meat Wagon”) once upgraded. It’s notoriously unsafe to try using them the old-school way due to the absence of P.H.D. Flopper (the GobbleGum “Danger Closest” can help, but only for three rounds at a time), but they’re oddly accurate – I’ve taken off Margwa heads at 100 yards with these things.
However, the Meat Wagon is just a baby toy compared to the map’s wonder weapons… The first, known informally as the “Apothicon Servant” is essentially a Gersch device launcher; but with ten shots at max load instead of only three… The effect is cool, but the fact that the “gun” is in actuality a little eldritch abomination that you have to feed to get it to fire rather than reload (coupled with the goopy noises and little shrieks it makes while active) matches its surroundings to a T. As cool as this is, the second weapon is even better – a mystical Apothicon Sword, which can slash zombies to bits as well as make a large shockwave around you; upgrading it to the Keeper Sword will let you throw it to act as a protector of sorts while you survive with your normal guns. There’s all sorts of archaic hoobajoob behind crafting all of these weapons, and it just sucks you into your environment even more… Oh, and even the monkey bomb has turned into a friendly little squid-buddy, here.
The main wonder “weapon” of note, though, is the incredible Beast Mode… Every player gets to use the mode once per round (or stack up to three in reserve when playing alone) by tapping one one of many pillars around the map, and while its main use is in rappelling around, powering up switchboxes and destroying crates to progress the Easter egg’s steps, it’s also a very powerful form to take in the later rounds when it’s not “needed”, as zombies will completely ignore you while it’s active, the melee attack will instantly kill zombies no matter what the round, it has a zap attack which will teleport zombies away without killing them, and it can revive allies in a flash (though reviving someone will instantly end the mode); as with monkeys, half the time I forget I even have this power, but when you do remember it, you can get some clinch mass revives done in no time flat… I’m not a tattoo guy, personally, but that Mark of the Beast does look pretty cool, and considering what it can do in-game, maybe it’d be worth the temporary pain to be able to turn into a freaky squid-thing, eh?
Black Ops 3 only debuted one new perk through its entire run, but it came about with Shadows and it’s certainly a popular one; Widow’s Wine became a fan favorite practically overnight. I don’t tend to run it very often personally (I almost always play the medic and take Stamin-Up and Quick Revive, and of course Jug is in there too), but I can’t deny that transforming your grenades into web-balls that ensnare zombies, tying their detonation mechanisms into a hit-based system to protect you from damage, giving your knife the ability to ensnare a single zombie (helps tremendously when you’re trying to get something done and they just won’t leave you alone, let me tell you) and giving zombies a (pretty high, actually) chance to drop extra grenade pickups packs an awful lot of utility into a single perk!.. That being said, accidental detonations have cost me a round’s worth of Easter egg progress one too many times, so it’s rare if I ever take it along these days.
The cast here is once again a star-studded one; this time around, Jeff Goldblum (playing a neurotic second-rate magician), Ron Perlman (playing a detached prize fighter with a chip on his shoulder), Heather Graham (playing a burlesque-singing femme fatale) and Neal McDonough (playing a crooked cop with plenty of vices) square off against Robert Picardo (playing the squid-like leader of the dark otherworldly forces) in order to remove the curses they’ve been afflicted with and get the world back to normal! Everyone gives the usual sublime performance you’d expect from stars of this caliber, and starting the Black Ops 3 Zombies experience strong with the celebrity cast here was definitely the right move.
The one and only thing I take some umbrage with is that the Easter egg requires four players to complete it, and only for the final step – the game lets you get all the way up to it with one to three players, but to finish things off, your lobby has to be full. However, unlike the “Black Ops Three”, it at least makes sense here based on what the step is, and it’s an appropriately challenging one; less so if you call in the map’s charismatic robot guard, but never, ever easy. Overall recommendation: Slide on in, take a spin! There’s no shadows obscuring this map’s quality – it shines brilliantly through it all.
5 – ORIGINS
This is the story of the three little robots. Once upon a time, in sunny Santa Monica, somebody at Treyarch watched The Iron Giant and thought it looked cool. Unfortunately, they were drinking at the time and had double vision, so they thought the movie had more than one robot. This led to the birth of special little triplets – Odin, Freya, and Thor. Their mission in life became to enhance the experience of Treyarch’s next Zombies map, and it was a mission they relished! They worked their absolute hardest to make it a memorable and fun time for all, and as thanks, the robots would constantly hear people screaming “I HAD ALL FOUR PERKS PLUS DOUBLE-TAP STACKED YOU DAMNED ROBOT, I’LL KILL YOU!!!”
Despite the likelihood of being fatally stomped to death like a beetle (which isn’t very common once you’ve learned your way around), Origins is another good map for making an egg-hunter out of a survivor; there’s a lot of things you’ll need to activate along your way, but the earlier ones are pretty intuitive. What survivor won’t be willing to turn on the generators, get Flame Staff parts (just by doing what they ought to be doing anyway – killing Panzers and doing generators), and be willing to redirect their killing spree to near one of the four soul boxes? Bingo! The rewards are great, they barely had to change their playstyle, and resistance to objective completion is smited in a mere play or two. Other elements don’t take much coaxing either – condition them to only use dig spots when it’s snowing, show them how to slide up the giants’ big glowing feet, and before long they’ll be collecting the Lightning Staff pieces by themselves and playing piano right afterwards.
Those staves are the name of the game, here – while the One-Inch Punch is a powerful and fantastic reward and the G-Strike makes for the most powerful monkey bomb alternative across the whole series, even their powers pale in comparison to creating massive fiery explosions, blowing away every zombie that’s even somewhat near you, freezing a pile of frosted freaks to death, and just spamming the heck out of plentiful lightning bolts! Every player will quickly pick their favorites (I’m a Lightning Staff man through and through) and learn how to build and upgrade them; selfishness works to your benefit here, because everyone will be scrambling to get those magic sticks made, and before you know it, you’ll have all four staves built and upgraded by the end of Round 8.
Even without those elemental twigs at your side, you’ll still likely end up well-armed here, as Origins is one of the best “kitted-out” maps in either version you play. The Black Ops 2 cut has exclusive access to the KSG shotgun and SCAR-H rifle; I loved both of these weapons in the Multiplayer (and the SCAR ever since Modern Warfare 2) and was ecstatic to get them in Zombies Mode at long last… And their raw power (and fantastic ammo capacity) did not disappoint. Black Ops 3 has to do without those perfect gems, but it compensates with a wallbuy for the M1927 (which was previously only in the box; it’s been strengthened a little bit here, so getting it off the wall is a great boon) and the RPK LMG out of the box. Regardless of your version of choice, the map also has the unique MG08/15 LMG (which has great style and great performance alike), old-school World War II weapons like the MP40 and STG-44 (why they’re on a map based on The Great War is beyond me, but I guess I’d rather have them than a Chauchat), and while the starting pistol – the Mauser C96, commonly called “The Broomhandle” – is by default just as weak as any MR6 or 1911, upgrading it – instead of making it into the typical dual-explosive suicide shooters – turns it into a scoped laser sniper with obscene damage, which is a worthwhile take for any build! Considering you can also earn a free stackable bottle of Double Tap 2.0 by spending enough points, here, it’s easy to get overpowered fast.
Don’t worry, though; no matter how strong you get, Panzy-Buddy will come down from the skies to kick you around and show you your place again. This was his debut and he’s at his strongest here – by far the most dangerous special zombie in all of Black Ops 2 (and nearly the series as a whole as well), between that grabbing claw that can one-shot players if they get caught between reloads and sweltering close-range flamethrower (which is pretty hard to outrun sometimes if you’re stuck in the mud)… He’s one heavy hitter, and you’d better have a good weapon ready to face him – he’ll outright laugh at you if you try to take him down with a Pharo (though to be fair, anything will laugh at you for using that piece of junk); that being said, he’s almost comically weak to all of the elemental staves… A friend and I played the “Unleash the Horde” step of the Easter egg very recently, him equipped with a Wind Staff and I with my shocky stick. It took us about thirty seconds total, and at least seven of those were spent waiting for the second set of twins to spawn.
The map features two hidden songs, and that dual presence create an odd comical split: on the one hand, you have Avenged Sevenfold’s excellent single Shepherd of Fire (second-best track from Hail to the King, right after Planets), which is just right for an undead massacre… And on the other hand, you have Archangel, which features a six-year-old kid hopped up on Skittles playing the drums and Elena Siegman who seemingly has a bad cold, while Kevin noodles around on his guitar, apparently unaware that anyone is actually recording him… It’s not the worst metal I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close. Activating this song became a bit of a meme for my friends and I – every time I activate it and that glorious drum-machine fill kicks in, there’s a collective groan and plenty of “Goddammit, why?!” to go around.
All of this taking place in a French trench is oddly appropriate thematically, and I can’t help but wonder why the CoD series has never tackled The Great War if they were able to capture some of it here so well; Vanguard is going to be the sixth game to take place in a World War II setting, and the tenth if you count the spinoffs like Big Red One! Regardless, I’m glad that we got a taste of it here, and the introduction of the Primis crew here went off with a bang; after fans missed the Ultimis they’d grown to know and love for nearly the entire game, they finally came back in a more developed and nuanced way that really suited the new direction the maps would go in… And that opening cutscene introducing us to them was so good (probably the best in the whole Mode’s history, in fact), they just used it straight-up as the launch trailer; it was almost too good. I wanted to use that Remington New Model Army, hatchet and katana, dammit! Overall recommendation: Play it! No amount of mud can obscure this map’s amazing quality.
4 – BURIED
So I pretended to have wings for my arms/And took off in the air… I flew to places which the clouds never see/Too close to the deserts of sand… Where a thousand mirages, the shepherds of lies/Forced me to land, and take a disguise…
When Origins came out, it was pretty much universally adopted as the Black Ops 2 “poster child” map – all other maps would be cast aside in its favor. It was all your friends wanted to play, it catapulted Primis into the lead roles of nearly of Black Ops 3, and it was the only map from that entire game worthy of being included in Zombies Chronicles… Yep, Black Ops 2 was the Origins game. Right? Wait… I feel like there was something else… Something from the long-long ago, hidden deep beneath the surface… Yeah, I think I remember … A town.
Victis’ last hurrah was far and away their best – they evolved from the one-note stereotypes of Green Run into much better written stereotypes with at least two and a half notes… While they didn’t win many fans, I personally would call them my favorite non-star crew; I feel like the diversity of Victis personality-wise was on par with Ultimis and Primis, without using different nationalities to pick up any slack. That’s reaching and very biased, for sure, but consider this: they only really had three maps (four if you count Tag, which… I wouldn’t) to develop (along with a good six-issue comic book), while Primis and Ultimis had eight each (nine for Ultimis, if you count their little closet adventure)… With that in mind, I think they actually developed very well, despite their limited connection to events at large (i.e, they didn’t make the zombies or meet the Keepothicons); they play their role of “Victis” – meaning “The Defeated” – exactly right… And they’ve got more lines on this map than any other, and despite their more frequent chatter here, I never got bored of it.
Their greatest adventure takes place in an abandoned (naturally, with the missiles hitting the world ten years before and zombies taking care of the rest) mining installation somewhere in Angola… Deep beneath the surface lies the remnants of an Old West town, complete with a general store, a gunsmith’s shop, a saloon, a candy shop, a town hall, a little church, and a haunted estate house with its own hedge maze… And that dusty Western feeling doesn’t stop with the visual and lore design. Not only do you get unique music cues throughout gameplay and a custom UI fit for a cowboy (taking clear inspiration from the previous map’s nigh-unanimous renown for doing the same things), but the map has the coolest signature weapon of all time – the Remington New Model Army… While the Python’s availability in the previous Victis maps was nice, the Army stomped hard on it by not only being thematically appropriate (an 1858 revolver on a Western-themed map? Yes, please), but by always loading the entire cylinder at once (when not upgraded) and having much better chest and headshot multipliers… Pair that with Double Tap 2.0 (y’alls ain’t gonna’ fire that pig-shooter without havin’ a glass o’ sarsparilla first, are ya) and you can pop skulls left and right! Even with the AN-94 being a wallbuy on this map, I’d still take an Army over it in a heartbeat… Awlright, you undead freaks! I’m-a callin’ you out!
As sweet as that revolver is, it’s not the map’s trademark weapon; there’s two others that win that shootout. The first is perhaps the best piece of equipment in the whole of Zombies Mode – the Time Bomb. Set this little beauty and it’ll mark everything – what round it is, how many zombies remain on that round, how many points every player in the lobby has, what guns they’re using, what perks they have, and even their locations at the time of placement. Then, you just play as normal – open doors, build some contraptions, clear obstacles… But when you’re ready, activating the Time Bomb will send everyone sweeping back to the time of placement; suddenly, what was once Round 32 is now Round 7, what was once an upgraded SVU-AS is now an Olympia… You get a fresh start, but with all the obstacles cleared, this time you’ll have a marked advantage. The strategic capacity of this thing is enormous – beyond the obvious utility of being able to progress the Easter egg (progress of which is not reset by the time slip) while dealing with much weaker zombies than you otherwise would, there’s plenty of tricks you can pull off with it if you’re crafty enough, like undoing triple-downs and getting free stackable perks!.. And as amazing as THAT is, it’s STILL not as good as the map’s wonder weapon… The Paralyzer. A huge fire cone that stops zombies in their tracks? Infinite ammo with only a simple cooldown (that actually works when the weapon is holstered, unlike the Jet Gun) keeping it from being spammed forever? The ability to kill zombies quickly on any round up to 70? That’s all amazing, but the final thing that clinches this as the best weapon on the map, and one of the best wonder weapons of all time?..
You can fly.
Don’t want to wait until next round to clear an obstacle? By pointing the Paralyzer at the ground, jumping, and firing it, you can actually fly into the air and outright ignore many of the map’s boundaries! Soaring straight over zombies’ heads to safety is immensely satisfying to pull off, but the effect is reasonably well-balanced with the placement of invisible walls (which Victis will comment on, amusingly enough) to ensure it can’t break everything… That being said, it’s still totally broken, and it’s great; the TTK (time-to-kill) and cooldown on the weapon is slow enough that you won’t use it to exclusion of all else, yet it absolutely still needs to be in your loadout if you can get it regardless; in other words, it’s my kind of weapon.
The most powerful tool in your roster, however, probably won’t be a weapon – it’ll be your tools. The Trample Steam is back from Die Rise and effective as ever, and the new Head Cutter and Subsurface Resonator are even more efficient portable machines, letting you turn any spot you like into a trap par excellence… But these are mere baubles compared to Arthur the giant, who will quickly become your new best friend! Give him a drink and he’ll destroy obstacles (and zombies along the way) with a deadly charge, while giving him candy will make him do most anything; carrying a crawler, constructing an entire buildable for you, bringing the Mystery Box wherever you like (along with rerolling it and locking it in place), and following you around as your ever-faithful protector for several minutes are only a few of his many talents… Arthur’s incredible feats make him out to be the biggest chad in all of Zombies Mode; the undead won’t even touch him out of sheer fear. There’s only one thing Arthur can’t deal with…
… And that’s the ghosts (or some call them witches). These things still actively spook people who are trying Buried out for the first time – hearing the blasted things ominously warning you from the house (try not to jump the first time they say, “Look behind you”) and catching a glimpse of them through the windows is still a bit unnerving even eight years later. Actually facing them up close is no less spine-chilling; the Paralyzer doesn’t hurt them at all, and they’re lightning fast, easily keeping up with players without Stamin-Up… Only to stop and ominously float when they’re close enough to touch you. They have a tendency to spawn in the sneakiest of spots once triggered (every five rounds, entering the house causes ghosts to spawn all over the map) and will still manage to shock you with their appearances from time to time no matter your experience. All of this is spookier than the typical Hellhounds, sure, but what really cements players’ fear of them… Is poverty. One touch from one of these spinster specters will steal a whopping 2000 points from you; and they won’t stop until you’re completely broke! Better get some practice in at performing lead exorcisms…
Buried also got the best signature perk in all of Black Ops 2 by far in Vulture-Aid; being able to see the mystery box and machines through walls is only mildly useful, but being able to pick up little smatterings of extra ammo and points off of zed corpses, along with occasionally spawning clouds of green gas that you can stand in to hide from zombies, instantly makes it a must-have; hopping between clouds and scavenging can take an empty New Model Army from empty to fully loaded if you use the perk effectively… That being said, there’s a reason the perk never came back. Being able to mask your presence from zombies that easily is more than a little overpowered, and that’s let to plenty of contentions overall that Buried as a map is overly easy… But I’m afraid that I disagree. Sure, you can get through earlier rounds more easily than you could on Die Rise or Five, but progressing the Easter egg and surviving on Round 70 is no simpler here than anywhere else… To say nothing of Round Infinity.
There’s only two problems with the map, and they’re both minor; if anything, they’re more nitpicks than problems. The first is that it’s not a good pick for barebones players – if you couldn’t wrap your head around Die Rise, you’re not going to like building and navigating around here much, either… And the second problem is the hidden song. I’m sure Malukah has plenty of fans and she’s definitely making more money singing than I could (my interpretation of Lida Rose is best left unheard), but Always Running – while much better musically than Drowned and Archangel – is far too slow and moody (and not even somewhat thematically related) to be a good backing track for an Old West zombie slaughter… I wish they’d used the Vudu Sister song Dead Man’s Pocket instead.
There’s also a good extra Grief map included for the area, as well as the better map in Black Ops 2 for Turned… And the DLC introduced the Ray Gun Mark II as well; while it’s not unique to this map, it nonetheless debuted with it (and seems to be a more common drop here), and that’s grounds for an extra point. Overall recommendation: Play it! Don’t leave this one dead and buried – Dig it up and give it a good polish, and she’ll still shine as purty as ever.
3 – MOB OF THE DEAD
W-wait, Mob fans, let me expla-
MOB OF THE DEAD’S NOT AT NUMBER ONE?!!
URAAGGHH!!!.. Well, good thing I had an Afterlife charge saved up. Excuse me just one second…
ZRP! Aaah, that’s better… Now, Mob of the Dead is fantastic, there’s no denying that. The only reason it loses a couple points and drops into third place, here, is because – despite all the stuff I’m about to list in its favor – it’s still not a great choice for barebones players; there’s too many required objectives for a Multiplayer casual to just jump in and play with a seasoned vet… Accessibility doesn’t make or break a map, but both of the next two maps have the lion’s share of what Mob does, plus the option for a complete newbie to start with them; that is the one and only reason Mob is in third place. Now that that’s out of the way…
What Mob does better than any other map by far is in having its own self-contained storyline and characters… Later Aether storyline developments would try to connect the events of Mob to the timeline as a whole, but that only serves to diminish the brilliance of the original map; taken in individually (as it should be), it was the jewel in the Black Ops 2 sea between Victis’ efforts and Primis’ beginning… A single, solitary map that wasn’t connected to any known events, and didn’t need to be. That fantastic story of four ex-mobsters being trapped in purgatory until they manage to relearn the true story of their deaths and repent is written better than any other map ever would – or perhaps, even could – be, and it’s delivered by the best all-star cast that the mode ever gathered… As great as the guest stars on Dead of the Night and Shadows of Evil were, how can they compete? Here, you’ve got Chazz Palminteri playing a commanding ex-mob boss, Michael Madsen as his snarky ex-bootlegger and bookmaker, Ray Liotta as his unhinged ex-enforcer and hitman, and Joe Pantoliano as a quirky ex-conman with an inferiority complex… It’s simply the best of the best. These actors pour their heart and soul into their roles, here, and you can really feel it – when the characters are frustrated, they sound that way, without sounding like they’re trying to sound that way. Their characterization is built up slowly but significantly throughout the map’s events; the soliloquies they give when downed serve as a microcosm of their development as a whole, showing that despite their active resistance to the nightmarish events going on around them, they’re not as rugged and confident as they may seem… And papers and ciphers hidden around the map only paint an even clearer picture.
The prison itself is a distorted mish-mash of barbed wire, rusty iron bars and deteriorated concrete… It has a macabre beauty that Treyarch really nailed this time around; not just from a visual standpoint – the dark reddish browns contrasting with the eerie nighttime blues and smatterings of light orange and yellow from lit candles is atmospheric as all get-out – but with the oppressive layout as well! Every section of the prison, from the starting cell block to the rooftop, is cramped just enough to get your heart racing, but open just enough to give skilled players a fighting chance to slip through the cracks of a dangerous horde; and the only truly safe and open area – the bridge, where the Pack-a-Punch machine is – quickly loses any semblance of safety when spending too many rounds there results in the spawning of multiple Brutus bosses to cave your skull in along with the rest of the brain-munchers! Leaving the bridge by electrocuting yourself is the only way to escape the madness… And it’ll only be temporary.
That theme of electrocution keeps coming up throughout the map, and it’s not just because it ties into the true story of the cast’s ultimate fate – it’s because those zap-boxes are the safest way to trigger Afterlife Mode. Similar to Shadows of Evil’s Beast Mode, Afterlife is an alternate “form” you can take by using one of the relevant activators that are scattered around the map; again, players gain one stack of this activation per round, and solo players can save up to three stacks. You’ll get sent into the mode whenever you’re downed (provided you have stacks in reserve); while using the zap-boxes will preserve your perks, getting taken down the old-fashioned way will cause you to lose them all, making those boxes your best bet in using Afterlife effectively (especially if you’re about to get swarmed and can hit the switch before you take that final hit!). In Afterlife, you become a spectral version of yourself that has plenty of advantages: you can jump significantly higher, use a “zap” move that will transport zombies a small distance away and make electronic devices react appropriately (you can power up dead machines, or depower active ones you need off), and – most importantly – see hidden walls (that you can only pass through in Afterlife) and messages; and, just like Shadows, your time in the form is fleeting, and using the ability effectively is crucial to your continued survival. With enough practice, you can optimize this ability quite well – enough runs have trained me well enough so I can turn on Electric Cherry, the Gondola, the power-up-bearing cell beneath them, the path to the Warden’s Office, and Speed Cola, as well as drop the Warden’s Key (if it happens to spawn there), all on one solo (there’s a trick to increase Afterlife time by having another player repeatedly revive your body) charge… And when you’ve gotten all your tasks done, it’s still a handy second chance to have; and unlike Who’s Who, it’s free and can actually deal with the zombies around your body.
As stressful as all this navigation and puzzle-solving can be, don’t worry; Mob offers some enhanced gunplay to make up for any hassle on your part. The map added the M1927 “Tommy Gun” SMG, which at the time was unique (it wouldn’t be featured again until Origins came out); but what it kept unique was exclusive access to the AK-47, Uzi, and Death Machine! All three of these guns are automatic powerhouses that will serve the Mob-Stars well; I still pick up an Uzi off the wall nearly every game I play due to its surprising power and predictable recoil… However, if you’re looking for a weapon with a little more zing, you’ve still got four special options besides. The heck’s Retriever is probably the most popular and well-known one, and for good reason – feeding a couple happy puppy heads around the map acquires you a piece of equipment that only requires a brief charge before throwing it will have it fly around, popping off zombie heads like pogs for a few seconds before it returns to the player (and picks up any power-ups along the way!), and after a brief recharge can be used again. This thing definitely cuts the mustard; especially once upgraded. If you’d rather do the head-cutting yourself, you could always go for the Golden Spork… A melee weapon so brutally powerful, it can kill a zombie in one stab up to Round 34!
Like your wonder weapons better when they fire rounds? No problem – there’s still two left to go. The Blundergat is a brutally powerful quadruple-barrel shotgun that more than makes up for its single (double when upgraded) shot capacity by dealing the most damage it possibly can in one shot – a whopping 1500 stock, and 5000 Pack-a-Punched; which gets even stronger if you have Double Tap 2.0… If you prefer your wonder weapons a little more tactical and a little less “one-shot”, never fear; using the Acid Gat Kit buildable on a Blundergat (it also works on the upgraded version) will convert it into the Acidgat, which fires a volley of three sticky explosives per shot, which freezes stickied zombies in place and attracts other zombies (much like a Monkey Bomb) if the weapon is upgraded! With so many choices and all of them being exceptionally strong, players shouldn’t find themselves wanting of better armaments for many rounds to come.
When Mob of the Dead came out, it was almost universally hailed as the savior of Black Ops 2‘s Zombies experience; players who had hated going through the objectives on Green Run and Die Rise found themselves suddenly enamored by the whole process of building the plane, shield and heck’s Retriever, and despite not being officially included in Zombies Chronicles, has still enjoyed enduring popularity to this day… So much so, that there’s a complete fan remake of the map available! That just goes to show how much love people have for this map – and you know what? It deserves it all. Overall recommendation: Play it! Break into this rusty cage, and you’re in for the run of your life!
2 – CALL OF THE DEAD
It killed me to put this one in second place, it really did. Believe me, it was neck and neck between this and what actually made it; and if nostalgia counted for this list, you’d better believe that it would’ve won the whole thing… But sadly, it does not. Still, being #2 out of 45 is pretty damned good!
If it weren’t for Mob of the Dead’s stellar actors, this map would win the character contest hands-down. Danny Trejo, Michael Rooker, Sarah Michelle Gellar (who was the first playable female character in Zombies Mode, as well as all of CoD) and Robert Englund, squaring off against a supercharged, zombified George Romero; all of whom are giving stellar performances, but just playing themselves?! Do you wanna paaaaaaaaaaaar-taaaayyy, it’s party time… Getting all-star celebrities into the mix with this map is what marked a turning point for the Zombies Mode as a whole – while before it had just been some goofy fun intended purely as a supplement to the Campaign and Multiplayer (both of which were fantastic in Black Ops; it’s a very complete package even today), now there was much more money and effort going into the presentation, and fans began to take notice… Call of the Dead is what made Zombies Mode into the true “third piece” of Call of Duty that it became.
That scrub and polish didn’t just come in with the actors, though – there was a nice, thick coating of premium quality spread over the entire thing. The setting of a Siberian shipwreck on a lighthouse-bearing coast would be hard to mess up – it’s scenic in every possible way, from the carved-out ice tunnel to the partially submerged and exposed ship’s stern – but they cranked things up to eleven by including variable weather elements (raising the challenge when the storm kicks up and reduces visibility), pools of ice-cold water that can slowly freeze players and zombies alike, and the Pack-a-Punch being concentrated within the beam of the lighthouse (which lets it pivot is position around the map; some spots are much safer than others!). The sound design backs things up with bits of watery ambience, boat horns… And George’s horrifying, screen-shaking screams.
In George Romero, we have the greatest special zombie in the history of the mode, bar none; you can hear the sheer delight in every line he gets to say as our constant all-powerful menace, and his aplomb is well-justified… From the moment that bolt of lightning spawns him from the sky, his constant slow approach will be imposing enough; let him touch you (or damage him) and he’ll stop hiding behind that kindly old facade of his in favor of booking it after you to bash your skull in with his gigantic stage light. The only way to calm him down from here is to lead him into a pool of that Arctic water… And that’s where his strength lies. He moves so slowly that it’s easy to forget he’s even there as you train zombies around, but then you’ll turn a corner and BOO! He’ll be there, and probably surrounded by zombies; better place your shots carefully! Even if you listen carefully for his voice and little static sound effects so you can effectively avoid him, he’ll still be a threat; actively being around other zombies encourages him to occasionally supercharge some of them with blazing speed! If you get sick of him and want to take him down, you certainly can… With a lot of power, and a lot of patience. The thing about good ol’ Georgie is that he has a massive 250,000 health per player (adding up to a whopping 1,000,000 in a full game); even on solo, that’ll take 11 shots from a fully upgraded Scavenger! The fact that he drops a free perk bottle upon defeat makes the battle worthwhile… But since he’ll never stop rising from the dead, the battle is never truly over.
Speaking of the Scavenger, that’s Call of the Dead’s signature wonder weapon, and despite never being featured in another map and not being necessary for the Easter egg, people still remember this gun with a dependable fondness… Why? Well, you tell me how a person just forgets about an innocuous little sniper rifle, the shot from which marks an area or zombie to be smattered by an enormous explosion three seconds later! This is incredible enough under normal circumstances, but in co-op games the thing’s true potential shines – you’ll never be more helpful than you will when you fire a quick shot from the ship to save somebody who’s being swarmed just in front of the lighthouse, and helping always feels good… But the Scavenger isn’t the only gun that’s especially useful in co-op. While the other available wonder weapon – the VR-11, which looks like a Portal Gun with arctic camo on it – can be handy to create a distraction by turning a zombie hit by its effects into a human (as well as pacify George if he’s having a fit), but its real and best use is that it gives allies shot by it a temporary Instakill and Zombie Blood (predating that power-up by a good seven maps) effect!
That focus on co-op makes itself clear with the masterfully crafted main Easter egg (this good and it was only the second one ever! Wow)… But not in the exclusionary way that Black Ops had on Ascension, or would continue to have on Shangri-La and Moon. Sure, you could do Ensemble Cast with four players… But you could also do it with three, or two; and there was even a solo version of it called Stand-In, which has a couple fewer steps! While Treyarch Zombies would get a bit less stringent with its four-player requirement as time went on, it’d never make a unique, easier Easter egg exclusively for solo players ever again… Why? I don’t know, to be honest. Practicing that thing on solo or with just one friend is part of what helped me and many others become better players, and Call of the Dead deserves props for being way ahead of the game in that regard.
Also… Do you want to talk about hidden songs? Because Call of the Dead absolutely wins that bout with Avenged Sevenfold’s Not Ready To Die. It’s not just a great A7X song overall – you could put it right in the middle of City of Evil and it’d not only feel right at home, but be the top single – but the way it incorporated the new central Zombies theme Damned was exceptionally fitting not only with the game it was in, but with A7X‘s music; it had been sampled on the previous map with Abracadavre, but it wasn’t truly nailed until they did it again here… Just take a listen. It’s a masterpiece. It being easier to access (since only two early doors had to be opened to reach all three triggers) feels like a choice on Treyarch’s part; as if they were actively saying, “Go on, play it… We know you love it. We love it, too!”
The one and only thing this map is lacking in is infinite damage traps; while this limits the simplicity of a high-rounding playstyle, those guys like a good challenge anyway, right? Sweep that right out, because when you add in free and easy-to-use fast travel with the ziplines and flinger, the excellent guns and perks (including the introduction of Deadshot Daiquiri; if it weren’t for Deadeye Dewdrops making it even better, this would still be my favorite perk) of Black Ops, and the fact that you get to listen to Ultimis yammer amongst themselves while trapped in a closet… And it’s love. Call of the Dead was like an angel’s kiss; and despite fans understanding why it wasn’t remastered in Chronicles (the story it tells isn’t strictly essential to the Aether plot, and those likeness rights can’t be cheap), that didn’t diminish their sheer desire to see it come back again… Nor their sheer disappointment with how poorly Tag der Toten captured it. Overall recommendation: Are you blind, man? You make a Zombies map like this!
And now… The best Zombies map of all time is…
1 – DEAD OPS ARCADE
Ohhhhh yeeaah! This one was the best of the best, bar none! Remember how the giant gorilla came out of the sky and crushed you on the ending score screen? BLAM! Man, that was awesome! I – Wait a minute… Dead Ops doesn’t count!
Okay… For real this time. The best Zombies map ever made is…
1 – ZOMBIES IN SPACELAND
Mighty Treyarch was feeling pretty good about themselves by the end of Black Ops 3; their Zombies experience just kept getting better and better, while Sledgehammer’s attempt with Exo Zombies hadn’t been able to hold a candle to such enduring gems as Moon and Origins… Yep, they were on top of the world. But… Behind the scenes, Infinity Ward was scheming. They’d already created the best Campaign and Multiplayer in the series with Modern Warfare 2 (a record which is still intact), but Special Ops – despite its decent quality – didn’t manage to stand out as the best “Third/Co-op Mode”; and their next attempt with Extinction didn’t even come close! If they wanted to take that final crown, there was only one option available to them – to beat Treyarch at their own game. And you know what?
That’s just what they did.
See, Infinity Ward has always been a real innovator of a company – they built the military shooter up from the clunky Medal of Honor days into full-fledged modern FPS action with the very first Call of Duty, and they just kept improving with each release until took the whole world by storm when it came time for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Their legacy just keeps getting more impressive to this day – New Modern Warfare was a much-needed refresher of the old Call of Duty conventions while also hearkening back to the roots that made it great, and founding members’ own separate company Respawn Entertainment would go on to make AAA titles like the Titanfall series and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Thing is, though, people tend to forget that – because Infinity Ward made the complete flop that was Ghosts. Between that unfortunate blemish on their record and the next two series games featuring advanced movement mechanics (which are widely panned as being inferior to Titanfall‘s, and rightly so), Infinite Warfare‘s reveal showcasing advanced movement again was met with a collective groan from the fanbase… And on the Zombies end, some questionable marketing made it seem to many like IW Zombies was a cheap cash-in and an afterthought – the advertising of the “Zombies in Spaceland Pack” made many people think the pre-order bonus was also the Zombies map, rather than just some cosmetics; they assumed thusly that buying the game used wouldn’t include Spaceland at all – and this resulted in a pretty sizable group of fans outright skipping on the game entirely. Talk about a tragedy; Infinite Warfare had one of the best Campaigns in years, a pretty good multiplayer… And Spaceland: The map that singlehandedly won all of Zombies Mode for Infinity Ward.
Where do I even begin, here?.. Spaceland is… Well, let’s break it up the same way we did Final Reich; by category. But this time, you’ll see: rather than half-assing everything like the Reich, Spaceland actually went all-out!
The cast started out as being my least favorite since I didn’t appreciate the point behind their performances; there’s a bit of hokeyness to all of the characters in general which makes all of their performances come off as a tad amateurish and a little too “on-the-nose” for the 80s tropes that they were dressed up as when first sent into the film. It’s only after you play the map some more and see the differences in Redwoods that you realize the fridge brilliance behind this; the actors were all amateurs looking for their big break (as is evident in the opening cutscene), and acting out the (intentionally) stereotypical roles as best as they can. This made me respect their performance across the maps as a whole a lot more – while they’re no Mob-Stars, Scott Evil does a really good pocket-protector nerd voice. And, of course, the guest star steals the show – The Hoff is constantly calling out to players and cheering them on throughout the match, and he’ll help you with the Easter egg, too; and then he’ll do it himself once you unlock him as a playable character. The devious master of ceremonies Willard Wyler – played by the incomparable Paul Reubens – won’t like that very much; but don’t worry, he won’t get too jealous… Because you can unlock a playable version of him, too!
The layout can be described as a perfect blend of a central magnet and multi-layered roundabout; there’s plenty of ways to get back to the middle and plenty of ways to get from the middle to the rest of the map, but well-planned pathing can eschew touching the middle entirely if you prefer; shortcuts like the slides and water fountain next to Bang-Bangs and dangerous but time-saving walkway from Polar Peak to the Arcade (not to mention the interconnected underground tunnels) grant consistently useful rewards to those who learn about them all… And since this is a CoD game with a crouch slide, you’ll be amazed at just how many rough situations you can skip out of with enough skill. This is a hidden but surprisingly powerful strength – being able to take it a little easier with your strategy while still having enough leeway to make up for your mistakes means you won’t end up playing things overly safe to the extent of boredom when egg-hunting or high-rounding… Bored training around the stage on Kino? Too bad. Bored training around the center of Spaceland? Go somewhere else!
The map’s design… Good God, it’s flawless. An outer-space themed amusement park in the ’80s? That’s brilliant without developing the idea any further… But guess what? The park is cut up into five visually diverse locations! The center is awash in the deep blues and purples of nighttime, contrasted by a large glowing signs in cyan and pink… Head right, and there’s extraterrestrials galore, a big suckin’ hole trap and a gigantic alien crocodile in the red and orange-tinted Keplar System! Head left, and there’s valiant astronauts (that won’t steal your perks this time), a spinning kiddie ride that’ll knock zombies over and a giant space shuttle that’ll cook zombies beneath it like so much bacon in the blue-tinted Journey Into Space! Go straight, and there’s mysterious yetis, a massive laser trap and a ridable roller coaster on the light blue and green-tinted Polar Peak! Hang right from Journey, and you’ll find a dance floor trap that makes zombies boogie their brains out, a whole host of ticket-bearing arcade games you can play to earn prizes (along with actual Activision arcade machines, so you can play old-school games like Pitfall), and a set of dangerously overcharged bumper cars in the neon-swathed Astrocade! Even the cramped but exceptionally interconnected Employee Tunnels – which are appropriately quite barren of color (hey, you didn’t think the employees were having fun too, did you?) are open for your navigational pleasure.
Think it’s just the visuals carrying that theme? No sir – the sound design is just as top notch. Not only are all of the sound effects crisp, engaging and diverse (you’ll never forget the first time a Brute fires a laser beam at you, or when you make your first shot in the Astrocade’s basketball game), and not only are there two hidden songs – one found in the typical “three-trigger” fashion, while the other is a difficult but oddly engaging object hunt – but thanks to DJ Hoff, you’ve got twenty-four excellent backing tracks, from premier ’80s artists like R.E.M. and Ministry! These tracks are played just loudly enough to set the scene and score the mayhem unfolding around you, and their presence really shows how much Infinity Ward believed in this map – you don’t lay out the cash for that many licensed tracks unless you know you’re making something great.
The weaponset is a well-crafted one that gains a good amount of extra versatility from the game’s overall ideas about futuristic weaponry; why should a soldier of the future choose between a submachine gun or an assault rifle, when he can have both? The RPR-Evo, ladies and gentlemen! This idea got carried further with future updates – Infinity Ward added in everything from a burst rifle that turned into a melee weapon, to a sniper rifle that can swap into a shotgun mode. Even without the update weapons, there’s still extra diversity when it comes to the two classes of guns – slugthrowers, and energy weapons. Your standard bullet-based guns all work the way you would expect; their shots can penetrate, they get extra damage from the map’s equivalent of Double Tap 2.0, and you can equip them with an extended mag. Energy weapons, however, are a bit different; while their shots can’t penetrate (by default; certain upgrades and variants change that) or be boosted by Bang-Bangs (though the fire rate bonus always works), missed shots can reflect off of surfaces they impact with for another chance to hit, and most of their ammo supplies will slowly refill from your stock while not being fired, which can negate the need to manually reload… And energy weapons also tend to be a bit more accurate. Arcane Cores – which you can purchase with tickets you earn by playing minigames around the park – can be affixed onto your weapons and loaded with an element (earned by doing a simple soulbox for one of four tiny and moving UFOs around the map) to either enhance or these traits or make up for their deficiencies; a Venomous Core can remove recoil from a fast-firing machine gun, while a Violent Core can add massive splash damage to a teeny little peashooter… Feel like turning an ordinary gun into a pseudo-wonder weapon? Spaceland is your map.
As powerful as you can tweak standard weapons to be between attachments, Pack-a-Punching and an appropriate Core, they’ll never compare to Spaceland’s five special wonder weapons; four teensy little ray guns, and one big papa machine. Building those ray guns won’t be a walk in the park – each one requires three parts, and with steps as potentially complicated as shooting five targets that only appear if you put on a pair of shades, tossing a grenade hot-potato style from one portal to another, and throwing a Cryo Grenade at a yeti statue so he’ll freeze zombies for you so you can shoot them in the head, completing that sticker pack – that is to say, getting all four of them – is no easy feat! The reward for doing so, however, more than makes up for any difficulty in acquiring them… The Dischord can turn any zombie into a spinning breakdancing fool that will kill anything that walks near them! The Shredder will stop a horde in its tracks and disintegrate a nice chunk of it! The Face-Melter causes a zombie to spontaneously lose its legs and blast off rocket style, burning any zombies around it! And last but not least, the Head-Cutter will slice the head off of any zombie you shoot and turn it into a powerful explosive! These things are a high-rounder’s dream; they consistently work, they’re easy to craft if you know what you’re doing, and they can even be upgraded! If you don’t feel like doing any steps, though, there’s still one last wonder weapon to try – the Forge Freeze. Play a few arcade games to earn the tickets to buy it, and you can use it to instantly seal any zombie up in a block of ice; one touch from anything else – including a convenient pulse the weapon can fire with its secondary shot – and chilled zombies will be shattered like glass! It’s like a fusion of the Paralyzer and Winter’s Howl; two weapons you never knew could work together, but here, somehow… They do!
Want special grenades, too? Hm, well, there’s only a few to pick from… You’ve got fragmentation grenades, plasma grenades, semtexes, gas grenades, concussion grenades, cluster bombs, C4, exploding tactical knives, and the frosty cryo grenade… Is that enough for you? No? Well, good thing that’s only the primary slot; for secondaries, we’ve got repulsors, portal generators, Armageddons, rewinds, black hole grenades, trip mines, and transponders… Still not enough! For crying out loud… Fine! There’s also craftable equipment in the form of boomboxes, Kindle Pops, reprocators, sentry turrets, Medusa Devices, electric traps, fireworks, and the window laser traps… If you’re not satisfied with that, I don’t know what to tell you! There’re starving players in World at War, be more appreciative of what you’ve got!
Backing up your Rambo-esque arsenal is the usual cavalcase of perks; this time in candy form instead of sodas (or programs). You’ve got your typical Treyarch classics here – Tuff ‘Nuff, Racin’ Stripes, Bang-Bangs, Bombstoppers and Blue Bolts are just Juggernog, Stamin-Up, Double Tap 2.0, P.H.D. Flopper and Electric Cherry, respectively – but two perks recieved some tweaks that actually improved their utility: Quickies – the equivalent of Speed Cola – increased the window build speed boost further and sped up the speed you can switch between your weapons (along with using a unique animation for the faster reloads rather than just doubling the speed of the original one, making its utility a bit more gun dependent and less “Take me, take me!”), while Mule Munchies – the equivalent of Mule Kick – got a massive price reduction (down from 4000 points to 2000) and now carefully labels which weapon is benefitted so you won’t forget it. There’s also two new perks on this map – Slappy Taffy, which increases your melee damage and adds a bit of stun to your melee strikes, and Trail Blazers, which creates a trail of fire that can kill zombies behind you when you do a slide… Oh, and there’s one more thing to point out. While the Up ‘N Atoms perk is functionally identical to Quick Revive in that it lets you revive others faster and pick yourself up three times total when playing solo, what changes it is how the revive system works on Spaceland; rather than simply perishing and waiting for your friends to finish the round, you instead get spawned into the Afterlife Arcade. It’s got several of the same games inside of it as the Astrocade, and by playing them, instead of earning tickets, you’ll earn Soul Power; get that bar high enough, and you’ll earn a Revive Token, allowing you to get back into the game! This shakes up a core weakness of the Zombies Mode by keeping players engaged in the gameplay even if they flub up early one round… Don’t worry, though, it’s not too overpowered; reacquiring your dropped weapons from the Lost-and-Found is time-limited and requires a steep payment… And if that’s still not close enough to traditional for you, look at it this way – you get a free Revive Token once the round ends, so you can still play it the old-fashioned way… But at least now, you get to noodle around in Plaque Attack while you wait.
The map’s Easter egg is the only glimmer of frustration to be found here; that first step, where you have to defend the Seti-com at four different locations for ever-increasing amounts of time, is rough and requires a whole lot of training (the Rocky kind, not the choo-choo kind) and powerful weapons… And the boss battle, too, will test your very limits as you path around the central and starting area, trying to take down a powerful alien – one for every player in the game – and their limitless undead army! Talk about a rough boss fight; but unlike the Giant Apothicon on Der Eisendrache, our extraterrestrial adversaries fight much more fairly. Taking them down will no doubt become one of your proudest boss-fight victories!
There’s only one problem with this map – it’s too good! The next maps released in Infinite Warfare‘s cycle just couldn’t ever hope to match up to it despite good qualities of their own, and with the steady decline of Zombies Mode from WWII on, it’s become all too clear – Spaceland sucked up all that goodness for itself, demotivating their competition so badly that Treyarch struggled to rush out Zombies Chronicles to help cover up their secret shame… As good as Chronicles is, that function of it just didn’t work. Overall recommendation: OF COURSE PLAY IT, DUH! You can get complete bundles of Infinite Warfare for twenty bucks if you keep your eyes open; that’s only five bucks more than Rezzurection was!
The main thing I learned while making this list was that, while I could definitely create a complete ranking and justify it every step of the way, that didn’t mean the lower-ranked maps were unplayable; in fact, aside from the true duds in the 40s, that couldn’t be further from the truth! Each and every map has a special something to offer… Whether you’re blasting Nazis with a Ray Gun, soaring down onto experiments with an Exo Slam, making bodacious bogeys breakdance to Tainted Love, or popping a jumpscaring rot-gobbler in the face with a trench gun, killing zombies – whether by yourself, or with friends – is just plain fun; I fell in love with this game mode the second I laid eyes on it back in November of 2010, and nearly eleven years later, that love has only grown more and more… And if they keep comin’, you’d better believe this: I’ll keep killin’!
(This list is just based on my own analysis and opinions – but my word is far from absolute! What maps are your personal favorites? How about wonder weapons? Perks? Hidden songs? Any favorite gameplay moments? Discuss it in the comments!)