During our cover-story trip to Sledgehammer’s offices, we were able to get some hands-on time with Call of Duty: WWII’s zombies mode. This co-op diversion has been a longtime series staple, giving players a break from competitive shooting in favor of working together to blast apart the undead. After checking out the mode’s latest incarnation, PC editor Dan Tack and I sat down and reflected on our fun, but ultimately doomed, battle against those pesky zombies.
Jeff: Hey, Dan Tack. We played some Call of Duty: WWII zombies while we were out visiting Sledgehammer for your cover story. Before we dive into that too deeply, what’s been your experience with that mode? Is that something you look forward to with new entries? Do you spend much time killing the undead? Would you call yourself a grade-A zombie hound?
Dan: Zombie modes have become a staple for the series now, for better or worse. Despite zombies being an overplayed thing in media these days, they do a great job at differentiating them and finding some star power to kick them up a notch. I enjoyed the last few offerings, with the film-noir vibe and the campy ‘80s schtick. However, these modes have always really been for a hardcore audience, they are not easy in the slightest, and even with the franchise always inching toward accessibility for zombies, they require some serious co-op chops to take down and some digging around to find the secrets. That aspect of it has always been interesting to me, coming together as a community in the days after launch to discover the hidden mysteries as a group – on forums, in chat groups, etc.
Jeff: I find those elements interesting as well, though I’ll admit I spend most of my time admiring them from afar. I don’t like playing multiplayer games with randos, and it’s increasingly difficult to coordinate gameplay sessions with my friends as we’ve gotten older and spread across the country. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played – particularly the last super-goofy entry – but it’s definitely not a primary destination for me when I check out a new Call of Duty game. Fortunately for a lone wolf like me, the setup for our session was pretty much perfect: We had a full group of four, and you and I were accompanied by a pair of Sledgehammer employees who knew their way around the game’s Bavarian nightmare.
First things first, who did you play as? I picked Ving Rhames’ character, a guy named Jefferson Potts. Then I chose a support role, which gave me the ability to briefly cloak myself and avoid detection. It definitely came in handy when I needed to revive other teammates. Did you go for a more offense-oriented approach?
Dan: I opted for an offensive role as Marie, Katheryn Winnick’s character. Interestingly enough I believe players could pick any of the characters so you could have more than one of the same character on a team? I had an ability that really let me light up a room – unlimited ammunition (for a limited amount of time). As we got deeper into the mission, this was an absolute lifesaver when the hordes would be on us, it lasted a pretty significant time too. Being able to hold down the trigger and just mow down zombies was nice, but it didn’t detract from the difficulty – it’s definitely still there. Which is awesome, but at the same time the progression system seems a bit more lenient. You’re actually unlocking tangible perks and things, not just the ability to purchase a powerful gumball on your next run.
While we don’t know if this holds true for the entire mode, the dynamic fare we encountered was super cool, and should detract from players instantly running to guides and templates to handle the game – potentially no more “Okay first we go to this gate, do this thing, do that thing.” We had a few encounters that featured us having to move and groove killing zombies in a mobile location, meaning we’d have to be ready for that even if we have all the doors, gun spawns, and everything else memorized. Additionally, the map contains special spawns that are event/location triggered on top of the standard waves.
Jeff: Make no mistake, it’s still a wave-based mode, but you’re right when you say that it’s more dynamic. One of our early objectives was to power up some kind of freaky Tesla-like device, which meant following several power cords along the floor and flipping switches. That played out fairly predictably, requiring (or at least encouraging) us to provide backup for our switch buddies as they worked on repairs, lest they end up as zombie kibble. The interesting part came later, when the device was powered on. A weird apparatus on a ceiling-mounted track sprung to life, slowly making its way along the corridor. As it progressed, we needed to kill zombies within the energy field it generated to keep it powered on. It’s a relatively simple task, but it required everyone to wait for zombies to amble into the correct position before blasting them apart – a nice departure from the typical “Shoot on sight!” mode most of us operate on in FPS games.
Backing up a bit, what did you think of the setting? I know you went into the lore behind the zombies themselves a few days ago, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the actual location. Personally, I think I’ll need to spend more time in it to fully appreciate the smaller details. There aren’t neon colors or an ‘80s soundtrack to quickly establish what makes it different from other games. The corridors and rooms looked good – or as good as blood-spackled surfaces can look – but the stone walls and metal grates didn’t feel unique. You could have told me it was set in just about any era and I would have believed you. Am I crazy?
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Above, watch this clip from the Game Informer Show to hear more hands-on impressions.
Dan: It’s pretty early to make any kind of analysis here I think, but I liked the little village a lot. Underground, things started to blur together – but I can’t tell if that’s because the environments didn’t have rich detail or because we literally never stopped for a breather. The assault was relentless, and I didn’t have time to appreciate any finer things down there, if there were any. I was too busy trying to stay alive.
Jeff: On that note, I think we did pretty well for our first time. I found the cloaking to be fairly versatile, even though I did miss not being able to slaughter crowds as effectively as the rest of the crew. To balance my comparatively puny damage output, it made it easy to swoop in and revive a fallen comrade, and also get away from trouble when things got too hairy. As we progressed deeper underground, we ran into some of the game’s tougher enemies, like armored behemoths who liked to charge into battle. Thanks to my ability to turn invisible, I could run away from those guys and watch them become someone else’s problem. Yeah, yeah. I’m kidding. I retreated and picked them off from a distance. You saw that, right?
Dan: I didn’t see that. In fact I spent barely any time registering what was going on with anyone else, unless they were down and I needed to get them up. When those big bads started showing up, things really got hairy. Especially at the end, wave 13. That guy just wrecked all of us, no questions asked.
Jeff: It was a real bummer when we all eventually fell, since we were apparently on the last step toward acquiring some kind of Tesla weapon. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. What did you think overall? Would you stick with the same character/role next time around, or would you move on to something else? I gravitate toward support classes, so I’ll probably continue down that path. The tricky part will continue to be coordinating a time to play with my friends. As deadly as the undead (or reanimated) can be, they don’t compare to the nightmare that is adulthood.
Dan: I really wanted a lot more time to check out the “perks,” unlockables, and customization options before deciding. That said, I don’t think I’ll ever be running support – but I’m glad that they are moving toward a slightly more “RPG” bent with this than previous versions where you’re just a shell grabbing guns and running around.
Jeff: What can I say? I’m a helpful person. You’re right, though. It’s hard to gauge the long-term prospects for the mode without getting a better sense of the progression path. If it’s satisfying enough, I might be tempted to bang my head against the wall a few times as a solo player and see how far I can get.
Dan: We only got to play one round, so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more. I hope it may finally straddle the line between casual and hardcore by offering something for each audience. I’m sick to death of zombies on TV, in movies, and in games, but I am interested to see how this one plays out.
We’ll have more exclusive reveals, videos, and information on Call of Duty: WWII throughout the month, so be sure to check out the coverage hub.