Call of Duty: Zombies was a hit on the iPhone, a simplified port of the popular "Nazi Zombies" game from Call of Duty: World at War—players fight to defend a building from increasingly difficult waves of advancing undead. It was a fairly humble iOS first-person shooter, but it had a strong brand behind it, was fun, featured halfway decent FPS touch-controls, and even gave players the ability to team up online with up to three friends.
With the just-announced Black Ops Zombies, (Which launches tomorrow, December 1, for $6.99), the entire game has been, for lack of a better phrase, "taken to the next level." What began as a small, quickly created project has been given the benefit of extra development time and a team that was more familiar with the platform and the desires of its fans. I visited with Activision representatives a couple of weeks ago to check out the game, and was impressed with what I saw. Much more so than its bare-bones predecessor, Black Ops Zombies is a well-realized iOS incarnation of its console-based brethren.
Firing the game up on an iPad 2, the first thing that jumped out was the slickness of the presentation. Gone are the simple menus of the first iOS COD: Zombies. In their place is a very cool comic-book style, with all of the menus set into comic-book panels in a eye-catching, colorful way. The game's options are fleshed out as well—multiple control presets are available, from on-screen thumbsticks to integrated touch controls. There's also a slider for graphical quality—I was assured that the iPhone 4, 4s, and iPad2 would have optimal experiences, and that players with older phones would want to bring the (single) graphics slider down a bit to get better performance.
Any of four characters from the console version are available to play (I did not see the American presidents, unfortunately). The whole thing has the same campy vibe of the zombies game from the console versions of Black Ops. There are three difficulties: Recruit is manageable and casual, Regular is a challenge, and Veteran is very difficult, more or less on par with the steep difficulty of the console version.
Menu navigation complete, I started playing, and I found something very surprising: Black Ops: Zombies has some of the smoothest iOS FPS controls I've used. I opted to go with the on-screen thumbsticks, which in theory shouldn't be much different than the controls of the first COD: Zombies. But there is one small tweak that makes a world of difference: The thumbsticks aren't set in place; they move to wherever you place your thumbs.
This isn't the first game to take this approach, but it's as welcome as ever. Leaving aside the fact that in general, touch-screen thumbsticks are a drag, I like to slide my thumbs up a ways on the iPad, and am never quite comfortable playing with the thumbsticks down in the lower corners of the screen. In Black Ops: Zombies, you're able to put your thumbs wherever you want, and the game instantly moves to allow for your new thumb-position. Your reload and aiming buttons are attached to the right thumbstick, so if you slide your thumb around, they come with you. It's slick.
The game itself plays more or less like an updated version of its predecessor, though the improved controls make a world of difference. Zombies come in through the windows, you shoot them—you build your defenses back up, unlock new areas, and buy new guns. The graphics have improved significantly from the first iOS game, and the zombies blow apart in appealingly gross ways.
Another new feature is the game's support of in-game voice-chat. That's pretty cool! I didn't have a chance to try this out, but all four players can chat using their iPhone/iPad headphones. That allows for much more tactical gameplay, especially when combined with the newfound ability to make characters crouch. Players can now plan defensive strategy and stack up to hold off the horde, just like in the console game. Another cool addition is a full port of the "Dead Ops Arcade" top-down shooter from Black Ops—this isn't adapted to iOS, it's a full port. It's playable from the menu.
Black Ops: Zombies looks to be a fleshed-out, hardcore game that should make fans of the first iOS game (and iOS action fans in general) very happy. It will release tomorrow, December 1st and will cost $6.99. I followed up to ask about an Android version, and Activision is "not prepared to talk about that at this time." At the event, I did get assurances that they plan to support the game post-release with maps and other DLC, and that none of those updates will cost players a cent. Sounds pretty good to me.
Here is Activision's full announcement:
We're excited to announce Call of Duty®: Black Ops Zombies, coming to your favorite iOS handheld devices this Thursday, December 1st. Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies is an iOS game app based on the Zombies mode from Treyarch's best-selling console hit Call of Duty®: Black Ops, and adapted by Ideaworks Game Studio, who built it specifically for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies delivers a Zombies experience never before seen on mobile platforms, including the original Call of Duty: Black Ops map Kino der Toten, and 50 levels of Dead-Ops Arcade, with even more features, upgrades and maps to come. Gamers can play solo, or battle it out in a true multiplayer experience with up to four people using the new Voice Chat feature.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies is optimized for 3rd-generation devices and higher, allowing for unparalleled graphics and performance on a mobile device. Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies is rated "M" (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Strong Language.