Pack It Up, Call Of Duty - Zombies Is Dead, And You Killed It
It's undeniable at this point - Call of Duty Zombies is the unsung hero of the franchise's success.
Of course, the leading draw is the shooter action and its hectic multiplayer gameplay. It's what has defined the series, and is always the first thing that players think of when thinking of the FPS genre - but since World At War, it's had a charming little brother.
The franchise's Zombies mode has been a treat on and off for years, transitioning through developers, aesthetics and mechanics in an attempt to redesign the round-by-round survival mode every time, with varying degrees of success. There are the absolute favourite instalments, with World At War standing as the originator, Black Ops for continuing its legacy with grace and flair, and even as recently as Black Ops Cold War we've seen innovations on the series work a treat in terms of gameplay.
But Vanguard flubbed the mode, well and truly. And the disappointment-tinged fallout from its failures have reverberated through the legacy of Zombies, and left it to die despite the best efforts of Call of Duty. It's done, lads. Leave it be.
Call Of Duty Vanguard Dropped The Ball
It's clear to see just how much damage that Vanguard's efforts to join the Zombies train did to the mode. The first map to come to Vanguard's offering was Der Anfang, a meagre undead lick of paint on an existing multiplayer map that gave players a ticklist of objectives to complete around the large play area, but it offered little challenge, and truthfully, very little else to do. The map itself was open and barren, and without the round-based structure that defined it, the map felt more like a hub world than it did an experience in its own right.
The disappointment was palpable from the very first moment, with the CoDZombies subreddit going into meltdown after discovering that the mode wasn't going to be the triumphant and dark prequel to Black Ops Cold War's version of Zombies that they thought it was going to be.
Infinity Ward didn't have the time or resources to effectively create a fresh Zombies experience that delivered on all fronts, as they seemed to have been added to the game's development rather late in the game. And though they tried to claw it back, it simply couldn't tread back on their mistakes.
Vanguard Can't Raise Zombies From The Dead
The game has tried relentlessly to revive the mode by giving fans what they wanted all along - a round-based mode that follows in the footsteps of the mode's predecessors. The disaster that came from the first map has led to the announcement of every new map after it to have to advertise it as such, in case fans were worried they'd miss the mark again.
In order to recover from the weaknesses of the Zombies mode at launch, Vanguard needed to pull something breathtaking out of its pocket - and it simply failed to do so. The maps since have been perfectly fine, a serviceable replication of what came before it, but never once in the life cycle of Vanguard have Zombies fans been gripped by potential and impressed with its maps. It's a sad and sorry state for the game to be in, especially after the player drop-off for the game's multiplayer mode too, but at this stage, it seems there's nothing that can be done. Not even the best map in the mode's history coming to Vanguard next could save the reputation of Vanguard's sorry attempts to patch up nostalgia, and Zombies in 2021 and 2022 will remain better forgotten.
Zombies May Be Done For Good
Of course, it's likely that Call of Duty will give Zombies another crack. After all, the super-fan fervour from Zombies fans is something that the series can't afford to lose, and it's a massive draw for the games. But it may never be the same again.
As the mode tries to innovate in new ways while maintaining the things that made it so special in the first place, its already limited toy box is running more barren than ever. We adore Call of Duty Zombies, but we adore it for what it was, not what it is. It brings us no joy to say it, but its time has come. Zombies has run out of reanimations, and is better off left in the grave.