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Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies

For: iPhone   Also on: Android, iPad, Xperia Play

Back from the dead

Product: Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies | Developer: Ideaworks Game Studio | Publisher: Activision Blizzard | Format: iPhone | Genre: Arcade, Conversion, Shooter | Players: 1-4 | Version: Europe | App version: 1.0.0
Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies iPhone, thumbnail 1
It’s hard to escape the hype surrounding a new Call of Duty game.

It starts with competitors ragging on the previous title in the series, escalates into interviews with Infinity Ward/Treyarch, and culminates with posters stuck on every bus and lodged in-between programmes your girlfriend likes to watch (much to her annoyance).

That’s true in console-world, at least. On mobile, Call of Duty just seems to appear out of nowhere - no fanfare, no interviews, and definitely no adverts.

Which is a bit strange when you think about it. It’s not that BLOPS: Zombies (as it shall henceforth be called) is a ‘bad’ game. It may not be the complete Call of Duty experience on mobile, but as a straight mobile port of the main game’s additional mode it does its job very well.

And I was told you were the best

The aim is, as always with Zombies, to survive for as long as possible against waves of the living dead before you and up to three other comrades are inevitably cut down by the horde - all the while buying weapons from walls and activating traps if you’re a beginner, or downing perk sodas and Pack-A-Punching your guns (upgrading, essentially) if you know what you’re doing.

That’s the beauty of Zombies. While it may come across as a simple reaction test at first, with an emphasis on repairing defences and opening doors to other areas in the map when you get overwhelmed, extended play moves the focus onto managing ammo and upgrades over blind, panicked shooting.

Ideaworks hasn’t messed with the formula. In fact, the team has done another sterling job in keeping the Zombies experience as close to the console version as possible.

The enemies aren’t quite as fast as before, and you can no longer diving-jump down the spiral staircase on Kino der Toten (or even just jump, for that matter), but almost everything else from the main game remains intact.

Enemy spy-plane detected

Control-wise, not much has changed since World At War: Zombies, with Touch being the default (and best), Tilt being infuriatingly inaccurate (as usual), and Twin Stick being effectively the same as Touch.

The autoaim is extremely generous, with my headshot tally hitting 200 on my first playthrough (out of 340 kills), but the lack of any gun-brandishing foes actually helps to mask the inherently inaccurate nature of touchscreen FPS controls.

One thing that does rankle, however, is the removal of the option to use a dedicated ‘fire’ button. BLOPS: Zombies instead runs with the ‘tap to fire’ method that, while okay for single/burst fire weapons, doesn’t activate automatic fire properly when backpedalling.

On the flip side, this does mean the Magnum actually serves a purpose now, although that’s not so great when you hit Wave 30 and have hundreds of the blighters bearing down on you.

Friendly Apache inbound

Disappointingly, BLOPS: Zombies only comes with one ‘proper’ map - the aforementioned Kino - half of what the console version had on release and even less then that when you factor in the subsequent DLC.

To be fair to the game, Kino is a far better map than anything offered up in World at War, with clever rooms designed for maximum panic-inducing standoffs (don’t try and hold out in the dressing room or alleyway), and a satisfying, if relatively simple, system for accessing the fabled Pack-A-Punch machine.

The re-appearance of the ‘fetch me their souls’ demonic dogs and addition of ‘crawler’ zombies that explode with view-obscuring NOVA gas add a bit of spice to proceedings. But despite the quality of the map design, it’s hard to shake the feeling that one level for £4.99/$6.99 is a bit on the steep side.

The bomb has been planted

To be fair, there’s also Dead Arcade, a bizarre twin-stick arcade-shooter included as a hidden extra in the main game.

Unfortunately, Dead Arcade comes across as a bolt-on in gameplay terms, with an overhead view that’s too zoomed-out to be useful and pacing that will likely make you want to kill yourself (virtually, I mean) before the enemy does.

Indeed, one of the main complaints I have with both versions of Zombies is that once you get to a certain level of skill (or, in the case of Dead Arcade, as soon as you start a game) there’s simply no challenge for a good 30-60 minutes of gameplay.

This is an issue that affected the console version as well. It’s just a shame that Ideaworks didn’t, or wasn’t given leeway to, correct this.

Thankfully, there’s always the co-op to keep you interested, this time using Game Center for local and online match-ups.

Or at least there would be if the online mode worked. Alas, at the time of writing the servers were down, which meant I couldn't test out this portion of the game. 

Danger close

Nevertheless, BLOPS: Zombies is an expensive, but fairly accurate, port of the Zombies mode from Black Ops.

It’s not going to suddenly convince anyone who hated it before - in fact the sticky auto-fire is likely to annoy a fair few who liked it, too - but unlike Modern Combat 3 it's not a game trying to be something it can’t possibly match.

Rather than being a little bit like having Call of Duty on your phone, it's like having a little bit of Call of Duty on your phone. Which is infinitely preferable.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies
Reviewer photo
Will Wilson | 2 December 2011
Some niggles with the controls and pricing aside, Call of Duty: Black Ops: Zombies is a fine port of the entertaining survival mode
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Jan 2012
Post count:
Droppinzombies | 23:47 - 22 January 2012
I am in love with the zombie series for all systems including the iPad. The game is very addicting. The call of duty zombies is way better than the black ops version on iPad. I don't like how black ops doesn't offer the ray gun or the thunder gun. Both are great games seen as how they are on a portable system.(iPad). No other portable system offers this kind of game play. Or graphics. So stop being haters.
Dec 2011
Post count:
eddyminky | 13:15 - 6 December 2011
Dont agree with this review at all, check out this guys opinion http://thesmartphoneappreview.com/2011/12/06/call-of-duty-black-ops-zombies-iphone-review/
Nov 2011
Post count:
Lonely Tylenol | 07:52 - 3 December 2011

Thanks for responding. I just read the MC3 thread, and I just wanted to say I'm sorry that happened, and I did not mean for my post to come off that way at all! I do not by any means intend to call for a mass exodus from (or mad execution of) PocketGamer.

First off, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to explain and defend your views on the two games. I don't necessarily agree with them, but I do respect you for expounding on this.

I agree that a smaller game that executes itself well is better than a larger game that makes its grand, swooping gestures clumsily--I just don't think that this is one of those games. I mean, let's look beyond the fact that it's a single level of a novelty game mode ported from Treyarch's CoD title of yesteryear, and all the problems that entails--like the total lack of variety, story, or depth on any other level (because we've accepted from the onset that this is going to be the case--in the interest of fairness, insulting BLOPS: Zombies for being only one game mode is like insulting MC3 for being a clone). I think that some critical gameplay elements, from my (admittedly minute) experiences with the game, are off.

First are the issues of framerate dropping. If you're playing on a 4S, this isn't that big of an issue--the dual-core processor can handle a lot, and it seems to handle te game RELATIVELY well--but if you're playing on an iPhone 4 or any other device that isn't current-gen, the game suffers from issues of the framerate dropping, and when your FPS has a low FPS, you've got a problem. I'm not talking about in the late game, when "hundreds of blighters" are attacking you from all sides--then the framerate dropping would at least make sense, even though it would ostensibly be a game-ender, as every split-second counts--but instead about more or less every time you have zombies (plural) on your screen, even in the mellow early waves. BLOPS: Zombies is not a premier graphical title, nor is it trying to handle a million things at once, but it IS the type of game that needs to stay on pace, so this is inexcusable.

The other problem is in the controls. You've already mentioned some of the control issues, like the lack of automatic fire, but I believe the "buttons appear to the touch" model is just a flawed control scheme in general (and twin-stick doesn't really work for FPS). Moreover, and this is a difference of opinion here, but I find the auto-aim feature (which you've cited as a redeeming quality of its control scheme) as a cardinal sin. It completely robs the player of the challenge of having to aim a gun in a game where the only point is to aim your gun at things and shoot. This was actually the very thing that made Star Batallion, another Gameloft title, more or less unplayable to me, as it basically degraded the game to a point where you just have to run in the general direction of (or in this case, backpedal away in the general direction from) your enemy, hold the "fire" button, and let auto-aim do the rest.

There are also problems innate to the game mode, which again, you've mentioned; once you move far enough along the difficulty curve, playing a new game from Wave 1 is like starting Guitar Hero II's career over from the low tiers after getting 5* on Free Bird on Expert... But these are problems innate to any game: they become too easy once they are mastered.

But I digress; I admit that my understanding of the two games is incomplete, but I do think Activision has made a few mistakes that they literally cannot make with this game or any other, like rendering it unplayable because it gets too choppy.

Thanks again for reading and responding. I don't agree with you, but I can definitely see where you're coming from here, which is more than I could hope to have gotten from most.
Apr 2011
Post count:
lucks143 | 21:29 - 2 December 2011
Can anyone explain to me why games like this are not on android yet? and where the hell is Modern combat 3? its been a month...
Dec 2010
Post count:
PG BBilson | 12:37 - 2 December 2011
Okay chaps. To avoid this comments thread turning into the one from MC3, I'm going to step in early.

Firstly, this isn't a 'shoddy port', otherwise I'd have ripped it a new one, being a big COD fan and all. The game is essentially the same as the console version in all the areas that matter, with some subtle tweaks to certain areas so it works better on the touchscreen that most people won't even notice.

That out of the way, the main issue here is one about Content vs Quality. MC3 apes COD and does a lot (but not that well), whereas Zombies works much better thanks mainly to the opposition you come up against and the structure of the gameplay, but lacks variety.

Let's ignore MC3's single player campaign because, let's face it, it's rubbish. Nice-looking, sure, but rubbish and really not worth shouting about.

So that leaves the MP. Certainly the best competitive MP on iPhone, but I don't think that gives it a free pass to gushing multi-part reviews.

Take the map design - there aren't any good maps in MC3. Dead-ends and easy camping spots litter each one, and that one on the bridge is laughable. Then there's the ranking system (when it works - I still hear of people having the ranking problem) which can basically be 'bought' by IAP. Not a game-breaking thing in itself, but it kind of makes progression feel pointless (also, I spent money buying the game, I don't want to be killed by a fully specced out guy because I wasn't going to hand over even more money)

Then there's the actual flow of the game. Yes, the controls aren't terrible and - sometimes - actually work really well, but they're not fast and accurate enough for a run-and-gun shooter, which is what MC3 tries to be. Most of the time your kills will come from people spawning next to you, thanks to the aforementioned poor map design. Unless you're rubbish and try and play the game like COD, of course. Good luck with that

As I said in the review of MC3 if you're willing to overlook its flaws then you'll enjoy it, and there's certainly a lot of content to enjoy. It's also a worthy stab at recreating a larger game - I don't give a damn if it's a 'clone' as long as it's fun to play.

However, I personally prefer a smaller game that works well to a bigger game that doesn't always hit the mark.
Nov 2011
Post count:
Lonely Tylenol | 10:41 - 2 December 2011
He makes a good point. I'd like to see you (the PocketGamer writers) give me an objective comparison of Modern Combat 3 and Black Ops Zombies and tell me which is REALLY better. When you do, please get off Gameloft's back about it being a clone factory. We all know it's a clone factory. The fact is, it's a SUCCESSFUL clone factory because its clones are typically better (within the genre, at least) than any competitive iOS offering.

Case in point: Modern Combat 3 vs. BLOPS: Zombies. Released within a month of each other at the same price point, the former is a fully featured game--with a complete, episodic campaign, level diversity and fully-featured multiplayer, plus a design team that explicitly created the game to run well on iOS/Android, which means the graphics and control scheme are impressive for the medium, but also designed with an awareness of its limitations--while the latter is a shoddy, hastily presented port of a single level of a novelty port of an CoD game meant to cash in on the success of MW3 during the holiday rush. If I had to blow $7 on either game (and admittedly, I'm not much for the genre anyway), it'd be MC3, because it's a complete package that is presented relatively well. Even for being a single game mode, BLOPS: Zombies looks (and actually is) incomplete, and feels like it's coasting on brand name recognition.

You can say all you want about Gameloft being a shamelessly unoriginal clone port, because it is. But as long as publishers like Activision settle for making ham-handed money grabs on the mobile platform as opposed to pushing for real, substantive games, Gameloft will continue to be the best at what it does within the mobile market, and they WILL stick around to make clones.
Dec 2011
Post count:
Bandit82 | 09:42 - 2 December 2011
You people's hate for gameloft is really pathetic. Since when is having a little bit of a good thing better than having a complete package of the said good thing? Even with the horrible controls, framerate and washed out graphics that come with these activision zombie games, you people continue praising them over God knows what and trashing stellar gameloft counterparts with much better presentation and controls. Can't you be COD critics for once? Shoddy game journalism indeed.