Now this is more my style… well, sort of, anyway. As I explained in my preview of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s main multiplayer mode, out of the few experiences I’ve actually had with the series, many of them came from (badly) playing the Zombie mode with friends on World at War almost a decade ago. As terrible as I was, the concept of zombie survival was at least somewhat more novel for video games in 2008 — and so returning to it after this much time, I wondered what evolutions we’d see when full games in the genre are basically a dime a dozen on mobile app stores and Steam.
Infinite Warfare’s take, called Zombies in Spaceland, wants to draw players in with the much-loved “cheesy ’80s aesthetic,” and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t roll my eyes a few times when I previewed it at Call of Duty XP 2016. While I know there are hundreds of passionate developers putting in good work on this franchise, what I saw felt more to me like processed, flavorless government cheese than a natural, runny Brie.
I really don’t want to sound too critical — this is a preview and not a review, after all — but I doubt the aesthetics of this mode will become any more inspired in the next couple of months. To clarify my issue here, it’s that the ’80s vibe feels like a cheap imitation rather than a truly inspired theme; I could almost hear the focus groups at work. I do like that the soundtrack seemed to take deeper cuts from the likes of Twisted Sister and The Specials rather than the obvious stuff, but everything else is predictable, garish or a mixture of both: neon colors, a bunch of uninspired playable stereotypes and cringe-inducing dialogue where every line drips with an excess of effort.
Remember when EA promoted Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 at E3 2015 by having a guy dressed in a zombie suit stride out onstage to Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone”? The audience got whiplash from the collective cringe, and that moment of teeth-gritting discomfort is analogous to what Zombies in Spaceland has going on.
…But that’s to say nothing of the actual gameplay itself, which is a lot better than the audiovisual experience might lead you to believe. Nothing here should strike anyone as particularly surprising or revolutionary, but it’s a solid bit of lighthearted, co-operative fun that serves as a nice contrast to the ultra-hardcore attitude on display by the main multiplayer mode. Waves of zombies come in, you work together to take them down, and you gradually accrue cash that allows you to purchase better weapons, ammo and access to new parts of the map.
As you progress through the rounds, here referred to as “Scenes” (because there’s actually a “narrative” that involves the four characters being hired to be part of a movie that ends up being all too real… or something like that, anyway), you come across new enemy types — such as a particularly pesky group of exploding zombie clowns that can cause heavy damage if you take them out at close range.
Most of the pleasures here come from the map slowly opening up more and more as you kill more zombies, and beyond the main lanes, there are some interesting secret paths to open up if you’ve got the cash. After our team failed the first time, I did feel compelled to try again, and I’m sure plenty of people will get a huge kick out of putting together foolproof strategies to take things as far as possible with minimal losses.
If you’ve been a fan of the Zombie modes in previous Call of Duty entries, it’s looking like Infinite Warfare‘s Zombies in Spaceland will hold up as a bit of goofy, but still fairly strategic, fun alongside the regular multiplayer offerings. It was hard to shut up my inner cynic, who winced at the phony ’80s tribute and shrugged at yet another zombie survival experience in a gaming age chock-full of them, but I ultimately had a pretty good time with what I saw. In any case, it’s nice that Infinity Ward has taken a crack at things so players won’t have to wait until Treyarch’s next game to get their zombie-blasting fix.
Stay tuned to We Got This Covered for more coverage of Call of Duty XP 2016, including a hands-on preview of Modern Warfare Remastered.