Black Ops II's Zombie Mode: A Bit Of Left 4 Dead, A Whole Lot Of Fail

When I had enough of Call of Duty: Black Ops II's campaign, I decided to spend some time with its more fantastical mode, Zombies. These are my thoughts.

There are three game types: the story-based "Tranzit", the classic "Survival", and, less excitingly, the maliciously spirited "Grief". All overtly have the same premise: using teamwork, survive/kill the zombies. You get points for shooting the zombies or building barricades, which you can use to buy weapons, upgrades or vending-machine powerups depending on the mode.

The overall aesthetic makes you think Fallout -- it's very '50s, but combined with some futuristic elements, if not fantastical ones. You can't help but wonder what happened -- how did this world, which has rayguns, assault rifles, magical teddy bears and is bursting with lava get infested by zombies? What in the heck? Enter Tranzit, which apparently has some sort of explanation for what's going on.

I word it this way because boy, is almost everything but the "shoot zombies" part of Tranzit inscrutable. You start off on a small bus depot as one of the five available characters. The reason it's a small map, I'm guessing, is because it's one of many -- from the depot you can take a bus to other locations.

You can stay in any one place for as long as you're able to keep shooting the zombies down. But the promise of learning more, if not enjoying a change of scenery, will likely entice you to hop aboard the bus. The single prompt that the game gives you (at first) is "turn the power on" - so you figure that you should go find out how to do that.

About that "what happened?!" investigation: as of this writing, after spending a few hours with Tranzit, I have no idea what's going on. In fact, were it not for the video that was posted on Kotaku earlier this week that explains what you're supposed to do, I doubt I'd be able to figure much of anything out on my own!

Get this: every map has a number of objects in them, which you're supposed to find and craft into other items. The game gives you no indication that this is the case. Unless you're standing directly in front of the item, there's nothing to signal you might be able to interact with it.

This is a typical scenario: you get to a new location, and you try to hover over every single object on the map -- because hey, what if you can pick it up? It reminds me of adventure games, where you're trying to find that one pixel where you can click, and then on top of that you have to figure out what random combination you have to put these items in to get a new one.

And when you figure that out, you still have to figure out what to DO with these items. How the heck was I supposed to know that that mannequin-turbine contraption is supposed to be put in front of doors so they can be opened? There's nothing gratifying about stumbling on the answer -- I never felt like I "figured something out."

Once you memorize what's where and what combines with what, going through the maps relies on rote memorization -- which can be confusing for anyone that's not in on how things work. I know I've felt like a lost puppy while following players who seemed to know about items that I didn't know about or what their usage was.

In theory Zombies is a great addition to the Black Ops II package, but everything outside of "Survival" isn't really worth your time.

I imagine that other players felt the same as I rush through maps that I do know some things about. Its in the exchanges with other players that you realise just how little sense any of Tranzit makes, and that you either need a FAQ, a zombie-sherpa or dumb luck to get through it.

Apparently there's a Wiki that explains the story that Tranzit is supposed to. I honestly can't be bothered, and I'm typically a fan of subtle games. This isn't subtle, it's just obtuse. Don't take this to mean the mode can't be fun; the shooting part is still enjoyable and if you want to just hang out and take care of the undead, you totally can. But if the purpose of Tranzit is to communicate a story, then it fails.

This is a shame, because everything about the aesthetic tells me there might be something interesting here; I'm genuinely curious about what happened! It almost seems like Tranzit wanted to channel Left 4 Dead a little, what with the story, subtle storytelling and the unique characters -- which remind me a little of the characters from L4D. But the story is hardlyCall of Duty's strong suit, and at best, the characters in Zombies are tired archetypes like "nerd." The nerd says really annoying things in a nasally voice. He is one of the better characters.

Ultimately if you just want to shoot some zombies, why not play the classic survival mode instead? Just your standard survive-as-long-as-possible, buy-upgrades-if-you-want-them and try-to-rack-up-as-many-points-as-possible game type. Nothing fancy, but serviceable.

Survival starts looking particularly attractive when compared to Grief. I have nothing good to say about this mode. It sounds like it might be a good idea, but the implementation is lackluster. Unlike the other game types, this one pits you against another team -- 4 vs 4. The name of the game type gives it away: you're supposed to grief other players. You can't do this in a directly, not exactly -- like you can't shoot a non-zombie enemy down. But you can block their way, or you can smack them while they're trying to revive a teammate -- to name a few tactics. You're supposed to outlive the enemy team this way.

The problem is that there is no way to coordinate anything, not as far as I can tell. Every time I've played, it's been a test of endurance -- in the bad way. How long can you wait around until the enemy messes up and you have a chance of maaaaybe making something happen? Matches can last forever, and unless the other team is utterly incompetent, it's not difficult to revive someone and make sure your team keeps on trucking. But at that point, if the other team is that awful, there's no real joy in beating them. The times that I lost it was because I gave up.

I found myself either yawning out of boredom while playing Grief, or wishing that the game would end -- because I didn't want to be a jerk and just leave. Also a shame: multiplayer modes that have you griefing other players, like in New Super Mario Bros, can be a delight. Making other people mad in a playful context is fun! Alas.

In theory Zombies is a great addition to the Black Ops II package, but everything outside of "Survival" isn't really worth your time.


    While I don't necessarily disagree with your point of view on this, putting comments in like "Apparently there’s a Wiki that explains the story that Tranzit is supposed to. I honestly can’t be bothered" does nothing but put me off. If reading the wiki is too much for you maybe somebody else should do the article.

      While poorly worded, what I think Patricia was trying to get at is that a person shouldn't have to read a wiki in order to discover the story the game is ineffectually trying to tell; a sentiment that I certainly agree with. However, I haven't played enough of Tranzit as of yet in order to personally determine whether Patricia is correct in her judgment of the failings of the storytelling.

    The story mode is SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THAT LOL. Its for the more "hardcore" players who have been following the storyline since World at War - new players certainly wouldnt be able to jump in and get it without playing the older maps.

    Also I saw the strategies for how to play grief - you get perks which can lure the zombies into the enemy and knifing the other team stuns them and pushes them backwards :D
    You need to be strategic and keep them away from the box and run trains into them or push them of of ledges or into the lava pits.

    Wow this is making me even more excited for zombies!!!!

      One week later, after he's played the zombie modes for a few hours...

      You're pissed someone has an opposing opin.......

      Oh shit wait its the internet...

    This article is crazy. Tranzit is one of the best additions to Zombies and I cannot wait until they release more Tranzit maps. All the crypic things make it fun, and instead of being confined to one map, you have more than one.

    Lovely gametype and I have no idea why he doesn't like it. Don't listen to him

    This article, in my opinion is very unfair and biased. Transit, is meant to be a gamemode, not a zombies campaign. Yes, there is a story element but only if you're not ignorant and actually have followed the story since world at war. Yes, the game can be confusing at times but that's half the challenge. You expect all the info to be listed to you every time you play a game? Actually take the time to follow a series before you do a horribly made review on it..

    In theory Kotaku is a great addition to the internet, but everything outside of unbiased factual journalism isn’t really worth your time.

    PS. Patricia isn't a "him". While I think she spend a lot of time writing this, I think the reason she feels this way is because "she" is a she. Most women don't like mindless killing and she probably wan't too excited to write this in the first place.

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