Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare's second map pack, released this week, brings us a game mode filled with the sights and sounds of 1970's New York City, kung fu superpowers, and the undead. For developer Infinity Ward, which has struggled with Zombie mode in the past, it's a new beginning.
"Shaolin Shuffle," released today on PlayStation 4 and coming in a month for Xbox One and PC, gives players a taste of 1970s New York, complete with kung fu fighting through hordes of undead. Pam Grier (Jackie Brown) joins as the celebrity ally assisting the four characters as they train to learn the way of the dragon or one of the other cool elemental animal superpowers.
The dragon, tiger, crane, and snake are all options to choose for your superhero path. Players will harness their chi and unleash one of the elemental powers on waves of disco zombies.
And what New York City theme is complete without rats? Players must train hard with their superpowers because Shaolin Shuffle has a crazy Rat King boss fight.
Originally introduced in 2008's Call of Duty: World at War as "Nazi Zombies," the cooperative zombie-killing mini-game quickly became a trademark of that game's developer Treyarch, appearing in all three of its Black Ops games. Infinite Warfare was Infinity Ward's first attempt at such a mode, but last year's launch was missing something.
The first two maps, "Zombies In Spaceland" and "Rave in the Redwoods," both offered goofy 80's and 90's themes, but were criticised among the Zombies community for their lack of depth. I felt that the wacky era themes really help set the maps apart from Treyarch's, but the formula never advanced beyond "a wacky theme and a celebrity guest ally," and you never really got an opportunity to get to know the characters you play.
If you've played any of Treyarch's Zombies modes, you're familiar with Dempsey, Nikolai, Takeo, and Richtofen, characters that garnered in-depth backstories over a span of four Treyarch developed Call of Duty titles. But the four characters of Infinite Warfare are nothing more than bad stereotypes with equally bad one-liners. They have names I never bother to remember, and unless Infinity Ward continues to add depth to the characters, I may never actually care about any of them.
"Shaolin Shuffle" at least shows they're trying. Infinity Ward has added character bios so you can learn more about them; I've yet to unlock these bios, but there's a Trophy listed as such: "Book Worm: In Shaolin Shuffle, find and collect all bios for AJ, Andre, Poindexter, and Sally."
I hope there's some good stuff in there: I've had a ton of fun playing Infinity Ward's Zombies so far, but I'm a sucker for a good story. Give me some mystery, more puzzles to solve with friends, and characters who are more than Breakfast Club stereotypes.
Another complaint about the first two maps was the lack of complex Easter eggs. Again, Treyarch set the bar high with each of its Zombies maps, each of which contained a series of complex steps to find hidden pieces of the adventure, which often tied into the next chapters in the story.
But with Infinite Warfare, reaching the "Zombies in Spaceland" alien boss fight was pretty easy if you worked fast enough, and "Rave in the Redwoods" took the community only around six hours to solve. Some of Treyarch's secrets took the combined power of the Internet, working in tandem, as long as five days to figure out. Personally, I can still feel the defeat of getting to the final step of one of its puzzles just to screw it up and lose several hours of my life.
Some hope: As of this writing, Shaolin Shuffle's main Easter egg has not been solved. Even obtaining the sought-after Pack-a-Punch machine that lets you upgrade your weapons requires more time and steps than previously seen in the last two Zombies maps.
Did Infinity Ward amp up the complexity to appease the highly critical Zombies community? This certainly feels like a more Treyarch-ish Zombies experience dropped into the wacky, fun Infinite Warfare environment, and a good sign for future developments.