Call of Duty's obscure top-down zombies minigame sure has come a long way since it had to be hacked out of a computer terminal in the original Black Ops. Dead Ops Arcade is back in Black Ops – Cold War as a dedicated Zombies spinoff, but all you really need to know is that Treyarch flew off the handle last month and made it first-person. Call me crazy, but I think they've accidentally stumbled on the perfect Zombies mode.
I hopped into the new Dead Ops mode with exactly zero expectations. I'm not much of a traditional Zombies guy (I bore easily by running around the same map for an hour), but I was curious to see how a top-down shooter would translate to first-person. Remarkably well, as it turns out. Aiming and movement feel exactly like standard Cold War, but shooting couldn't feel more different. Like a proper bullet hell shooter, there's no need to ever reload or aim-down-sights, so the action never has to slow down.
Dead Ops is kinda like normal Zombies, but unchained by all of the CoD-isms that usually makes zombie-slaying a chore. By the time we had cleared the first map, I had a huge grin on my face.
There's a controlled chaos to Dead Ops comparatively cramped arenas that surprisingly works in its favor. Instead of slowly winding up the intensity over dozens of rounds, Dead Ops rounds are each bite-sized bursts of high-stakes zombie kiting.
Unlike traditional Zombies, you aren't confined to a single space for more than a few rounds at a time. Before my squad finally went down on our last Dead Ops run, we had cleared nine maps and had plenty more to go. Some levels ask you to stand your ground while others force you to press on through branching paths and Indiana Jones-quality deathtraps. And sometimes, you get a bonus round where every zombie is carrying an explosive barrel (good luck with that one).
Somehow, Dead Ops manages to out-absurd the normal Zombies mode, too. Powerups include revolving Donkey Kong barrels, companion chickens, floating disco balls, and time-limited power weapons like the raygun. I really appreciate Treyarch's commitment to the new camera perspective that even persists during the 2D platformer "Silverback Slideways" bonus round. Based on the playthrough below from YouTuber TheMoZProject, I'm not sure this one translates as gracefully as other levels.
Did I mention that the main villain of the Dead Ops universe is a family of evil gorilla astronauts? Must've slipped my mind. By the start of Dead Ops 3, the avenging son of the original Cosmic Silverback, Cyber Silverback, is training to take a second revenge on the players by training with his mom, Mamaback. Oh, also, the official title of the game is Dead Ops Arcade 3: Rise of the Mamaback. At this point the Dead Ops lore is approaching Metal Gear Solid levels of perplexing. I look forward to Dead Ops 4: Uncleback At It Again.
Source: TheMoZProject on YouTube
Maybe the best part of Dead Ops is that it ends. I think that's why I've never latched onto Zombies for more than an hour or two at a time: It takes an admirable show of endurance to survive dozens of endless rounds, but there's an aimlessness to its eternity that often feels pointless. A full run of Dead Ops can take several hours with no time for bathroom breaks, but you'll eventually face a final boss and call it a night. I prefer my zombies in predictable, digestible chunks.
Playing Dead Ops in first-person finally let me appreciate a decade-old mode for what it's always been: Call of Duty Zombies in its purest form. Yanking the camera down to the action adds an intoxicating dynamism to the frantic game of keep-away that just doesn't feel the same when you can see your surroundings in their entirety.
I know ditching the old school camera somewhat defeats the purpose of the throwback mode, but I hope Treyarch keeps first-person around as an alternative mainstay for its little side universe.