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Impressions: Black Ops Zombies for iOS

4:45 PM on 12.01.2011 // Tara Long

The end of the year is a hectic time for mobile game publishers. With the influx of AAA console releases every fall comes an inevitable flurry of iOS games, most of which find themselves struggling to stay afloat in an industry whose consumers are consistently demanding more for less. 

Some games will succeed by virtue of their legacy. When a slightly tweaked version of the Nazi Zombies mode from Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies II appeared on the App Store in 2009, people jumped at the chance to relive the satisfaction of fire-blasting anti-semitic zombies in the head for no other reason than it’s incredibly fun. Activision predicted that success and now, two years later, has chosen to repeat the cycle by bringing last year’s Black Ops Zombie mode to iOS.

As with most Call of Duty games, however, it isn't a question of whether it will succeed; it's a question of whether or not it deserves that success. Hit the jump for my hands-on impressions.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies (iOS)
Developer: Ideaworks Game Studio
Publisher: Activision
Released: December 1, 2011
MSRP: $6.99

As far as mobile adaptations of full retail games go, Black Ops Zombies mirrors its console counterpart closely. The horde-mode style of gameplay, which Activision credits itself with inventing in Call of Duty: World at War, reappears here, as you find yourself faced with increasingly difficult waves of zombies coming from every direction. Each zombie you kill earns money, which can be used to unlock doors, buy weapons, or purchase extra lives or perks at nearby vending machines.

Despite its superficial similarities to the console version, Black Ops Zombies is an iOS game and thus caters to a somewhat different audience. In an effort to appeal to players new and old, Ideaworks has added a few ways to let beginners ease themselves in while still providing some fan service for the seasoned experts. Three difficulty levels ranging from Recruit to Veteran (Veteran’s difficulty is comparable to the console version) are included, along with a helpful Sticky Aim option in the menu. Also included is the option to choose from one of four playable characters, a request specifically made by fans of the series.
When compared to Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies II, Black Ops Zombies is an undeniable improvement. Activision’s primary goal with this game was to make it feel like a "next-gen experience," and the processing power of Apple’s current-gen devices can clearly be seen within. The game runs in a true 3D environment now, giving it the visual boost it lacked before, and the menu system has been fully animated in a slick looking comic-book style art. Along with improved violence effects, there are also a few abilities not present in the last game like crouching, sprinting, and voice chat for 4-player co-op.

As with most first-person shooters on mobile devices, controlling can be tricky, especially in a horde-mode situation where enemies are approaching from every direction. You can swipe the bottom of the screen to turn 90 degrees, but I found the time it took to do this twice was often not long enough to deflect a zombie attack from behind. Backing yourself into a corner is likely the safest option in these cases.
A virtual analog stick on the left of the screen guides your turn, while moving your finger anywhere on the right side of the screen adjusts your aim. Tapping anywhere on the right side of the screen will fire your weapon, and switching weapons is as easy as double tapping. In the bottom right hand corner are a couple extra options for grenades and other special weapons, as well.
As of right now, only the Kino map is available at launch, along with the Dead Ops Arcade mode, which is unlocked by collecting coins hidden within the menu system. It is an exact port of what appeared on the Xbox 360 version of Black Ops, boasting 50 levels and an end-game boss to top it off. Don’t be surprised if you end up preferring the mini-game to the full map, as it's incredibly addictive and can be beaten, unlike the regular maps which are theoretically infinite and will continue to release waves of harder-to-kill enemies until you’re two seconds away from throwing your phone out the window. In a good way, of course.

If you have extra lives and can manage to pick your pride up after that, you may notice the game revives you at the same spot in which you died, right alongside the enemies who killed you. I feel like this is a poor design decision that could’ve easily been restricted to Veteran mode only, yet it is exists even on Recruit and serves no purpose other than to make the game frustratingly difficult at times.
As far as the whole package is concerned, I adore the Dead Ops Arcade mode and feel it adds significant value to the $6.99 price tag, but I do wish Activision had waited until they had at least two maps ready to launch with the game, since the Kino map tends to get repetitive after a while. That said, Activision is planning on adding two to three more maps free of charge over the next few months, as well as additional weapons, deeper leaderboards, and scavenger hunts that give you the opportunity to earn extra achievements.
When it boils down to it, you will inevitably be disappointed if you purchase this expecting a console-quality experience on a mobile device. If all you’re looking for, however, is some good, old-fashioned zombie shooting fun, then you’ve found it in Black Ops Zombies.
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