Remember Nacht Der Untoten? That old abandoned airfield swarming with relentless, flesh-munching zombies? Originally included as an end-game bonus in Treyarch’s Call of Duty: World at War, Nacht Der Untoten proved to be the foundation on which Activision and its creative studios—namely Treyarch, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer—built an entire sub-series dedicated to four human allies fending off waves upon waves of undead nasties.
That is, in a nutshell, the gameplay hook that has kept Zombies Mode ticking over since its inception in 2008. Now, almost ten years later, one might argue that Activision’s fan-favorite co-op venture is beginning to approach its glass ceiling. And in order to smash through that artificial barrier, Zombies would be better served as a full-fledged standalone experience, perhaps from the creative minds that started it all: Treyarch Studios.
The closest we’ve come to a self-contained spinoff is Zombies Chronicles, the eight-part remaster that launched as something of an undead highlight reel back in May. But even that was tethered to the core Call of Duty experience. Angled as the fifth and final expansion pack for Treyarch’s Black Ops III, players needed to own the base game itself in order to access Zombies Chronicles—not unlike how Infinite Warfare and the long-awaited Modern Warfare Remastered were ostensibly bundled as one, much to the dismay of old-school COD fans.
An Undead Mainstay
Such a long-requested divorce has been presented to the Powers That Be before, only for Treyarch to cool rumors and double down on one simple fact: Zombies is the third pillar in what they consider to be the core Call of Duty experience, and any potential standalone title won’t be released for the foreseeable future.
Perched alongside multiplayer and the single-player campaign, Zombies is the co-op mode that keeps on giving, after Jason Blundell, director of campaign and Zombies for Black Ops 3 stressed that, “while it’s a lovely sentiment on the idea of breaking Zombies out into its own separate game, we see that people move between all three modes. And we’re always about giving as much content, as much value for money, as we possibly can.”
“What started as being very much a bonus mode in Zombies has now become a third pillar. We have this massive campaign now. We’ve got the juggernaut, which is multiplayer. And now for the first time Zombies has taken off as being a full-on experience.”
But that’s just it. Since its humble beginnings in 2008, the Zombies Mode of Call of Duty has evolved immeasurably, and now touts a wonderfully wacky multiverse teeming with temperamental teleportation devices, wayward daughters and grisly human experiments all in the name of an undead army. It simply hasn’t taken that final, decisive step to becoming the “full-on experience” Blundell refers to.
Time to Go It Alone?
A standalone Zombies game–a true standalone Zombies game independent from the core Call of Duty experience–may be considered pie in the sky, but let’s suppose for a moment that the Powers That Be pull a U-turn and decide to double down on their undead sub-series, what would that product look like?
For starters, we’re going to go ahead and appoint Treyarch at the helm of this hypothetical project, given they are essentially the founding fathers of Nazi Zombies. That said, we’ve come an awful long way from mowing down a horde of undead nasties on some misty old airfield. From Group 935 to the Wunderwaffe DG-2, over the years Call of Duty‘s leading creators have fleshed out the Zombies lore to such an extent that it almost feels like a disservice to cram it into the Call of Duty framework year in, year out.
Because let’s face it, Zombies isn’t exactly lacking in the story department. But strip away all of the zany, larger-than-life expansions and you’d arrive at a potentially engrossing campaign that presents a deep dive into the alternate history that has coursed through the undead veins of Call of Duty‘s co-op mode since 2008. Dr. Edward Richtofen, a fixture of the Zombies lore, would certainly feature, either directly or indirectly via audio logs, and there is a real potential to double down on the enigmatic Group 935 and how the discovery of Element 115 ultimately led to the creation of those relentless flesh-munchers.
Or Pie in the Sky?
Origin stories are a dime a dozen in the video game industry, but if the core Zombies experience revolves around that wonderfully addicting gameplay loop of forming a team, boarding up windows, and fending off a horde of reanimated corpses, then a standalone title could go one step further to include skill trees and other RPG-lite elements. The Division and Destiny are prime examples of online titles that merge multiplayer action with those story elements more associated with single-player games, so there’s no reason why Call of Duty can’t borrow from its peers.
Better still, Activision’s Call of Duty slate could alternate between a mainline title and Zombies offshoot with each passing year, which is a potentially fascinating way to offset franchise fatigue.
There are certain logistics to consider, of course. From a purely financial outlook, would a Zombies spinoff gain as much traction–and, by effect, as much sales–as the annualized Call of Duty titles? Activision is renown for going all-in on its established franchises, be it Guitar Hero or Tony Hawk, so we imagine those suits will take some convincing before that fabled standalone title ever becomes a reality.
And it all circles back to Jason Blundell’s comments about Zombies being championed as the franchise’s third pillar. In keeping with tradition, Zombies Mode will be back, back, back later this year thanks to Call of Duty: WWII. Sledgehammer Games is in the driving seat, as per Activision’s three-tier dev cycle, and the studio has vowed to deliver the most terrifying Zombies experience yet on November 3.
A Living Nightmare
Adding to that scare factor is Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield, co-founders of Slegderhammer with previous experience on Visceral’s blood-curdling and, sadly, dormant Dead Space series. But don’t be fooled by their sci-fi heritage, Condrey and Schofield are said to be gunning for an authentic take on the Zombies mythos, one that involves the Third Reich’s “desperate attempt to create an army in the final stages of the war.” Now imagine if that debuted as a standalone title replete with a full-fledged campaign. One can dream.
Call of Duty: WWII will deploy across PS4, Xbox One and PC on November 3. But on the topic of Call of Duty’s so-called third pillar, do you believe it’s time for Activision’s co-op favorite to leave the nest and become its own title? Or is the mere thought of a standalone experience wishful thinking? You can, as always, chime in with your thoughts and predictions down below.