The Zombies mode within the Call of Duty series has been a staple since its first entry as an easter egg mode in World at War. It provides players with a fun and endless wave-based survival mode that has gotten better with each entry. I was already interested when it was announced that Treyarch would be working on Zombies in COD: MW3. Having been a veteran of the mode since the beginning, I knew I had to experience what Treyarch was planning.
What we got, honestly, is a Zombies experience that, while enjoyable, has many issues for both newcomers and veterans of the mode. Its lackluster story and recycled content from MW2’s DMZ mode ruins the overall fun. Additionally, while the missing PVP will entice those who didn’t enjoy DMZ’s competitive nature, it does alienate the dedicated fanbase that mode had cultivated, as well as fans of the classic Zombies experience. Simply put, despite there being fun to be had with this mode, the Zombies side of Call of Duty: MW3 is chock full of issues.
“Unfortunately, the narrative is the worst part of MW3’s Zombies mode.”
Call of Duty: MW3’s Zombies mode takes place many years after the events of Black Ops: Cold War. Victor Zakhaev believed to be dead during the events of Warzone, has returned and allied himself with the mercenary group Terminus Outcomes to weaponize the Aetherium against the world. Players join as a member of Operation Deadbolt and must work to stop their plans from coming to light. The story is set up to be approachable for both veterans of the storytelling and newcomers alike.
Unfortunately, the narrative is the worst part of MW3’s Zombies mode. This is largely due to the fact that it is told throughout audio logs, which you’ll find while completing missions. While you do get a cutscene after finishing an act, it all still feels incredibly lazy, as if it has been halfheartedly rushed together. The little nuances of narrative here and there feel like padding and made me not as invested in the Zombies story as much as I should have been. The narrative feels like an afterthought, and the absence of an overarching easter egg diminishes any intrigue the Zombies mode may have had.
Although the story has never been at the forefront of Call of Duty Zombies, it still doesn’t do enough here to help contextualize the gameplay in an interesting way, instead fading into the background and becoming easily the most forgettable Zombies mode in the franchises’ history. Fortunately, while the story takes a backseat in this mode, the gameplay does a lot of the heavy lifting, albeit with many caveats..
“MW3 Zombies feels lazy and doesn’t show much innovation.”
The gameplay in Modern Warfare: Zombies, or MWZ as it is referred to, has different elements that make and break it. For example, it is a much easier way to unlock weapons and equipment for the Call of Duty: MW3 Multiplayer. All players must do is extract the desired weapon, and they will unlock it, just like they did in the DMZ mode in Modern Warfare 2. Secondly, a mission-based gameplay loop provides players with a goal while going into each match, adding meaningful purpose to each run. It all works for the most part, although it has its issues.
The mission system feels like a step back, as players can only finish all tasks on one mission card at a time rather than three simultaneously, like in DMZ. Adding to this is the glaring issue that the mode is just recycled from DMZ itself. Aspects such as exploring the map and looting items to sell at buy stations come from that mode, except now players get a currency called essence to Pack-a-Punch, use the mystery box, etc. It feels lazy and doesn’t show much innovation in the survival-based mode.
“It is unclear why you can’t load into a lobby of six before the match starts instead of having to join up with strangers.”
Players can also form a team and head into each match together. My friends and I were excited to dive in, only to find out it was limited to squads of three. However, you can partner up with other random squads also in your session to form a party of up to six players. It is unclear why you can’t load into a lobby of six before the match starts instead of having to join up with strangers. I found this to be incredibly disappointing as someone with a squad of five, as it meant I couldn’t play with my group of friends. This is something that needs to change as soon as possible.
Furthermore, the “operator slot” feature from DMZ also returns. The mechanic lets players choose which operator to take into the mode and earn the gear. However, the problem with this is that if you choose to switch characters, you must get rid of all your gear as it is assigned to the previous character. It’s incredibly inconvenient and a huge waste of time, something which is frustrating and unnecessary. Finally, the exfil option returns from DMZ. While it provides an exciting end to the match, its pressure on the game’s performance is another issue.
“As someone who plays the game in performance mode, the massive rate drops when exfiling is appalling on the PlayStation 5.”
The visuals in Zombies are disappointing as they haven’t changed much since MW2, furthering the feeling that it is more of a reskin of DMZ than its own mode. It is a shame, as the lack of a unique art direction or meaningful enhancements in visual fidelity, whether due to the game’s short development cycle or instance of bringing it to last-gen consoles, is detrimental to the overall experience. As someone who plays the game in performance mode, the massive frame rate drops when exfiling is appalling on the PlayStation 5. When leaving the match, my character often felt like they were skipping around the exfil site due to the constant frame drops.
When it comes to the audio, it sounds just as good as it has before. As players call in different killstreaks across the map, you can listen to the destruction in the distance if you are in hearing range, which is something I found immersive. Hearing your fellow teammates fighting off in the distance also helps make the open world feel more alive and greater in scope. Furthering this sense of immersion is the directional audio, which not only heightens the soundscape but also helps you identify where even the simplest of noises, such as the pitter-patter of approaching Zombie footsteps, are coming from. Of course, you can tweak this further by changing various accessibility settings.
“It’s great to see so much effort put into the accessibility options, as it ensures that as many players as possible can enjoy the mode.“
Accessibility is always an important factor in gaming and Call of Duty: MW3 goes above and beyond to offer players a plethora of helpful options. These options include photosensitivity changes like a darkening flash on the screen instead of a bright white splash when blinded by a flash grenade. Other options, such as movement behaviors like tactical sprint being a different button press or automatic sprint, are also available.
Lastly, using HUD color changes for visuals allows those with color blindness to adapt the settings to suit them. The game features many pages of options to choose from and thorough use of accessibility for all players. It’s great to see so much effort put into the accessibility options, as it ensures that as many players as possible can enjoy the mode.
“The Zombies mode just doesn’t offer enough original content and is bogged down by its overuse of DMZ assets, concepts, and mechanics.”
As someone who loves the world of Call of Duty Zombies and what it entails, the experience we got of DMZ mixed with Zombies assets feels mediocre and something I suspect fans of the previous iterations of the mode will not enjoy. Despite being a handy way of unlocking new weapons in the Multiplayer mode, as well as offering somewhat engaging missions to complete, the Zombies mode just doesn’t offer enough original content and is bogged down by its overuse of DMZ assets, concepts, and mechanics. The concept of also punishing players for wanting to change their operators is a baffling decision and needs to be corrected along with the performance issues that plague the vital exfil portion of the match.
While the audio is great as always, and the accessibility options are plentiful, they aren’t unique to this specific game mode and, therefore, can’t really be considered pros in its favor. Finally, restricting squad sizes to three is a gross oversight, and increasing it to six would offer players a greater incentive to continue playing with their friends. While I will keep making expeditions into the Zombies mode of Call of Duty: MW3, my mind still thinks of the glory days of round-based Zombies and what could have been with this entry.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Zombies Review
Call of Duty: MW3 Zombies provides a mediocre experience for players wanting to try something other than Multiplayer or Campaign. A lackluster story narrative, recycled gameplay mechanics, graphical issues, and disappointing gameplay choices provide a frustrating experience that should have been great.