Ever since Call of Duty: World at War, we’ve been staving off seas of zombies, both Nazi and otherwise. Call of Duty and Zombies have gone together like peanut butter and jelly ever since the first map, Nacht der Untoten, debuted.
Originally featuring “Nazi zombies” that players could pick off while flying solo or grouping up with buddies, the popular game mode has evolved in significant ways over the years, from an extra gameplay mode clearly created just for kicks to a full-fledged part of the Call of Duty franchise with its own lore and universe. It’s shifted from a dark and gritty atmosphere to pulpy, silly adventures featuring celebrity appearances and an almost parodical tone.
The Zombies tradition is continuing with Call of Duty: WWII, where the popular game mode is returning once more, but the veneer of B-movie schlock is being lifted for a much more serious affair. While it may be a blow to anyone who’s gotten used to Call of Duty’s recent brand of zombie-related silliness, pivoting back to the nightmarish undead situation could be one of the best moves it’s ever made.
It’s been a long time since any of the Call of Duty Zombies modes could actually get your pulse racing, but it looks like the shambling undead Nazis of Call of Duty: WWII are here to send shivers down our spines once more. It’s a decision that lends a serious edge to a mode that could have been wasted on camp, and one that Sledgehammer Games should be applauded for. There’s finally a mode that takes the atrocities of war and doubles down with human experimentation, the undead, and a crusade players will actually care about rather than a mishmash of pop culture references, ray guns, and celebrity voiceovers.
Sledgehammer co-studio head Glen Schofield previously described Call of Duty: WWII’s vision of Nazi Zombies as “the Third Reich’s desperate attempt to create an army in the final stages of the war.” This tidbit alone paints a harrowing picture of the half-rotten corpses of fallen soldiers of the Third Reich scrambling to hold their position in a war they know they’ve already lost.
You’re meant to be shocked by what you see, by the unfortunate living nightmares spawned by primary villain Dr. Peter “Glücksbringer” Straub. Though much is still unknown about Dr. Straub, he’s the creator of the undead army you’ll be forced to contend with. Dr. Straub has been taking dead soldiers and splicing them together piece by piece to make a pitiable army of the undead with a claw here, or a weapon-for-an-arm there.
The abhorrent experiments conducted by Straub to spawn super soldiers are similar to situations seen in horror movies already, with one of the most recent brought to mind being Frankenstein’s Army. This isn’t a new trope by any means, but it’s bound to make players much more uncomfortable than any plain Jane, run-of-the-mill zombies that look like ravenous, monstrous human beings.
The brute-like zombie that appeared in the Nazi Zombies trailer, or the Wüstling (Libertine in English), is one of Dr. Straub’s creations, reminiscent of some type of berserker that wreaks havoc wherever it goes. It wears a painful-looking contraption on its head that seems like something akin to Saw’s bear trap helmet, and who knows what it’s even for? It could be keeping the zombie held together, for all we know.
There are also zombies with their jaws half-melted off, those with missing limbs and metal contraptions bolted on, and a bevy of other heart-stopping creatures that you’d want to put out of their misery even if they weren’t trying to gnaw on your flesh.
It’s bone-chilling enough to be facing off against the undead, but the wretched results of failed experiments (and even the successful ones) are downright terrifying. That’s part of what makes this Nazi Zombies mode even more attuned with horror than the campy antics of the previous maps and storylines.
If it doesn’t get to you with the insane amounts of body horror, it’ll get to you by reminding you that these are the remnants of deplorable human beings, Nazis who treated other human beings like cattle. In that, it’s more in tune with the main campaign and World War II vibe for the game overall. It’s meant to challenge you by forcing you to face off against what could quite possibly be the most despised group of people on Earth, twisted into even more dangerous forms.
It’s not asking you to laugh at a movie set or pick out a celebrity cameo. It wants to force you into a disgusting, depraved world of human experiments, Nazis, and war. For that, it may very well be the scariest vision of Call of Duty Zombies yet. I can’t wait to give it a try.