Releasing a mode for Black Ops Cold War called Call of Duty: Outbreak in the midst of a pandemic takes some guts, to say the least. But then again, Call of Duty Zombies has always had plenty of guts to offer, regularly spewing the stuff onto players amongst an unholy blend of decayed flesh, coagulated blood, and other various entrails of its undead hordes.
But the Outbreak Zombies mode arriving as part of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War season 2 promises to raise the scale and scope of Zombies higher than ever before, throwing four players into a huge, open map overrun with the infected.
According to Treyarch creative director Corky Lehmkuhl, the seeds for Outbreak Zombies have been germinating at the studio for over a decade. "Whenever a new open world game comes out, we always look at it and go, 'Oh my God, we need to get zombies in something like that,'" he tells GamesRadar+ ahead of season 2 going live this week. "Outbreak is something we've been talking about since the end of World at War."
Taking place in Russia's Ural Mountains, Outbreak presents the same wave-based structure of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War's core Zombies modes, but with a number of added twists; players will be able to pursue key objectives that will ramp up in difficulty, exploring the vast regions of the outbreak zone while collecting resources and killing plenty of undead. After completing each objective, you'll have the opportunity to either exfil with all your resources intact, or venture through a portal to another region of the Ural Mountains to take on another trial.
"The objectives are the driving force that's moving you to a certain location within each massive region," explains lead systems designer Kevin Drew. "So you have to make certain decisions: Do I go straight to the objective? Do I explore and collect resources before I do that objective? Those objectives are a hard fail condition and it's got those stakes from normal Zombies, where it's grounding all the players into a certain area and confining them and forcing them to deal with hordes, so it still has that intensity."
Treyarch is no stranger to throwing players into sweeping combat arenas. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's battle royale mode, Blackout, is cited by Lehmkuhl as a precursor from which the studio could draw lessons that it could then implement into Outbreak, such as a more streamlined loot system and user interface; "You don't get Outbreak without Blackout".
That isn't to mistake Outbreak for battle royale, however. This is a Zombies experience through and through, complete with a story that follows on from Black Ops Cold War's last Zombies map, Firebase Z. Lead writer Craig Houston stresses that Outbreak also "isn't a replacement to classic Zombies, but complimentary."
"We have our Intel system continuing with more audio logs and radios that have always been part of Zombies. We have a cast of supporting characters from [undead hunting CIA faction] Requiem guiding you through these objectives. So there's a continual narrative element that's progressing the story. Initially, in season two, we're letting people see the mode and get used to it. But we plan to expand on it greatly in the future, too."
"Just think of Outbreak as similar to Nacht Der Untoten, our very first map," adds Lehmkuhl. "This is kind of the equivalent, in terms of a new open world experience for Zombies. It's something that's floating out in the water, and that we really want to carry forward and iterate on over time."
A break from the norm
So, now that Outbreak is out for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War players (and free for a limited time to anyone who wants to give the new mode a try), does Treyarch have any tips for surviving its latest undead gauntlet? The mode does, after all, promise to be just as challenging as its more claustrophobic fights against the horde.
"I would say the points you get up front are a little deceptive," says Drew. "Because every area you go into, you're basically able to earn the same amount of points. So people kind of find themselves in an abundance of riches up front, and they might make the wrong decisions. And once you get to the higher difficulties and get wiped, all of a sudden, you're empty pockets, and you can't really recover from it. The objectives and the world events give higher points as you continue on, but the world doesn't, so my advice would be to be careful with that."
"Use your money wisely!", adds Houston, who also promises that there are plenty of cool things to discover in Outbreak for those who seek them, though goodness knows how long it'll take before all of the mode's secrets are revealed. What other surprises season 2 has in store for Black Ops Cold War players is anyone's guess but, with Zombies now also roaming the servers of Verdansk in Warzone, you can expect to be fighting plenty of zed heads over the course of the next few weeks and beyond.