Call of Duty: WW2 is taking a different approach to Nazi Zombies, which sounds like a weirdly limited thing to re-imagine, but it starts to make sense once you grab two of the developers at Sledgehammer Games for an interview. That's just what we did at Comic Con and you can watch the ensuing discussion above, or keep scrolling for some of the biggest points from creative director Cameron Dayton and Activision's senior director of development Jon Horsley.
How Call of Duty: WW2's zombies mode is different
"We're going back to our roots," Horsley begins while valiantly refraining to mention boots on the ground. "It's back to World War 2, in a gritty, realistic portrayal of the setting. We're part of that universe, we're part of the darkest corner of that universe so our charter was to have the scariest zombie mode ever. And everything we did was in service of that, the setting, the story, the zombie design, audio design, visuals. I think you can see a little bit of that in the trailer. We play the game all the time of course, and I still get scared. I still get caught. So it finally did pay off and I think we've got a really scary game."
Dayton said these are a different breed of zombies, as well: "So many other stories have explored the biological, viral, infectious plague element of the story and we wanted to see, what if these were zombies that were constructed? What if they were engineered and built as weapons as war? And then of course we've got this wonderful backdrop of World War 2 and military forces that might just do that sort of thing. And so it allowed us to sort of re-tell the zombie story in our own way, with our own flavor. [...] We've had to really dissect the science of scaring somebody and try to deliver different types of fear potentially in different ways."
Is Call of Duty: WW2's zombies mode really that scary?
"I think this is, without a doubt, the scariest version of Zombies that you will have ever seen," Dayton says. "It's the perfect storm of technology, and studio talent, and an audience that I just think is ready for something that is going to scare the hell out of them. And I think it is something that I'm going to recommend, for first-time players, do not turn the lights off."
"It's unpredictable, you don't know where you're gonna be, or what way you're gonna be, and where your friends are," Horsley says. "And so we had to make sure the experience was compatible with that. And it's really interesting, we have the characters themselves - their vocalizations reflect their level of fear. So you hear them getting scared, you're scared, your friends get scared. It's infectious, I guess, fear's infectious. I didn't know that."
Is Call of Duty: WW2 zombies scary enough to make a grown man shriek in a room full of huge strangers?
"We've had some people come through the studio and see what we're working on, and we had some members of a certain professional sports team come through," Dayton begins, laughing. "And they were big fans of the zombie mode, and I was trying to be cool and show off the latest element that we just opened up. And so I'm kind of half talking to them, half looking, and I turn around and a zombie busts out of the window right in front of me. I shriek like I'm 12 years old and bump back into this enormous sports player, and I lost all professional dignity at that point. But I was like, okay, that's the game we're making."
Can we play Nacht der Untoten again?
"Since we hit the reset button on this, we're keeping it all within our own universe," Dayton says.
Horsley brings down the sledgehammer on any tie-in theories once and for all: "It's all original, unique IP. It doesn't really have any connection to any other things."
But that's not to say there won't be some more good, old-fashioned mysteries to unravel.
Will Call of Duty: WW2 zombies have Easter eggs and other mysteries?
Sledgehammer isn't just rethinking the zombies themselves, it's also taking some new approaches to unraveling the mysteries that dedicated players crave.
"The way we can bury mystery and have story that hints at deeper, darker things going on," Dayton says. "We have some testers who are hardcore players. These are the people that spend their weekends digging into these zombie maps. And there's still territory they've not uncovered. There are still mysteries they've not come to. And it's hard to keep those secrets when in the studio, but it's so fun to see what clues they're unraveling and how they're getting towards it, because we want to deliver that exciting, mysterious, sleuthing experience."