First, some back story…
It may be hard to believe, but there was a point where Call of Duty was one of the most valuable entertainment properties ever. The game, now synonymous with fast, frenetic, and addicting multiplayer, came from humble beginnings.
Call of Duty’s early titles were all set during the events of World War II – meant to compete with the reigning champ of that genre, Medal of Honor. It wasn’t until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in the fall of 2007 that developer Infinity Ward struck gold and ushered in a new era of multiplayer shooter that ditched the WWII aesthetic for a modern day war tale. The end result helped to define that generation of multiplayer shooters and inspire future ones.
Riding the high of monumental success, a new CoD game was released the following year. Once again heading back to World War II, Call of Duty: World at War took the winning gameplay formula of its predecessor and sent it back in time to an era that developer Treyarch (Infinity Ward and Treyarch alternated game releases) cut their teeth with.
The final result was a visceral, bloody, haunting, and enthralling war shooter experience with addictive multiplayer and a story that excelled at highlighting the horrors of World War II. And of course, brought back multiplayer.
With the release of WaW, Call of Duty was more alive than ever. It’s ironic to think that the introduction of an easter egg would see the game take an undead turn.
Everyone you just killed? Yeah, they’re not dead yet…
Upon completing WaW’s campaign, players were greeted with the standard ending crawl of credits, but then something interesting happened.
You were unexpectedly dropped into a derelict bunker of some kind with only a pistol with a blood red tally mark in the corner of the screen. Suddenly, zombies in familiar garb start coming towards the bunker and tearing down barriers; trying to get in.
It didn’t take longer than a few minutes to realize what the game was trying to tell you: these are the reanimated remains of every nazi that died during the campaign, and your job is to try and kill them all again.
After killing the first few, you would notice that tally mark change to 2, a gun outline on the wall, and maybe even the ability to purchase new areas on the map with points.
Welcome to Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies.
Zombies was a gigantic hit with hardcore and casual audiences. A game with so much content that wasn’t secret gave players a fun and addictive mode then hid it right under their noses. YouTube videos of people making it all the way to ridiculous rounds started popping up, friends who chatted on Xbox live started seeing how far they could get while playing 4 player co-op, and Treyarch continued to support the mode with new maps. Including what is now highly regarded as the best map to date: Der Riese.
Aside from the addicting gameplay loop what made Nazi zombies such a hit was the sheer amount of creativity and originality put into the mode. This wasn’t just some cheeky little in-game item or room. You could feel the passion and dedication that went into making this mode. All for something that players who avoid campaigns might never have even seen.
Since the game mode burst onto the scene, we’ve seen so many iterations. Nazi Zombies has taken us to Shangri La, a Russian rocket launch facility, a George Romero Zombie Horror movie starring Danny Trejo, and even the freaking moon! Check out the full list here if you’re really curious.
The original inclusion of Zombies showed that the team at Treyarch weren’t interested in making just another World War II FPS. They wanted to take a page out of Infinity Ward’s book and flip the script once again. But most importantly, it showed the dev’s emphasis on fun over everything else.
If Call of Duty 4 is considered the game that brought the franchise to new heights, then World at War was the one that carved out its spot in the pantheon of great shooter franchises. And that is certainly thanks to the cult hit that is Nazi Zombies.