reviews\ Jun 10, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies II iPhone review


First-person shooters and buttons-free devices: the two go together like peanut butter and watermelon. But much like a chef intent on combining unusual flavors, Activision is unstoppable in its effort to bring the Call of Duty franchise to every market.

With the iPhone, the publisher has some interesting opportunities. First, it could use the iPhone to introduce Call of Duty to an entirely new market. Second, if first-person shooters are successful on the iPhone, it will be because hardcore gamers have finally accepted the platform. That would be good news for everyone in the mobile market, not just Apple.

However, that hasn’t happened yet, and if Call of Duty: World at War - Zombies II remains the only game leading the charge, it may be a long time before such an evolution can occur.

That’s not to say that this is a bad game – quite the contrary. But let’s be clear: Ideaworks built Zombies II (as well as the original Zombies) for a platform that is barely as powerful as Nintendo 64. Most of the game’s high points can be attributed to the hard work that went into Zombies II, no doubt. But they can only do so much with hardware that can barely keep up with the PSP and Nintendo DS.

At $10, Zombies II is one of the more expensive iPhone games. But its single level, Shi No Numa, is very well designed. Battles are intense and the zombies are ferocious; I died more frequently while playing this game than any FPS I can remember playing this generation. The zombie onslaught is all but non-stop, which is both a blessing (since you need to kill zombies to earn money) and a curse (because they will eventually overpower you). Even in co-op – who knew that an iPhone game could support co-op!? – the game is pretty darn ruthless. FPS veterans will appreciate the difficulty as they struggle to earn enough cash to buy ammo, new weapons, and remove the barricades that have locked down the environment.

What’s amazing is that, while other developers are trying to see how many 2D objects they can throw onto the screen at one time, or how many silly mini-games they can sell for $0.99, Ideaworks dove right into the iPhone with a true Call of Duty experience in mind. No top-down or isometric camera gimmicks are used – in Zombies II, you get a full FPS experience with moderately detailed backgrounds, exciting weapons, and fairly realistic zombies. It’s all so impressive (by iPhone standards) that it’s easy to forget which platform this game was made for.

Unfortunately, it is also easy to remember. Visually, the game is covered in fog, that lovely graphic-disguising effect used to hide the ugly truth behind Nintendo 64. Mechanically, the game defaults to a dual-stick control scheme that places two white circles on the screen, both of which are used to simulate the dual-stick controllers for PS3 and Xbox 360. As an experiment, the sticks are quite amusing; they’re sensitive to the touch – not to how much pressure you’re applying, which the iPhone cannot detect, but to how far you’re sliding the sticks. In that regard, you could say that Zombies II has implemented a touch screen version of the sliding thumbpad Sony developed for the PSP.

This idea is great in spirit, but it’s not ready for primetime. The iPhone just isn’t sensitive enough to re-create the kind of precise control functionality that players are used to having with Call of Duty. It won’t do newcomers any favors either – they’ll be the first to get frustrated and leave.

Zombies II contains two other control options, one that involves a silly mechanic that lets you aim by tilting your phone, and another that replaces the right stick with the ability to aim using the whole screen. In simple terms, it works like the DS version of Metroid. You can touch the center of the screen and move your finger to look around. This scheme is by far the best and most precise of the three. But it has a long way to go before it’s perfect. Apple may prevent that from happening though, since no game developer can push past the limits of the iPhone’s touch screen.

Online, Zombies II is far from a flawless experience. It can take several attempts to connect to the server (expect a few “unable to connect” messages), and when you’re finally online, don’t be surprised if the connection is lost immediately. The account validation process is no picnic either, as you must connect to the same rocky server just to validate your game.

Slowdown is another issue. In a co-op game with just one other player, the frame rate can drop to a painful level. The game won’t become unplayable (at least it didn’t for me), but it was choppy and twitchy, making it next to impossible to aim with any degree of skill. This occurred after I had adjusted the settings so that Zombies II would play faster but look less attractive. If you didn’t know the limitations of the iPhone, you do now.

Call of Duty: World at War - Zombies II isn’t everything that it could have been, and at $10, it isn’t everything it should have been. However, it is an interesting experiment. As far as expensive novelties are concerned, this is one of the better ones available. If your curiosity goes beyond the words of this review, download the trial version of the original Zombies.

Above Average

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