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Return Through Aether (10+ Years of Maps)

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Mob of the Dead

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Mob of the Dead is widely regarded as one of the best maps of all time by the larger Zombies community. It is the first map officially led in design by Jason Blundell, and marks, in my opinion, the greatest shift in the game mode's history. Mob of the Dead literally changed the game, and what makes up the mode today can be traced back to Mob. Personally, I have been of the opinion that Mob of the Dead is a little overrated, and much of what it does to innovate is done better in subsequent maps. Today I was looking to see if new life could be breathed into this map for me. I was not disappointed.

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Mob of the Dead is a marker of many changes in Zombies as a mode, but one in particular that struck me immediately was the tone. Zombies has always been lighthearted to some extent, with plenty of darkness. Emotions as a player range from excitement to fear, or sometimes anger or joy if something particularly strikes a nerve. Playing Mob of the Dead, though, I was struck multiple times by a sense of sadness and despair unlike my previous entries. I was playing as Billy Handsome, a cold, calculated killer who may truly deserve his fate in purgatory. He's boastful and brash like "Tank" Dempsey, with a love for killing in a most gruesome fashion. Yet, as Icarus took to the skies and escape from this cycle seemed possible, the storm surrounding Alcatraz sent Handsome tumbling down to the Golden Gate Bridge. As Where Are We Going comes to a close and Icarus plunges into the water below, Billy begins to beg and plead to the forces holding him captive to just end his suffering. It's heartbreaking as you come to the realization that the cycle must begin anew, and Billy must relive his own death in the electric chair again, only to start the pain all over again. It's gutwrenching, and a sign that Zombies is capable of telling a real, compelling emotional story:

Mob of the Dead not only changed the status quo when it came to the story and tone, but also with the gameplay. Right as you spawn in you are introduced to the game mechanic that sets Mob apart from any other map, Afterlife Mode. Instead of having three Quick Revive purchases in Solo, you go into Afterlife upon going down if you have any left. While in Afterlife you can open areas of the map, uncover secrets, and zap zombies away from your body. On one hand, Afterlife makes the game much, much easier, as even in Co-op you will have an extra cushion if you are downed where you can revive yourself, and in Solo you can have up to 3 revives in one round. On the other hand, that does not have to be a bad thing, and it allows newer players a better ability to explore and discover secrets on the map without fear of dying before the fun even begins. It also helps make up for the rather tight map design. I like it as a unique feature of this map, and this map only.

 

The quest to build Icarus and get to the Golden Gate Bridge set the precedent for mini-quests that often inform the story while also unlocking a crucial part of gameplay, now a staple of Jason Blundell maps. Some mark this as the death of simple Zombies gameplay, while others contend the new complexity adds to replayability. I fall somewhere in the middle, as I think there should be extra small quests to improve and progress through the map to give a unique flair to the experience, but when they become overly long and tedious, that is a step too far. One way I think Mob of the Dead's features are better refined in future installments is in this aspect, is the trek through the large map to get the gas cans every time you want to Pack-a-Punch gets tedious, and the thrill of riding Icarus the first time is lost on subsequent flights. Gorod Krovi, for example, rectifies the dragon's slow flight by having dragon wings you can use to instantly teleport to Pack-a-Punch. I can't blame Mob of the Dead, however, for not doing a brand new idea perfectly the first time, and I respect the boldness in Mob's innovations.

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I played through Mob, trying to get the full experience. I tried out the map-exclusive weapons, which I absolutely love: The Tommy Gun, Uzi, Death Machine, and AK47. I upgraded the Hell's Retriever to the Hell's Redeemer, and acquired the golden spork. With my Acid-gat, I survived for a while just moving around areas of the map, but I ran into the inevitable sense of repetition, and started to grow bored. I think this is where my sense the map is overrated comes from, but that opinion comes with the caveat that I have been playing this map to death over several years. There is little to nothing left to conquer, and so it is not the experience it used to be. However, Mob of the Dead truly excels when you are new to it, and that sense of wonder was reclaimed today. That is where it truly shines.

 

At round 28, I decided to head for the bridge to make a final stand, now without Juggernog, and ended up surviving until round 32, dying after harassment by four Brutuses...

 

The Cycle Continues

 

 

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Buried

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Buried marks the end of an era in Zombies history. With the success of Mob of the Dead and what map is to come next, this would be the last map led by Jimmy Zielinski, and seemingly at the time, the end of the Victis story. With all that in mind, I think the team threw in all their ideas into a mix that would become Buried. In the community, Buried is typically regarded as either being a fondly remembered map, or a boring one, depending who you ask. I've always been more inclined to say the map is somewhat boring because the tools it gives you for survival are so strong that little effort is required. Going in today, I found myself enjoying the many unique attributes of the map for what they are, and tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who didn't start playing Buried six years ago.

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Buried takes a cue from Mob of the Dead's book in that it uses ambient music to give the atmosphere some tension and immerse you into this Old West town trapped beneath ground, out of time. It does really add to the map, and I appreciate the western aesthetic. The town itself is so quiet and dead, giving you this sense you can never escape now that you are a part of it. It's dead, apart from our good friend Arthur, who is apparently a servant of the Wolf King from 1318. Apart from the strange implications on the story, Arthur is one of my favorite gameplay mechanics that hearkens back to my favorite mechanic in Zombies, the hacker from Moon. Arthur is a multipurpose tool, and some of his abilities can really help you get set up early on if used correctly. You can't help but feel bad when you accidentally shoot him and he locks himself away in fear.

 

Combined, Arthur, the bank, the time bomb, the paralyzer, persistent upgrades, and free perk bottles from the ghosts, with enough knowledge of the map and some money in the bank, Buried becomes an optimizer's dream. You can have your entire loadout set up on round 1 with the entire map open, all buildables done, all chalks placed, everything you could want, and this is all before the advent of gobblegums or elixirs. Buried gave you the tools the make the game as easy as you could want. From one perspective, this many options makes not using them feel like an intentional handicap, while from another, they add to the depth of the map and make it more fun to return and try to better optimize your early round strategies. I think this is where the main point of contention with Buried lies.

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I don't think it is fair to dismiss all the unique ideas brought to the table just because they make the game easier. The Paralyzer and Time Bomb are some of the coolest weapons in Zombies history. Arthur served as the first "A.I." helper that would go on to inspire future assistants such as the Civil Protector and A.D.A.M. The main quest Endgame, where you could get a Maxis or Richtofen ending depending on who you chose in TranZit and Die Rise really added to the map's identity, though the sharpshooter step of the quest makes me want to die just thinking about it. I'm surprised the chalk system was never implemented again, and I like the idea of being able to choose where a weapon is buyable. Also, despite the system of buildables being the same as in TranZit, they are done so much better here, and the two new ones are lots of fun to use. 

 

I haven't really talked much about today's game, because to be honest there wasn't much to talk about. It's all an experience I've had before, of getting the map open, buying Juggernog, getting the Paralyzer and Time Bomb, and all the perks. I tried not staying in one place in order to up the excitement a little, but rarely did I find myself in much real danger in the town. On round 24, I decided to hold out near Pack-a-Punch, and I did end up going down, only to be revived with all my perks except Quick Revive due to one of those persistent upgrades. I've always liked the idea, but not the implementation since you could not actively see what you had going into a game and most of the time you get them on accident rather than earning them. Finally, I died trying to grab all the shiny money bags on the floor from Vulture Aid, which is an awesome perk by the way!

 

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