Ranked: The Best COD Zombies Modes (And the Worst)

"I know when you're sleeping..."

Call of Duty’s Zombies mode holds a very special place in my heart. No other game gets my blood pumping the way a tense match of zombies does, narrowly escaping death in the higher rounds, whooping and hollering in amazement that I managed to survive. It may not have the instant gratification and appeal of the franchise’s multiplayer counterpart, but you better believe it has its appeal. 

The Zombies community is one of the most friendly and passionate and have kept every game alive for over a decade. Big names in the community are still creating content centered around World At War to this day. Heck, it has cemented the careers of some of the biggest gaming creators on the web, such as Vanosgaming, who recently did a throwback video where he plays WaW’s Verruckt with his friends.

So, with Modern Warfare III’s new take on Zombies right around the corner (as of writing this), I thought we’d take a look at all ten console/PC Zombies modes. That means, no Black Ops DS, no iOS/Android games. We’re sticking with the main titles.


10. Call of Duty: Vanguard (2021)

"Call of Duty: Vanguard Zombies" First Look

After the successful reviving of the Zombies mode by Cold War, Activision had Treyarch develop a last minute Zombies mode set in the Dark Aether storyline. It serves as a prequel to Cold War, detailing the background of the evil ancient gods dwelling in the Dark Aether. It’s also the most hated Zombies mode of all time. And it deserves every bit of it.

This Zombies mode should have never been made and is missing the staples that were the cornerstone for over a decade. Upon its release, Vanguard Zombies had no round based survival, terrible maps, no wonder weapons (the Ray Gun was added later), no easter eggs, no interactivity, no songs, no new perks, no pause button. This game had no pause button when it was released. 

Vanguard Zombies is the worst version of Zombies in the worst game of the entire franchise. It’s barebones, boring, uninspired and represents everything I hate about new Call of Duty. No innovation, no pushing the bar, just recycle everything previous games did. Recycle all the weapons, effects, and animations. Put more emphasis on skins and Fortnite wannabe garbage than making an actual game. It sucks and I will never ever recommend something that no one involved cared about. I blame Activision for giving Treyarch so little time and resources to develop a proper game mode. 

Don’t play it.

 Doesn’t deserve a caption, only disdain.


9. Call of Duty: WWII (2017)

"Call of Duty: WWII Zombies" Trailer 

Sledgehammer Games’s second attempt at Zombies sets the game in WWII, this time going for more horror than the previous few entries had. This game is a basic round based Zombies experience that doesn’t change very much from the core gameplay World At War established. But there are still some things of worth here.

The art style itself is pretty striking and a lot of the creatures look genuinely terrifying as a result. I appreciate the grimmer tone they were going for here and in some ways it does pay off. 

However, the game does suffer from some of the same issues as Vanguard. The characters don’t have a ton of depth and lack the personality that Treyarch’s characters typically have. Heck, they even pale in comparison to Infinite Warfare’s and Advanced Warfare’s main crew. Overall, it’s a pretty basic Zombies game that pulls off the mode well enough to warrant its existence. Certainly better than Vanguard.

The bosses in this game have incredibly terrifying designs


8. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014)

"Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Exo-Zombies" Trailer

Advanced Warfare’s Exo Zombies takes the base game’s advanced movement system and future setting and combines it with a basic Zombies mode. Since Ghosts' unique survival mode, Extinction, failed to have the staying power as Zombies, it makes sense that future games would play the safer route and copy Treyarch’s iconic survival mode. Exo-Zombies was the first time the franchise saw Zombies without Treyarch’s involvement.

Personally, I miss back when that sort of thing was unique to Treyarch, but I digress.

Exo-Zombies is easily the second best non-Treyarch undead survival mode, boasting a unique artstyle and story that has a direct link to the campaign. Unlike WWII, Advanced Warfare has an interesting storyline and a unique cast of characters played by a talented celebrity cast including Bruce Campbell, John Malkovich, Jon Bernthal, Bill Paxton, and Rose Mcgowan.

It’s not perfect, but it tries to set itself apart from Treyarch’s games while also being familiar enough for fans of them to enjoy, including similar power up and perk systems and even a pack-a-punch equivalent. There are definitely worse versions of this survival mode, as we already discussed.

Look at this groovy dude


7. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018)

"Blood of the Dead" Trailer 

Black Ops 4 Zombies is two different stories packaged into one game. One is concluding the Zombies storyline we’ve been following since World At War and then another that was completely unique. It’s also easily the worst Treyarch mainline Zombies experience. However, it isn’t all bad.

First off, we have to acknowledge this simple fact: Black Ops 4 was going to have an insanely hard time living up to Black Ops 3’s incredible Zombies experience. However, that doesn’t really excuse many of the problems the game has. Everything in Black Ops 4 was inferior to its predecessor.

The game felt lazy and rushed, having an uninspired art style, a confusing and unnecessary perk system, a bad story, and some of the worst maps in the series. It was also a bit of an insult that this Chaos storyline received all the new cool maps and abilities, while the triumphant end to the beloved Aether storyline received cheap hand me downs and remastered, unoriginal, uninspired maps.

However, it isn’t all bad. IX is a pretty great map actually, standing leagues above the previous games on the list and makes full use of the game's new mechanics. I wouldn’t claim it’s one of the best Zombies maps of all time like some would, but it is definitely a solid map and is fortunately the launch map. Classified was also a really solid remaster of the Black Ops classic Five.

I wouldn’t encourage anyone to buy the extra maps in this game, but as far as the starter maps go, it’s definitely better than the previous entries on the list. I still despise many of the changes and the inferior versions of Nuketown, Mob of the Dead, and Call of the Dead.

Like I said, it’s a mixed bag, but there is definitely some gold there.

Yes, this is from a Zombies game.


6. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016)

"Zombies In Spaceland" Trailer

Lee Ross of Infinity Ward led the Extinction team in their previous game, Ghosts. This time around they were tasked with creating the first attempt at an Infinity Ward Zombies mode. And it was fantastic. Well, at least its initial map, Zombies in Spaceland is. 

The game touts a cast of charismatic characters and a unique story that felt like an answer to Jason Blundell’s more epic and quest heavy maps in Black Ops III. This map feels like classic Zombies, from the Pack-A-Punch Machine being in the theater projection room like in Kino Der Toten to the simpler gameplay. 

Zombies In Spaceland very much plays like Zielinski's Der Riese, the basic gameplay loop requiring you to go to three separate locations, turn on the power, and link the teleporters in order to open Pack-A-Punch. Unlike Black Ops III’s masterpiece, Shadows of Evil, Spaceland doesn’t chase new players away by forcing them to do complicated and hard to understand easter egg steps if they want to enjoy the game.

Now don’t get me wrong, I adore Shadows of Evil, but you cannot play that game well unless you have actively engaged in the easter egg steps. Spaceland, in a lot of ways, is actually just as good as Shadows while also being friendly to new and classic players. You can play this map well without having to do the complicated steps to get the hidden wonder weapons.

If you just want to play it like Der Riese, link the teleporters and Pack-A-Punch your weapons and depend on your perks for survival, you absolutely can. However, if you like the Blundell “epic quest” style maps from Black Ops III then Ross’s got you covered. 

You can still go on quests for hidden easter eggs and hidden wonder weapons just like in Shadows, Mob of the Dead, or Origins. So, this Zombies map really does feel like it was meant for everyone that loves the game mode and it succeeds at being a perfect blend of the two, while also touting unique game mechanics, like the ticket system, arcade games, and roller coasters.

Infinite Warfare is a massively underrated game and its base Zombies map may genuinely be one of the best ever, easily being as good as most of the classic and respected maps, including Shadows of Evil. Definitely gets my recommendation.

However, it falls short because the follow ups were significantly weaker than Spaceland. Don’t let that turn you off from the map though. It really is fantastic. 

This might be one of the best Zombies traps ever. 


5. Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War (2020)

"Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War Zombies" Trailer 

Perhaps the most casual Zombies mode on this list, Black Ops: Cold War was single handedly responsible for the reviving of the game mode after the failures of Black Ops 4 and WWII. Taking place after the events of Black Ops 4, Cold War is the start of a new storyline within the same continuity and  shares  a few of the same central characters, such as Samantha Maxis and a surprise cameo from Edward Richtofen.

I love Cold War Zombies, however, I must acknowledge it has a plethora of concerns from some old school players that I can totally understand. For one, the game feels like Zombies on easy mode. The point system has been changed where damage no longer transfers over to currency as it had in previous games, meaning now the only way to earn points in combat is through kills. 

There’s also the aspect of the easter eggs being much easier and the game holds your hand at certain points, giving you waypoints as if you were in a campaign mission. The minimap does reveal enemy positions and you do start off with a custom weapon rather than a crappy starter pistol. Yes, those are all legitimate concerns. However, the game is still really freakin’ good.

Each Zombies run typically tries to shoot for a particular genre and Cold War seems to be action heavy. The crafting mechanics, weapons, animations, the gore effects, all of it urges you to shoot quickly and move quicker. This isn’t the epic quest of Black Ops III or the tense edge of your seat Black Ops survival, instead it’s a more casual action game.

And it works. The mechanics are a bit in depth to go into here, so I’ll get to the point. This is the most replayable Zombies mode, even over Black Ops III. Every time you reach a significant point, whether it would be successfully leaving the map, surviving to a certain point, getting a certain amount of kills, or completing story easter eggs, you are rewarded with XP and currency that you can use to customize weapons and gear in ways that help you to survive even longer. 

Your operator is just as customizable as he is in multiplayer and your weapon unlocks carry over to multiplayer as well. And at the very least, because the game still relies on the central training methods from other Zombies games, it is a way to train (pun intended) for the harder games in the franchise. It actually helped me get better at Zombies, believe it or not. 

The wonder weapons are cool and unique, the action is punchy and fun, and the various enemy types do a good job of making sure that you don’t feel too overpowered. I love Cold War Zombies and I encourage any fan to at least give it a go.

This is my wonder weapon. There are others like it, but this one is mine.


4. Call of Duty: World At War (2008)

"Call of Duty: World At War Zombies" Trailer

The OG, ladies and gents. The game that started it all. In 2008, Activision and Treyarch were running behind on World At War’s development and amidst this Jimmy Zielinski and a small team began to work on a co-op survival horror mode. At first, management was not happy about it, but after getting their hands on it, they knew they had something special. 

The game came with four maps, Nacht Der Untoten, Verruckt, Shi No Numa, and Der Reise. Each map laid the foundation that Zombies would be for the rest of this franchise’s life cycle. The mystery box, power, training, wall guns, perks, wonder weapons, dog rounds, Pack-A-Punch, were established a bit at a time. 

World At War is where Zombies was undeniably at its scariest, the four base maps being more tense and terrifying than anything that came after. Verruckt and Shi No Numa to this day are the stuff of nightmares. However, there are a few issues.

Given that this is the first time this mode was ever tried, there are some tech issues and glitches that you just won’t find in other Zombies games. Stabbing zombies in this game is a death sentence. However, it is still very much worth the experience and the best part is that if you get World At War on Steam, all four maps are there without having to purchase the DLC.

Good ol’ wonder waffle


3. Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012)

"Tranzit" Trailer 

Following the success of Black Ops, Black Ops II had a reputation to live up to. Despite its controversial launch and some of the bad maps at the beginning, I still say it’s one of the best versions of the mode. The game was split between two map designers, Jason Blundell and Jimmy Zielinski after the latter had made two ambitious, but ultimately failures of maps.

Tranzit and Die Rise were critically panned upon release, but do have a more favorable outlook now. I do feel like, despite the shortcomings of the main maps, there are still a lot of fantastic aspects of Black Ops II. In fact, I believe it is actually an improvement over the original in many ways.

 For one, the engine looks fantastic, the colors really popping in a way that the first game never did, adding a unique vibrancy to all the maps while keeping that gritty feel the first two Zombies games had.

Another cool addition was the level of customization that was brought to the table with this game and the different game modes that spiced up certain levels. One such mode was Grief where two teams of four held off against zombies and could either work together or undermine one another. The team that survived was the winner. There was also the option for traditional survival modes among Tranzit maps and Nuketown

Town, I think is the best survival map, having easy access to perks and Pack-A-Punch being compensated for by having more claustrophobic training areas and environmental hazards. The map is simple to learn and understand, but impossible to master. This makes it a really easy map to get into. I also love Nuketown, despite the controversial aspect of it being just a multiplayer map with zombies in it. It’s super simple and easy to pick up and play unlike the more complicated maps that came after it.

Die Rise and Buried were massive improvements from Tranzit and became beloved, though the latter is certainly more respected than the former. Blundell got to try his hand at the mode by creating two of the most beloved maps of all time. Mob of the Dead and Origins, which flipped the game mode on its head and started the more quest based versions of the Zombies modes, though in my opinion, they handled it the best. 

Mob of the Dead is easily one of my favorites and has such a perfect flow for solo and team play. It’s a masterpiece of a map.

I love Black Ops II despite its flaws and highly recommend it.

Me and my boy on our way to find he who has slandered the soup


2. Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2015)

"Call of Duty: Black Ops III Zombies" Trailer

Jason Blundell is now in charge of Zombies after his success in reviving the mode with Mob of the Dead and Origins, so naturally his vision got to become fully realized for better or for worse, depending on who you ask. Black Ops III followed the same quest format as Blundell’s previous maps did, but was sure to toss the process up with the different maps. And overall, the game is a massive success. 

Black Ops III to date, is one of the most beloved and most played Zombies modes to date. In fact, the game was so popular at one point that it was outselling the newest Call of Duty titles on Steam recently. It has some of the best looking maps, best mechanics, best maps, the smoothest gameplay of them all, and is more replayable than the games that had come before it.

However, despite its epic scale and creating some of the best aspects of Zombies, it does have its problems. For instance, though I enjoy the narrative, the story absolutely retcons and ruins the continuity and the tone the other games had. And Gobble Gums often were overpowered, but you can still play the game without them, as I do. 

Shadows of Evil, Der Eisendrache, The Giant are all fantastic maps and the former two being among the best maps in the history of the mode as well as personal favorites of mine. Along with the best Call of Duty DLC of all time, Black Ops III easily has the best overall  content and is Jason Blundell at his peak in map making.

It's like a Wunderwaffe. But better.


1. Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)

"Call of the Dead" Trailer 

If Black Ops III was Jason Blundell’s swan song, then you better believe that Black Ops was Jimmy Zielinski’s. Black Ops was a huge jump in quality from World at War in every way, having an incredible selection of maps with unique gameplay mechanics. No two maps feel like the other, while also improving all of the base features the previous game had solidified. It was a perfect combination of the creepy conspiracy thriller that World At War was while raising the scale without losing the creep factor, unlike Black Ops III and beyond.

Black Ops is the perfect and quintessential Zombies experience, with the only shortfall being its lack of a progression system. Its maps are all unique and offer a vastly different experience, while needing the same basic skills in training, point management, and survival. 

Whether it be the straight forward, easy to learn but still challenging Kino Der Toten, the more difficult and claustrophobic Five and Shangri-la, the incredible new mechanics and weapons of Moon and Ascension, the unique environments and bosses in Call of the Dead, or the addition (and improvement) of the base four maps from World At War, there was always something in every map.

Oh and then there’s the addictive and fun top-down arcade mode, Dead Ops Arcade that brings in a whole new and fun experience to Zombies.

No other Zombies game gives you that kind of variety, where you and your friends can decide what kind of experience you want to have. And to this day, it’s also the Zombies game with the least amount of issues. It doesn’t have game breaking gums or elixirs; it doesn’t have retcons that ruin the story; it doesn’t have complicated and ridiculous plot points and dragons.

It has the best story, the best characters, solid gameplay, the best variety in map selection, and is overall just the best version of the game. So, definitely check it out.

Man's got no chance

I’d like to thank gamersdecide for giving me the opportunity to talk about Call of Duty Zombies. If you liked this article, here are a few you may enjoy as well.

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A crazed redneck nerd from the savage lands of Tennessee am I. A passion for God, hard work, writing and storytelling, combat, and fitness. I'm into COD Zombies and the Wild West. I love writing.
Currently Playing: Call of Duty: Zombies
Top 3 Favorite Games:Call of Duty: Black Ops, Dishonored, Star Trek

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