Nacht der Untoten was a bonus mode tacked onto Call of Duty: World at War. It had recycled assets, no voice acting, and a simple layout because Activision didn’t fund it. Nevertheless, Treyarch implemented the small map for the fun of it, which went on to not only become the underrated game’s defining legacy, but also a franchise staple. Now it’s commonplace to expect a Zombies mode annually, and WWII won’t reject the lifeblood this lucrative trend affords. In the meantime, series veterans and greenhorns can experience why the undead have been a massive part of Call of Duty for nearly a decade with Black Ops III’s Zombies Chronicles, which digs up eight classic Zombies maps and revives them to the fullest.
Just as Raven Software blurred the lines between a remaster and remake with Modern Warfare Remastered, the same could be said for Treyarch’s efforts with this massive bundle. Revisiting Nacht der Untoten once more, comparing its appearance in Black Ops to its updated version is like night and day: volumetric lighting, dynamic shadows, effects such as fog and particles, and improved colour tones drastically enhance its mood and setting.
Walking inside or gazing beyond the decrepit building shows how the overall visual composition of the map hasn’t changed yet is entirely different with new, exclusive assets replacing the old ones. Creative flairs such as flickering lights scattered across the map and additional audio like thunder and infrequent musical ambience also contribute to an increase in tension and horror as you strive to survive.
The same can be said for all of the graphical updates. Verrückt is shrouded in excessive shadows and a drab, sepia tone, but the remaster has masterfully reworked lighting and colour balance. Kino der Toten adds two garages with cars next to Double Tap Root Beer and replaces the theatre's opulence with more grandiose designs, enhancing the original map’s aesthetic while smartly filling in empty areas with more personality. This isn’t mentioning minute details like the tanker next to the Russian mural in Ascension, which now has spilled oil around it on the cracked asphalt, reflecting and refracting light to give it a rainbow appearance. Instead of the Soviet Cosmodrome being covered in fog while riding the Lunar Landers, you can clearly see into the distance. There are no compromises made for processing here.
As a whole, taking time to revisit these maps unveils that Treyarch didn’t skimp on remastering, even with the sound design. This isn’t like Shi no Numa being ported to Black Ops with no touch-ups: the studio has remade these maps from the ground up, making their predecessors look unbearably blurry and bland in comparison. However, were they even worthy of being resurrected in the first place?
The Zombies mode’s design philosophy over time can be boiled down to increasing complexity and size; nearly every map has more features and open areas than the last. This can tip to the point of favouring two expectations, with one about finding spots to hold out in for the remainder of a session, and the other focused on continuously running around in planned circuits. The former is usually expected with Nacht der Untoten, Verrückt, Shi no Numa, Kino der Toten, Ascension, and Shangri-la. The latter works for Moon and Origins since they aren’t designed for camping, especially with enemies that force you to be on the move like Phasing Crawlers or the Panzersoldat.
Trying to play Moon and Origins by yourself or with friends proves to be quite the challenge then, and while the maps themselves are aesthetically pleasing and have neat, experimental ideas, they remain frustrating by having you erratically run around and micromanage so many things. We would’ve preferred Five and Call of the Dead instead. If you don’t have the patience for them, most of the other maps hit the right spot between simplicity and complexity.
Our favorite examples being Kino der Toten, Ascension, and Shangri-la, which demand satisfying mixes of camping and strategic movement, thanks to useful locomotive features like the Teleporter and Lunar Landers. Verrückt and Shi no Numa are not as diverse in this respect, but still have great layouts and plenty of viable strategies. Unfortunately, the map that started it all has lost a bit of its charm. It has remained the favorite of many because of the great limitations it forces on players. While other maps on average can be survived up to 25 to 30 rounds, it was hard to push 20 on Nacht der Untoten since there are only wall buys and the Mystery Box.
The remaster brings in Der Wunderfizz machine and GobbleGum, making it feel a bit easier and less exciting. While they somewhat hurt this particular map, they actually work in favour of the others due to their size and existing features by adding fun twists, especially with GobbleGum. For purists hoping for original weapons, only a handful have returned. This may seem to alter the spirit of the maps and odds of survival, but this isn’t the case. In fact, the balanced implementation of Black Ops III’s arsenal is enlivening for old fans to try out new Pack-a-Punched weapons.
While £24.99/$29.99 may be steep, eight maps with hours and hours of replay value is more than fair, which is especially worth it considering their extensive remastering. This particular editor will be returning to Black Ops III for these maps for months down the line to beat our solo scores and tear up flesh with old friends time and time again. After all, there’s lots of bad’uns out there you need to send to hell.
The visual upgrades for this DLC defy the bar set for most remasters. The majority of these classic Zombies maps offer the same addictive appeal of building strategies and loadouts through cohesive teamwork against the undead hordes, and with new life breathed into them with near-future weapons and features, we can attest that Zombies Chronicles is one killer collection you'll want to sink your teeth into – even if you only buy Black Ops III for it alone.