Oh my… This is not the game the Vita deserves. It’s no small secret that I consider the Vita one of the best handhelds ever made, but some of the games being released as of late are not giving the device the respect it deserves. When E3 finally told the gaming public that the Vita was getting “Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified,” the community intrigue was at an all time high. No screen shots. No teaser. Nothing, just a big old poster. It didn’t seem alarming at first, but then Gamescom 2012 came around. Everyone saw the game running and it didn’t really impress. But hey, some of us gave it the benefit of the doubt, trying to repress the work that developer Nihilistic had done with Resistance.
Well the game came, we played it, and the one sure thing that can be said is that this its not the Vita system seller gamers deserve. However, it will definitely sell a few of them; kids love that Call of Duty name. And I suppose that would be okay, but the fact of the matter is Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is just awful. Plain and simple. This game suffers from plenty of flaws, most of which are probably be compensated for some by these sense that, “It looks like Call of Duty, it plays like Call of Duty, and therefore, it must be Call of Duty.” Well, if those are your key areas of concern then yes, this definitely fits that mold. However, I assure you, this is not the Call of Duty you have wanted to play. Here’s why:
When they had announced that the story in Declassified would bridge the gap between BLOPS 1 and 2, I was actually excited! Among all of the Call of Duty games, Black Ops was ranked among the best stories in the franchise. That sentiment gave me the confidence to think that Declassified would follow that tradition. Well, that’s not really the case here; it doesn’t really follow up on any tradition because there is basically no narrative. The story mode in declassified follows a mission format similar to Unit 13. You complete the many missions that follow Alex Mason and Frank Woods in some pretty scenarios. Personally, I really like the short mission concept, but it doesn’t deliver that epic story line we come to expect from Call of Duty games. With only ten (roughly 5 minute) missions under its belt, the game can be completed in less than one hour easily. I accomplished that small feat with uncomfortable ease.
I have no problems with a short story so long as the journey there is borderline genius. However, that is not the case as the missions are just a flurry of events that remind us that Mason and Woods had a rough life in the military. There is nothing that really speaks out to you and says “Wow! I was mesmerized by these turn of events!” Granted, no one would ever say that, but you get what I’m saying. The simple fact is the ten small missions available just don’t do what so many other Call of Duty games have done so well. What is arguable the most compelling and best part about the COD single player experience is its incredible set pieces. Sorry folks, there are none of those here. The story wouldn’t be an issue if the “bridge the gap” between the two games wasn’t an objective, but it is.
If you finish the story mode, you be left with very little to do. If your a perfectionist (and a masochist for that matter) you can replay the campaign for higher marks (like Spec Ops in MW2 & 3), do time trials, or engage in “hostiles mode” which is just wave, after wave of dumb terrorists (more on this later). In fact, the one thing that should have been implemented in the game immediately was Zombies mode, a Treyarch Call of Duty staple. Sadly, Nihilistic denied rumors of any inclusion of zombie, which was a very big missed opportunity. Then again, the entire game might as well have been zombies mode, because that exactly how the enemies reacted.
While the single player is disappointing at best, the gameplay mechanics are what stick out the most, namely controls and AI. Aim and movement are finicky, and poorly conceived. This in particular is a shame since the past iterations of Call of Duty have succeeded in spades in this department. This should be no shock though when you see what Nihilistic did with the Resistance franchise, another game that gained its fame by having a great story and even better controls. I hate pointing fingers at developers and honestly this could be case of limited development time, but ultimately the game’s controls leave me wanting. Then there is the issue with the AI, which is by far the biggest gripe I have with the game.
Man these NPC make some baffling decisions, from spraying and praying in opposite directions, to spinning out of control in a flurry of stupidity. In one situation, all I did was shoot in one directions the entire time and one by one they would just fall into my line of fire; never have a felt so much more powerful than the computer. I wish I was this good against the OSX chess computer. I digress, the main focus is that the AI just doesn’t work; in a word its flawed. Because if it isn’t the soldiers aren’t dying via funneled shooting, then they are just chilling behind boxes shooting in random directions and nothing else. All in all, it’s just downright ugly.
Lets start of small, like the maps are. Every shooter has their share of cheap spawn zones that will lead to instant death, but the maps in Declassified are downright tiny. The second I would spawn in maps like Nukehouse. I am not saying that you fie all the time, but even with 4v4 the map felt way too small. The simple act of having a map the size of say…I don’t know, maybe Nuketown, would have be much more fitting. Aside from this gripe, and obvious control issues, the game is otherwise considered competent in this regard. The Call of Duty trademarks are there; leveling, weapon customization, loadouts; this is probably what will make this game actually enjoyable for some. However, having loadouts and your choice of killstreaks doesn’t undo a series of poor mistakes. I don’t consider the touch controls to throw a grenade a bad thing; until someone else finds a better way, that’s the only thing I see working. But the same control issues that plagued the single player portion are here as well, so its not in the same realm as it’s console counterpart. The multiplayer counterpart suffers from some technical issues now and then, and can resort in some game breaking glitches more often then not. However, with all that said, the multiplayer aspect is the better part of the package, despite how limited it is.
Beyond what has been mentioned, their is also the question of graphics and sound that I enjoy exploring. Graphically, the game is breaking no boundaries. I have seen games on the vita that impress with their quality and polish, and Declassified is not one of them. The effort put into texture smoothing and lighting is just not that good. Its not bad, but it could have used some more attention. The sound quality was also okay. The game suffers from a lack of ground breaking score and overall audio compression. No track standout, its just meshes with all the other noises I heard from the many guns I got to use. There was no immense amount of depth behind the shots fired, which is a shame because without a rumble feature its the last bastion of real immersion we can expect from a game like this.
Blacks Ops Declassified is a tough pill to swallow. Everyone claimed it would be the messiah for ushering in the Vita to western gamers similar to what Monster Hunter would do in Japan. Yet here we are, with a dismal excuse for a game and stagnant Vita sales. Luckily the Vita has a few more games in the horizon. However, people who are looking to buy a vita for this game should be warned that this not the game they should be looking towards. In fact, all copies of Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified should be thrown back into their respective boxes, tossed into that hangar with the Ark of the Covenant, and just stay classified for the rest of eternity.
Jaime is very glad he could throw in an Indiana Jones reference, but still cant get over the sheer disappointment of Declassified. He hopes Killzone: Mercenaries will impress where BLOPS:D couldn’t, but waits patiently for any FPS that will really make the Vita shine. Disagree with his assessment of this game? Comment down below or hit him up on Twitter.