Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified will more than likely be shipping sans the infamous Zombies mode on November 13th of this year. This mode has been standard in Treyarch’s installments of the Call of Duty franchise since 2008, including the Nintendo DS version of the original Black Ops in 2010.
When Treyarch launched Call of Duty: World at War in 2008, they were playing catchup. The year before, Infinity Ward released a little game called Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, revolutionizing not only the series, but the FPS genre. Treyarch needed to do something to win over the Call of Duty diehards after the mostly-hated Call of Duty 3 – Something to make their games special. The answer to this was Nazi Zombies. The extra mode was a huge hit, and quickly became the reason to go out and pick up Treyarch’s game. Today, many would argue that Treyarch is the better developer overall- but demand for the mode still exists, and it has been confirmed for Black Ops II, due out this year.
As previously mentioned, n-Space, the developer for Call of Duty on the Nintendo DS, was able to squeeze in Zombies into the DS cartridge alongside a full campaign and online multiplayer. Zombies was playable co-op online and locally, to boot. So this begs the question: why isn’t Zombies going to be in Declassified this year? We are talking about a much more capable platform- space and resources are not the issue. According to Declassified developer Nihilistic Software, the reason is known only to Activision. They said via Twitter:
“Only Activision and Sony have the power to greenlight Zombies mode for CoD Vita. We would love to do it if they ask. But its not our call.”
Does this sound familiar? For fans of handheld systems and Call of Duty, it should. Last year, when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3: Defiance was announced, fans were extremely disappointed to hear that the series would not be making the jump from the DS to the 3DS. When questioned about it, n-Space pointed their finger at Activision, regurgitating almost the exact same line.
I am left scratching my head. As far as the 3DS is concerned, I understand. At the time, the install base was extremely small. And with only around half a million sold per game on the DS out of over 100 million system owners, it just did not make as much sense from a marketing standpoint. Nintendo took the same approach with the Pokemon franchise. Three Pokemon games have landed on the DS since March 2011, the month that the 3DS launched. You could try to make the same argument here, and say that Activision is reluctant to funnel too much money and time into Declassified, just in case it flops. But in my opinion, doing so is only ensuring that it will flop.
Activision has the opportunity to make Call of Duty on handhelds be a huge thing. While n-Space’s work on the DS is extremely admirable, the most devout Call of Duty fans want a more authentic experience, especially where controls and visuals are concerned. The Playstation Vita was practically tailored for this purpose. But instead of getting the authentic console Call of Duty experience in the palm of your hands, we are getting a game with a significantly smaller budget and shorter development time, without all of the bells and whistles that we have come to expect from the wildly successful franchise backed by one of the biggest publishers in the industry.
If you make the former, it will sell millions. Making the latter is not going to trick anyone. All it is going to do is doom the Vita version of Call of Duty for the rest of the generation. Call of Duty fans will give it a chance because of the hardware, ultimately be disappointed, and remind themselves of why they play consoles instead of handhelds. It’s a discussion for another day, but it’s extremely disappointing that publishers continue to put handheld games on the backburner, leaving us stuck in this perpetual cycle where handheld games are looked down upon for not holding a candle to their console counterparts. They don’t get the budget and time that they need because they don’t sell, and they don’t sell because they aren’t good. Mario Kart DS proved that 20+ million people can rally behind a high quality handheld game. But you have to put in the time, money, and marketing to get those results. There is no reason that Call of Duty cannot do the same.
Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified launches November 13th without Zombies. It does feature a wave-based mode called “Hostiles” that is single-player only. Stay tuned for more information on what is and is not included.