Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified
Nihilistic Software / Sony Computer Entertainment
Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified has caused great turmoil across the web over the past few weeks. I apologize in advance if this review comes off more as a commentary on the industry, from publishers to critics to consumers. As it turns out, the issues to be discussed are the crux of the dissonance that can be found between existing reviews of the game and the impressions from the Vita community itself. Does this game deserve the praise that it gets from Vita fans? I say yes, depending on how you look at it. Does this game deserve to unanimously panned by critics? Well, yes it does, depending on how you look at it.
Let’s say you, a Vita owner that has a modest library and a penchant for shooting games, have decided to pick up the latest FPS for the system on a whim. When you boot the game up, you are met with very clean menus that look rather clearly like Call of Duty. You jump straight into the multiplayer- no better way to get a feel for an FPS than to just dive right in. The firefight is right before your eyes, as you take off with a pre-made class, aiming down the sites. +100. +100. +100. What’s that? You’ve unlocked a killstreak reward and that UAV goes up. Suddenly, you’re killed from behind. You frown slightly as you realize that there are no killcams, but then jump right back in to get your killstreak back up. A few levels in, you’re unlocking create a class, choosing your perks and attachments, and playing Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, and “Drop Zone,” a spin on Headquarters that drops care packages to the team holding down the fort. Partying up is still an option through the Vita’s Party application, and works just as well as it did in Resistance: Burning Skies. There are some omissions (like custom emblems, killcams, theater mode, and pro perks), but most of what you come to expect from Call of Duty‘s multiplayer is present here on the Vita.
Declassified‘s multiplayer unfortunately also bares some typical Call of Duty technical issues- especially where matchmaking is concerned. Most of the trouble comes from getting into the matches and getting booted back to the main menu, of which I have had trouble with on numerous occasions. The multiplayer also suffers from awful respawning, but in a different way than consoles. Most of the console games will spawn you near the person that killed you to give you a chance for revenge, but this game literally spawns you behind them. Right behind them. Or them behind you. This is partly due to the map size which, in some cases, is even worse than Burning Skies was. The idea is to make firefights more common for the 4v4 setup, but it is taken to the extreme. Nukehouse, for instance, is exactly what is sounds like. It is the already-small Nuketown cut in half. One house. Eight players spawning in and around one house. Yikes.
Traipsing on to the single player experience, you may not be as sold on the move to the Vita. Concessions were made in the multiplayer, but for the most part it plays as one would expect Call of Duty to play. But that is not the case the with the campaign, mostly because it is not so much a campaign as it is a collection of “Spec Ops”-style missions set in the Black Ops universe that are meant to be played repeatedly for high scores. This may be disappointing to some, and hit the nail on the head for others looking for a mobile experience. Rumor has it that these missions only take 45 minutes to complete. While my officially recorded “best times” for my first run-through of each mission only add up to 58 minutes, I actually spent closer to two hours on them. Some missions require trial and error, and most FPS veterans will fail some of them a few or more times. Beating them on Veteran difficulty (and yes, there is a trophy as incentive) will take considerably more time.
Add to this some time trial “training” missions that have absurdly low clear times, and a horde mode called “hostiles”, you’ve got 20 single-player levels that can be played repeatedly for high scores that are posted to leaderboards. Trophy hunters will also find a reason to keep playing, as most of the trophies are related to beating these levels in specific way, which makes this Platinum much more difficult than Burning Skies‘ Platinum.. The game is as long as you want it to be. Like Unit 13, this is a game that is crafted to be a pick-up-and-play, mobile gaming experience. Honestly, it works pretty well that way. Is it what we expect from a Call of Duty game? Absolutely not- those looking for a campaign will not find it here. But does it work? Well yeah, and some people will grow to like it.
The score that I’m going to give this game has given me a lot of trouble. I was one of the few that stuck up for Nihilistic games when others ran Burning Skies into the ground, and I was certainly excited to see what they had in store for their second FPS title. I think that the switch to a mobile-style campaign was effective, but as a fan of Call of Duty‘s campaigns, I was a bit disappointed. I was not, however, disappointed with the mutiplayer. It is much deeper, and much more glitch-free than Burning Skies was. No, I probably will not choose to play it when I’m at home in front of my TV and can play Black Ops II instead. But while I am in bed and my wife is reading, or while I’m bored of watching my friend play game after game of Fifa? Sure. It’s not a revolutionary game, and it is far, far from perfect even though it rather faithfully recreates the Call of Duty multiplayer experience. If you take it for what it is and don’t expect more of it, there is enjoyment to be found.
But the problem is that we should expect more. We are not talking about a new IP from a small studio. We are talking about the biggest franchise in gaming today. The franchise that allows Activision to skate along happily while other publishers cut studios and end franchises just to make ends meet. The franchise that continues to grow and grow each year, easily making over a billion dollars over the course of a few weeks, while other developers cry out in joy when they crack ten thousand units sold. Why should we sit back and watch Activision farm out Call of Duty to an inexperienced developer with a sub-par budget and minimal development time? DS gamers got lucky with n-Space, who managed to cram a campaign, online multiplayer, and online zombies onto a tiny card for limited hardware without it being complete garbage. But here were are now, with the most powerful handheld gaming system ever, receiving a product that is not even close to what it could be. Why should we settle for this? We were promised the console experience on a handheld, but instead are getting the low-budget console experience. It is simply another case of the handheld installment of an established console franchise being released as a cashgrab, and nothing more.
Most critics thus far have taken the opportunity to slam the game to make this very point. While commendable, it also has the added side effect of scaring away FPS fans that could definitely find joy in Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified. While it is hard for me not to join in, I feel compelled to review this game for what it is, rather than what it is not. I went in knowing that it would not be the console experience. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the multiplayer, and the effectiveness of the arcade-style single-player. Sadly, the game is certainly not as polished as one would hope, is a bit ugly, and has more than its fair share of technical hiccups. And those looking for a traditional FPS campaign should look to Resistance: Burning Skies. Bottom line, Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified is not a great FPS, but is one worth trying for those looking for a deep online multiplayer experience on the Vita.