Call of Duty is probably the biggest franchise in gaming at the moment, with each game selling millions of copies worldwide every year. When Sony first announced the PlayStation Vita back in January 2011 as the NGP (Next Generation Portable), Call of Duty was announced as coming to the system. The series is known for its big set pieces with lots of explosions, which wouldn’t look out of place in a Michael Bay movie, and multiplayer which can be played for hundreds of hours without much fuss. The game that we got on the Vita isn’t quite like that.
Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified is developed by Nihilistic, the studio that developed Resistance: Burning Skies for the Vita. That is a game which was more fun than good. It had an easy but short campaign and a simplistic multiplayer mode. On the single player front, Black Ops: Declassified is even more bare-bones. Instead of a usual campaign mode, it has a series of ‘operations’ which are bite-sized missions linked together by a series of cutscenes. This structure is similar to that of Unit 13 which had 30+ missions, but Black Ops: Declassified has only ten. The cutscenes don’t add up either so you can’t really get a sense of why these missions are happening or even work out a coherent story, so it’s much like Modern Warfare 2 in that regard.
The operations are very short and can be finished in around 4-7 minutes on regular difficulty, meaning that the whole thing can be finished in under an hour. Of course you can increase the difficulty to veteran and that will lengthen them but will lead to much frustration. The level design is very narrow and are just shooting corridors followed by areas with very little open spaces or bombastic hollywood-esque set pieces. There are slow-mo breaches on most levels but they add very little to the experience. Another problem is the enemy AI which is, in a word, terrible. On regular, the enemies are pretty stupid and constantly shoot, even when you’re behind cover or in a different room. They often kill themselves too by shooting straight at cars right in front of them which blow up, killing themselves and nearby comrades. To be fair, that is quite funny. On veteran they become unerring shooters who can kill you very quickly. The problem has as much to do with the level design as it does with the AI because enemies appear from nowhere and instantly shoot at you. The levels don’t allow for many chances to find cover because they are very narrow and limit any chance to flank enemies.
The graphics in the levels are a bit bland. It’s hard to tell where the level is supposed to be set and each locale is indistinguishable from the next. The are no easy indicators to tell you where any given level is meant to be set and are dominated by greys and browns. Very dull.
The are two other single player modes in the game. These are hostiles and time attack. Hostiles is a survival type mode where you have to kill waves of enemies and not get killed yourself. If you manage to survive, a care package drops which can contain ammo, a new weapon or even mortar strikes or a sentry gun, all of which help in your efforts to stay alive. This is where any replay value in single player will come from since there are leaderboards and there’s always that chance to better your previous efforts. You score points for kills and the number of waves you survive and get rated out of three stars. To get the maximum three stars you have to survive up to wave 13, which also rewards you with a nice virtual gold trophy when done for the first time. Time attack mode is very similar to the assault courses which serve as tutorials in the Modern Warfare games. If you like the ones in the other MW games, then you’ll like these too.
In the tutorial/time attack level, you get to see how Call of Duty’s controls transfer to the Vita. Initially, I found the sensitivity to be too high and i was regularly missing the target. Lowering it by a couple of notches makes them much better. The Vita’s touch screen is implemented as well; touch anywhere on the screen apart from areas designated for other purposes to melee your foes with a knife. The designated areas are for grenades, at the top right of the screen and at the left is where you call in things like sentry guns, mortals or your killstreaks in multiplayer. However, that is doneeasier by pressing right on the d-pad since you may accidentally melee instead if you touch the screen.
The gun sounds in the game are rather tame and don’t sound powerful. The guns make more of a rattling sound as opposed to a booming sound like they do in the main console games. The explosions are more satisfying in this regard.
There is a decent selection of guns in Black Ops: Declassified. From assault rifles, SMGs, shotguns, sniper rifles, pistols and even a crossbow. Many of these are taken from the first Black Ops, as are the grenades and other assortment of weapons and items available to you.
These weapons can all be selected in the game’s multiplayer component, which fares a bit better than the single player in being closer to its console counterpart. All the gear (excluding camouflage) is here, including weapons, attachments and the proficiencies introduced in Modern Warfare 3. Perks and killstreaks also make an appearance in the vita iteration. There aren’t as many as in recent call of duty games, but they aren’t as emphasised as much as they seem to be these days. They are more like support options for people who acquire them as they play, which is more akin to the earlier games. More focus is on shooting.
There are six maps in total, which is too few. The maps which are here aren’t too bad and things don’t tend to get as hectic as the series is renowned for except in the two smallest maps: Nukehouse and Container. Nukehouse is basically half of the fan favorite from Black Ops, Nuketown, and Container is a direct remake of the map Shipment from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. On these maps it isn’t uncommon to spawn directly near enemies. Other problems with the multiplayer are that you sometimes get sent back to the game’s main menu for no apparent reason and it can take a little while to find a game. When you do it is a fun experience. With no rubbish AI and good shooting mechanics you can have a really enjoyable time playing. The pace isn’t as fast as in the console games but that may be a plus or a negative depending on your tastes. The games have less players too, only eight maximum but that’s not a big issue as the maps are a bit smaller than in the other games.
There are four modes in the multiplayer: Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All, Kill Confirmed and Drop Zone. Each mode is taken from a console game and are fun to play but a few more modes would’ve been nice; Domination, Capture the Flag and Search and Destroy perhaps.
The overall presentation of the game is quite nice. The menus are fantastic and are probably the best in the series since they’re quite minimalistic and the black and orange contrast nicely. These are met with the menu music from the first Black Ops game which fits well. The game’s user interface is pretty good too, with easy to read fonts it is easy to identify what is what whilst playing. When you level up in multiplayer you are met with the leveling up music from Call of Duty 4 which is a nice touch.
Ultimately, if you are expecting a console perfect replication of the series hallmarks in a pure unadulterated form then Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified probably isn’t for you. However, if you aren’t as keen on where the series has gone and maybe prefer the older games then you might enjoy this. Be mindful that it is far from perfect and could do with some polishing and some more content to bulk it up. Whether or not that happens depends on whether Activision give a damn, which looks unlikely if the game and the support given is any indication. This is a shame since there’s real potential here for a top quality fps experience on the vita. Maybe it would have been better for a port. Although they were a big criticism of the PSP’s game library, the Vita can handle such a game with fewer drawbacks than the PSP ever could. Maybe the game that catapulted the series to where it is today would be a good fit on the Vita, Call of Duty 4: Modern warfare. One can dream.
As Nihilistic transition from retail games into mobile games and a new name, nStigate, they will be remembered for attempting to bring one of the biggest franchises in gaming to a portable platform as closely as possible. Did they succeed? Many will say no. I think they got close in the multiplayer part but a lack of resources and support hindered them massively and it shows immensely.