Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified Review
The annual Call of Duty juggernaut rolls on, shattering sales records left and right. Now, for the first time, the most successful franchise in history comes to the Vita with Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified. Under the direction of developer Nihilistic, I’m sure Activision was banking on this being a big seller, but in the end Declassified is a pretty big disappointment. It’s one of those things: it looks like Call of Duty, feels like Call of Duty, but it just isn’t Call of Duty. The controls aren’t as tight as you’d expect from the premier shooter in the industry, the multiplayer is a mess, and the campaign is criminally short. All in all, this is one mission you shouldn’t partake in.
The gameplay does a good job of imitating the real Call of Duty experience, but that’s just the problem: it’s a vague imitation of the real deal. The gunplay is average at best. Considering that you don’t have to be a Call of Duty fanboy to admit the controls are the tightest in the FPS genre, this comes as a slight disappointment. Shooting bad guys functions fairly well, although the aiming can be a bit twitchy. I spent a lot of time overcompensating when not using the “snap-on” feature. Declassified feels close, but by no means up to par with its console brethren.
The touch screen controls are hard to use simply because of how fast-paced the game can be. For example, you touch the front screen to melee your opponents. I’d often try to throw a grenade or call in a spy plane in multiplayer only to have it slash my knife impotently instead. Regular fans know those moments are the difference between life and death, or worse, ruining a kill-streak run. “Really? Are you kidding me?” was a phrase I often uttered.
Ironically, the sub-par gun mechanics are evened-out by the enemy AI, which is atrocious. The bad guys alternate between preternatural killing machines and mindless morons. At times they seem to have a sixth sense about when you are about to turn a corner – running into bullets is unnaturally common – but in multiple instances I found them charging me without provocation, running right into my sights. Aside from poor timing, I encountered enemies unloading entire clips into inanimate objects, mostly the cover they are hiding behind. I’d be afraid to turn the corner and return fire (since the idea of limited clips apparently doesn’t apply to them, just you), just to see them impotently blasting the crap out of something that was less than a foot away.
I also had a couple of truly bizarre things happen. For example, I’d run past someone I didn’t even know was there; they didn’t appear on my map at all. Rather than put a bullet in the back of my head as I deserved for my foolishness, they would instead run away. One memorable case occurred when I mistimed a reload and got charged by three chaps. Each ran up to me, filling the screen, then spun in a circle and ran back. It was literally mind-boggling. I actually laughed out loud before shooting the fools in the back.
The “story” (notice the quotation marks?) is basically a slew of missions that relate loosely to one another. They are “supposed” (again with the quotation marks!) to tell the story of what happened between the first Black Ops game and the recently released sequel. You play as all three main heroes: Mason, Hudson, and Woods. It’s disjointed at best, which in and of itself isn’t really a problem since the plots of these games don’t usually make much sense in the first place. What IS a problem is that each level takes about five minutes to run through. There are ten levels. Do the math… I’ll wait.
Finished? Yeah, I beat the entire single player mode in about an hour. Seriously. That is not okay. How can you justify releasing a full priced game that can be beaten in that quickly? The levels themselves aren’t particularly bad, and I understand that we want to keep them short for when we are on the go, but the truth is that this sort of thing seems like it should be a tacked-on mode outside of the main campaign instead of the core experience. On top of everything I just mentioned, there is no checkpoint system, so if you die you have to start from the very beginning of the level. Honestly, I thought this was a thing of the past! There is also a tacked on horde mode clone. It’s fun once or twice, but the mechanics aren’t good enough to warrant playing it more than a couple of times.
Okay, I know that for most, Call of Duty is all about multiplayer so let’s put aside the travesty of the single player “campaign” (really Simon, third time with the quotes?!). Multiplayer is a mixed bag. Connectivity is a mess, especially if you’re on the go. When I was at home with a good Wi-Fi signal it connected straight up… but if I’m at home why wouldn’t I play a vastly superior experience on my PS3 or 360? When you’re out and about and signal strength differs (like, say, riding the bus or subway), you’ll be lucky if you can get past the lobby. I got booted from most games I joined and half the time I couldn’t link up in the first place.
When you do manage to get into a game, it’s a glitchy mess. The main issue is the fact that the maps are small…really small. Even with only 8 versus 8 (or 16 in free-for-all), there just isn’t enough space. It’s not uncommon to respawn directly in the line of fire or, worse yet, literally on top of another respawning player. Campers of the worst kind literally hung out two steps behind where they knew someone would respawn. Sure, they were easy fodder for anyone who knew they were there, but if you were unlucky enough to come back from death in the wrong place, you had a shotgun blast to the back of the head before you knew what happened.
Ad Hoc multiplayer was added after the main game released. Basically, the idea is to play with your friends who are close. Presumably, this is for localized trash talk. It’s a good idea, if, that is, you know enough people who would actually buy this! I honestly can’t see enough people hanging onto this game to make playing the multiplayer worthwhile in the first place.
For the most part Declassified hits all the right notes from a technical standpoint. The graphics actually look pretty nice. Sorry, that comes from years of reviewing “hand-held” games! Sure, some of the textures are flat and the lighting isn’t particularly dynamic, but it’s one of the better-looking Vita games I’ve played. I didn’t encounter many frame rate chugging or screen tearing issues. The animations are decent too: soldiers fall fairly realistically and the guns look great. Declassified also sounds awesome. While there isn’t much in the way of dialogue, the guns chatter as they do on the consoles and the sound effects are on par.
Oh yeah, where the hell is my “Zombies” mode? Sorry to gripe, but I want to shoot zombies when I’m riding the bus! How can you have a Black Ops game without zombies! Sighs….
In the end, Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified is a pale imitation of its superior forebears. It’s not bad for what it is, but it’s not nearly as good as it should be. Frankly, I expected better. The length of the campaign is criminal – there is no way they should charge full price for this. Frankly, it’s insulting. What’s there isn’t terrible, there just isn’t very much of it. If they bring Call of Duty back to the Vita (and they should), here’s hoping the next installment lives up to it’s illustrious moniker.
Reviewed By: Simon Waldron
This review is based on a copy of Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified for the PlayStation Vita provided by Activision.