By Daniel Rutledge
I’m a big fan of the Call of Duty franchise and Black Ops Declassified is the biggest disappointment I’ve ever had with it.
The reigning king of first-person shooters’ debut on the PlayStation Vita is basically a very stripped-down version of the first Black Ops with some fairly annoying additions. There’s a little fun to be had with it still, but I was hoping for something a lot better than this.
The single-player campaign is super short – there are 10 levels and each takes around five minutes to complete. It will likely take longer than an hour to whizz through it though as there are frustratingly no checkpoints throughout each level.
But if a player powered through it in one go, they’d be done in less than an hour.
During that hour or so of gameplay, each of the levels is your standard old-school Call of Duty material, sort of. There are no intense, cinematic set-pieces that have become increasingly part of the Call of Duty experience, or big open spaces in which complex battles take place, but rather short linear paths generally through dark, dull factories. On these paths, you shoot a bunch of guys with bad AI in each and that's it.
Grenades are thrown by touching the screen, which is a little tricky to master in terms of getting it where you want it to go. In theory using your finger to touch the screen and place the grenade throw is more precise than the standard method of using a finger to trigger it and the thumb-stick to centre the screen on your target, but it means an awkward readjusting of your hand that ends up being inferior. Better use of the touchscreen is made with the melee - simply touching the screen anywhere will pull your knife out and attack with it.
There’s a very meagre storyline based roughly on the characters from Black Ops, but that’s fine. A handheld shooter doesn’t need a solid plot, as far as I’m concerned. Being able to pick it up, play for a little while, then put it down and forget it until you next have 10 minutes spare is fine. That’s certainly the case with these brief missions as Frank Woods – I can’t imagine a player dropping something to pick up the Vita and find out what happens next.
Graphics-wise, Declassified actually looks pretty good. There were some complaints on the internet about how ugly it looked when gameplay was first unveiled, but it’s either been tidied up or those complaints were unfounded. It looks fine - not as good as your standard Call of Duty, but fine for a handheld version.
The sound is also well done – it’s all taken directly from Black Ops and seeing as that game is a couple of years old now, it’s nostalgically pleasing to hear its distinct sound effects.
In addition to the campaign, there are five 'Hostiles' maps, which are similar to the survival Spec Ops mode in Modern Warfare 3 or zombies mode. You're placed on a small map and shoot wave after wave of enemies, trying to last a maximum amount of time and get a maximum amount of kills. Due to being restricted to five maps, all of which are fairly mundane, Hostiles mode gets boring very quickly.
The multiplayer is not as disappointing as the single-player campaign, but does have other problems. It's something like a bargain-basement version of the first Black Ops with some of the features that game had only scaled back. There are mini versions of the levelling up, perks, custom classes and killstreak reward systems that Call of Duty pioneered with Modern Warfare, for example, but with just a few options for each.
Nuketown was the smallest map in Black Ops and it has been cut down in size dramatically for Declassified to ‘Nukehouse’. This was by far the most common map that came up while I was playing, although the others were just as tiny. If you love playing first-person shooters where the enemy spawns directly in front of your gun, this is the game for you.
It's a bit of a laugh, especially if you play free-for-all mode - it's more nonsensical and intense than the Chaos mode in Modern Warfare 3 and as such a bit of a novelty, although it quickly gets annoying.
Still, the multiplayer mode brought me more joy than the single-player modes, which were generally more annoying than fun.
I experienced a few connectivity issues while playing Declassified online despite having a solid connection. Sometimes games just wouldn't load, other times they'd drop out and I'm not sure why. Granted, the game has only just launched and all the bugs may be smoothed over with updates, but there were far more issues than what I've experienced with the console titles at launch.
Speaking of connectivity, if your connection to the internet drops out even while you are in single-player mode, a big obtrusive notification box comes up on the screen telling you so - without pausing the game. If you're on your fifth attempt at saving some hostages on a level and this happens, it's highly irritating. Again, they'll hopefully fix it with a patch, but it's unusual they didn't sort these basic issues out before releasing the game.
When taking into consideration that this is a full-priced title, I have to say Declassified is terrible value for money. It's the worst Call of Duty title to date and there are much more fun uses for your PlayStation Vita.
This release has been panned fairly severely in almost every review so far. Hopefully lessons will be learnt and we can expect better next time.
One and a half stars.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified
:: Publisher: Activision
:: Developer: Nihilistic / nStigate
:: Format: PlayStation Vita
:: Rating: R16