Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified Review

Call of Duty on the Vita? The premier multiplayer shooter on a twin-stick portable system with a great display? A dream come true for shooter fans on the go? A nightmare is more like it. This is not the marquee shooter, system-selling game it should have been, and, undoubtedly the game many Vita owners were hoping it would be. No, it's a top to bottom disappointment and it begins with the controls.

One of the reasons that the Call of Duty games are so popular is that they set the standard when it comes to precision controls. It's twitch shooting that twitches as fast as you can twitch. Black Ops Declassified's controls remind me of playing subpar shooters on the PSP, but at least they had the lack of a second analog stick as an excuse. Floaty controls that will have you constantly fighting to point your gun at what you want to shoot are a persistent source of frustration in Declassified. Making matters worse, some controls have been relegated to the touchscreen more as an excuse to be able to claim touchscreen support than as a way to enhance the game experience. Tossing a grenade or using the knife requires tapping icons on the right edge of the screen that are small and too close together, and things are even worse in multiplayer mode when you add a killstreak icon to the mix. I can understand that developers are working with fewer triggers and other control points on the Vita than on a console controller, but why not use the Vita's rear touchpad instead? Hit anywhere on the left side, grenade, anywhere on the left, knife. No need to clutter the screen and overload the right thumb by making it jump between the stick and the screen and buttons.

And then there are the graphics. I expected a Call of Duty game to make full use of the Vita's sharp OLED display, but that was apparently wishful thinking on my part. Black Ops Declassified's graphics are blocky and dull, making it look more like a sub-par PSP game than a Vita game.

The bad news doesn't stop there. The single player campaign isn't a campaign as much as it is a collection of ten timed mini levels. They're supposed to help fill out the story from the console games and are introduced by short videos featuring familiar characters such as Mason and Woods, but there is so little in the way of storytelling here you'll be hard-pressed to figure out just where in the Black Ops narrative they're supposed to fit.

Each mission is essentially a timed run through linear, claustrophobic, and terribly dull environments filled with rock-dumb AI enemies. There is absolutely no trace of the Call of Duty series' trademark over-the-top moments or heart-pounding action sequences. It more closely resembles a corridor shooter from ten plus years ago than it does a Black Ops game. A corridor shooter filled with enemies that don't understand the basics of using cover, or their weapons for that matter. The only trouble that they'll give you comes from their ability to know that you're coming before they see you. You'll turn a corner and get greeted by a hail of bullets, die, and then ... restart the level from the very beginning all over again. There are no checkpoints in the game, so either you make it to the end of the level without dying or you start again from scratch. Since the enemies are always in the same places on each play-through, you'll eventually make your way past all of the prescient AI ambushes using the power of deja vu. And when you do, the game will rate your effort, presumably to give you the motivation to do the whole thing over only better. It doesn't. Once I finished a level I was pretty much done with it forever.

Even with all of the restarts, the campaign should take you somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half to complete. That's shockingly short, even for a shooter. If you decide not to torture yourself by replaying the missions, then you can try your hand at the game's survival mode called Hostiles. Surprisingly, zombies are not involved, although the brain-dead enemy soldiers are an ironic replacement. The waves don't really become more challenging as you progress through this mode, so it becomes a near-endless exercise of target practice that you'll quickly tire of. And then there's the actual Time Trials mode, which apparently operates under the mistaken notion that it's fun to run through a training course shooting at wooden targets as fast as you can. Needless to say, if you're looking at Black Ops Declassified as a single player experience, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Not that those looking for a great multiplayer experience will be happy, though. Declassified does manage to get some things right with the multiplayer, namely supporting some of the features found in console Call of Duty games. Custom classes, killstreaks, and perks are all here, albeit in smaller numbers than in the console games. But then you get to some of the basics like map design and network code and Declassified goes back to getting things wrong. Matches that end at random times and kick you back to the menu are quite common, and that's if you manage to connect to a game in the first place. The maps are not designed well and look to be grabbed and recycled from parts of the single player levels - they're too tight for multiplayer play and spawn camping is rampant. Add the poor control problems to the mix and you get a multiplayer experience that isn't very much fun, and really doesn't deserve to carry the Call of Duty name.

Final Rating: 35%. This game should have stayed classified or, at the very least, been redacted.


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