A Trial in FPS on the PS Vita – Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified Review

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified has done a job the CIA would be proud of, in that the complete lack of information available following its announcement at E3 2012 has meant that the title has flown under most people’s radar.  Whether intentionally or not, it is clear that whilst Black Ops 2 is the premier Call of Duty title released this month, Declassified has been left out in the cold.  Does this mean that Declassified is likely to become one of the PlayStation Vita’s hidden gems and attract a small but loyal cult following?  Considering what’s on offer inside the package, this is doubtful.

Declassified offers three main gameplay modes, none of which should come as any surprise to a Call of Duty fan: you have your standard campaign, consisting of 10 Operations and five Time Trials; a Hostiles mode which basically serves as a horde-type series of environments, spread across the game’s multiplayer maps; and you have multiplayer, which tries its hardest to match up with the famed multiplayer of its console big brothers.  This last mode is perhaps the main reason why players will stick around with Declassified; although, for how long remains to be seen, as the map selection can be described as minimal at best.

Nihilistic hasn’t done a bad job of emulating the multiplayer available in the console versions of the Call of Duty series, with Declassified offering the usual selection of levelling up, killstreaks, perks and challenges, and the unlockables which come with such.  The weapon selection is fairly varied – from SMGs and Assault Rifles to Shotguns and Rocket Launchers – and this is complimented by a sizeable selection of perks (most familiar from consoles) and killstreak offerings, such as spy planes and attack helicopters.  The visuals are clear and each map’s aesthetic is fairly unique, with the layouts of each being quite well-designed, comprised mainly of killing fields, corridors and some tight corners good for an ambush.  The areas are also well-sized for the 4-on-4 battles that take place within them, although it’s a shame that there are only give maps on offer (Range, Container, Shattered, Rocket and Nukehouse).

Multiplayer isn’t without its issues, though.  The map doesn’t always work properly, particularly when it comes to the Spy Plane perk, with both friendly and enemy blips showing up on the map, whilst not being present in the actual playscreen.  This is compounded by friendly designations not always appearing above the heads of players on your team, meaning that you might fire off a quick burst at them, wasting your ammo and revealing yourself on the mini-map to the opposing team.  Respawns are also an issue, with my character frequently spawning right next to a group of enemies or right in the middle of a gunfight, meaning that I am almost guaranteed certain death.  Aside from this, the multiplayer is quite enjoyable, and despite requiring a Wi-Fi connection, I can see some passionate followers emerging if a few tweaks are made to rectify some of the problems.

In terms of the single-player offering, however, it’s a whole other story.  The campaign starts off well enough, with the pre-mission video introductions being reminiscent of the original Black Ops, and the first level beginning with explosions and a wall full of guns.  By the time you blow through the entire campaign, though, which will, in all likelihood, take you under an hour, you’ll be ready to bury your cartridge in the pile of disinformation from which it came, wishing that you’d left Declassified as unknowable as it was before release.

Unfortunately, the incredibly short campaign is the least of Declassified’s single-player worries.  Clipping issues are fairly prevalent throughout the game, with the guns and heads of enemies poking through walls with alarming frequency, though you can’t actually shoot them when this happens.  Similarly, during sections with cars, enemies are clearly visible through windows or doors (particularly once the car has exploded), but you can’t shoot them through the sizeable holes presented and have to wait until they leave said cover.

The campaign takes you through various locales – such as Russia, Vietnam, and Nicaragua – over a period of years, but the story is so disjointed and inconsequential that you won’t really be interested in whom exactly you’re shooting at or where you are.  The back of the box outlines that the game gives you the chance to “uncover the classified operations that occurred between Black Ops and Black Ops II,” and throughout the game, you play as Alec Mason and Frank Woods from the first game, but Declassified never really makes an effort to narratively link itself to either of the home console games.

To its credit, Declassified’s levels are well-designed for brief bursts of handheld gameplay, with each mission wrapping up somewhere between the three- and six-minute mark.  During this time, you’ll largely be shooting at enemies and not much else, as the varied (in terms of the FPS genre) gameplay from the Call of Duty series doesn’t make it into the handheld version.  The only moments that made me sit up and take notice were a section where a bomb is stabbed into a foe who is then pushed into a room of soldiers and one particular level where you are tasked with covering a fellow operative from a balcony with a sniper rifle.  The rest of the game doesn’t veer too much from the blueprint of the game’s initial time-trial level, with the cardboard cut-outs of the shooting range providing about as much intelligence as the ‘real’ enemy’s AI.

Most of your enemies display flashes of either super- or sub- human intelligence, with no real middle ground.  In the same group of three enemies that charged me in one portion of the game, one guy managed to start shooting at me before I even entered his sight, emptying his entire clip into the space I was about to occupy and creating a deadly wall of bullets that I had no chance of surviving if entered.  His fellow soldier, deciding to take a more subtle approach, figured the best option was to duck behind a crate, look at the ground, and refuse to fire at me, even when I stood directly in front of him.  The third soldier figured he would act somewhere in the middle of his two buddies, ducking behind cover and firing each and every one of his bullets whilst in the prone position, wasting all of his ammo into the box directly in front of him.  Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident, and while I didn’t get a similar group of three performing a perfect microcosm of the game’s AI in this manner again, examples of each individual filled the rooms of every level throughout the campaign.

The examples of Declassified‘s AI outlined above, combined with the level design that permeates the game of corridor-room-corridor-room etc, ensures that any kind of tactical variance or altered routes available in most shooters is non-existent throughout the entirety of the campaign.  Each mission degenerates into a shooting gallery, with memorisation of enemy placement being more useful than skill with a weapon and quick reflexes.  Although, even this wasn’t enough at times, with enemies reappearing in previously cleared rooms (sometimes even while you’re crossing said room) and hammering you with a hail of bullets before you have a chance to turn around.  The lack of checkpoints in each level only adds to the frustration when this happens, but with the brevity of each mission, it’s understandable why they weren’t put in.

One way in which Nihilistic has attempted to combat the brief campaign is by giving players the option to replay each mission on a higher difficulty and earn extra stars. This is seemingly for reasons of pride, as there doesn’t seem to be any rewards on offer for doing so.  Similarly, players can level up through the single-player campaign by gaining experience, though this is separate from the multiplayer set of levels.  You gain experience for killing enemies and for completing levels within a certain time, but again, the levels seem to serve no real purpose other than bragging rights.  If you unlocked extra weapons or gameplay modifiers then it might be interesting to run through the campaign again, but left as it is, a replay isn’t really worth the frustration.

Despite the hammering that Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified has received in this review, it would be a lie to say that the game doesn`t have any redeeming features whatsoever.  The gameplay, when it isn’t trying its hardest to screw you over in an attempt to artificially lengthen its lifespan, can be good fun, and the game itself is a good proponent for showing that the Vita is a viable platform for an FPS, if done properly.  Unfortunately, Declassified is too much of a mess and has too many issues to be the system-seller that it could have been if done correctly, although the multiplayer may convince a few die-hard fans to stick around for a while.

Frankly, if the game had shipped as a purely multiplayer shooter, it would have received a better score, and perhaps those unfortunate enough to purchase the game based on the strength of the Call of Duty brand wouldn’t feel quite so robbed.  An unfortunate case for the game itself, but at least it provides hope for the Vita’s FPS-related future.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified scores a bullet-to-the-head-worthy 2.75 out of 5


Our Rating
out of 5.0

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