Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified (PSV)

Title: Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2.5 GB) / Game Card
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Nihilistic
Price: $49.99 (PSN) / $49.99 (Game Card)
ESRB Rating: M
Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.

More than any other franchise, Call of Duty has dominated this console generation. When most people think of the series, however, they don’t think of the handheld versions. After a fairly average debut on the PSP in 2007 , Activision hopes to strike gold with Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified on Sony’s flagship handheld, the PlayStation Vita. All of the pieces of the puzzle are here: a handheld with two analog sticks, a brand name that people will recognize, and an online infrastructure to support on the go frag-fests. Unfortunately for both the fans and Activation, Declassified is not a good game. It feels like a slap in the face with a lackluster and thrown-together story, average multiplayer mode, and high price.

If you’ve played a Call of Duty game before, you know you are getting in to. It’s the standard for first person shooters, and it transfers relatively well over to the Vita. Controls are what you expect: jump with X, shoot with R, aim down the sights with L, and so on. It was very easy to pick up and play on the handheld, but at the same time, something felt off with this iteration.

Even though most of the controls transfer over fairly well, the gameplay experience does not. With the smaller analog sticks, sensitivity was a constant issue. No matter how much I tweaked the in game sensitivity settings, I couldn’t find one that fit my play style. With Uncharted and Unit 13, I didn’t have any issues aiming or lining up head shots, but with Declassified, I found myself in a constant struggle with the controls. One of the nicer features implemented is the “always-on-sprint”. This ensures that your character will always be sprinting when he is moving in a straight line. It’s a bit more reliable than the double rear tap implemented by Resistance Burning Skies, and I found myself enjoying it. Other Vita FPS’s should take note and use this control option. The touch screen controls for knifing, grenade throwing, and perk activating work better than those found in Resistance, but I found myself constantly re-tapping the onscreen icons in order to activate. A game that relies heavily on precision and speed should have tighter controls than this.

Speaking of speed, the speed at which you complete the single player portion of this game is quite alarming. Consisting of only 10 missions, Declassified can easily be beaten in one sitting (even as fast as 45 minutes if you’re good). Each mission is tied together with an extremely loose story, consisting of bland voice overs, pixelated slideshows of documents and other “classified information”, and small in game quips about progressing through the level. Declassified aims itself as a score chasing game, as playing on higher difficulties and doing speed runs will earn you more points. There’s no motivation, however, to play faster, as there are no unlockables, other than a few trophies, for completing each mission on the highest difficulty. It can be fun at first, but at only 10 missions, it feels thrown together and lazy. Unit 13, a similar game focused around high scores, had many times more levels than this, and its a shame that Declassified doesn’t hit this larger scale.

In addition to the campaign, Declassified also throws in a few other single-player modes. The time trial modes feel ripped straight from some of the Spec Ops missions in Modern Warfare 2, and they’re fun, for a while. The same control issues that plague the game overall make this mode seem less skillful and more like a random game of chance. If you can push past the control issues, this mode will probably feel fun and challenging, but with only 5 levels, your fun will run out rather quickly.

Nihilistic attempts to ride the coattails of Treyarch by including Hostiles mode, a mode designed to appeal to the Zombie lover of the console versions. In this mode, you try and last as many waves as you can to, you guessed it, take the top score on the worldwide leaderboard. While this mode has a lot of potential, it eventually falls flat on its face. The enemy AI in awful; it can either be extremely cheap and unforgiving or completely idiotic and nonsensical. The biggest flaw is the lack of multiplayer. What could have been a fun mode is eventually boring and stale. Trying to survive wave after wave of enemy can only be so fun on your own, and multiplayer would have easily made this mode significantly more enjoyable.

There’s a reason that there are no screenshots in this review; the player is unable to capture any screens them self. Similar to Resistance Burning Skies before it, Nihilistic has disabled the screenshot feature, in what looks like an attempt to hide the visual quality from the general public. Let me tell it to you flat out; this is not that great looking of a game.

At first glance, it looks like Call of Duty. The environments, the animation, everything looks right from the start. When you start to look at it for more than a passing glance, you start to see the seams. Every character looks like a re-skinned character from Resistance. Character models are basic. Textures are blurry and pixelated. This game, does not look good once you start playing it.

At the same time though, I never found the visual quality a barrier to my “enjoyment” of the game. Once you start playing, the smooth frame rate makes the game look not as bad. The game moves at a quick frame rate (I cannot tell whether it’s locked at 30 or 60, but I rarely experienced slow-downs), and it functions. The game never breaks or becomes unplayable.

The strongest aspect of Declassified’s visuals is actually in the UI. When you boot up the game, you will be pleasantly surprised at how well the menus function and work. The menus, perhaps more than any other part of the game, feel most like the console versions. The popups in-game after every event feel like the console versions, and it tries to make you feel like it’s the same game. Unlike the console version, the unlocks after each level up are hidden deep in the barracks menus, making it a bit harder to track what you’re unlocking. I’ve played better games with worse UI, so it’s a nice change of pace to see a game take UI design seriously.

Like Nihilistic’s previous game, audio continues to be a problem for this team. Guns sound fake, thin, and “popcorny”. Without bass or other audio processing, the guns feel completely unrealistic and underpowered. Games generally sound hollow and empty with the lack of players, lack of music, and lack of powerful guns. The game, overall, feels strangely quiet. It’s nothing that’s awful or game-breaking, but the audio does little to add to the “immersion” that this game strives for.

Like it’s console brethren, Declassified aims to position the multiplayer as the major selling point for this game. Surprisingly, it pulls it off, to an extent. Declassified’s multiplayer offerings are a competent and at times, fun, version of the Call of Duty formula. It’s just a shame that it’s so scaled down that it becomes stale.

Declassified brings over five of the most popular modes from Black Ops 2: Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Drop Zone, Team Tactical, and Free-for-All. It’s a shame that Domination didn’t make the cut, but the modes that are here function as normal. Team Deathmatch is fun and fast paced, while Kill Confirmed remains a favorite of mine. Each game feels fast paced and unique, and after a while, it feels just like you’re playing the console game on the go.

Except that it’s not quite. Matches are only four on four versus the normal six on six. The decreased number in players has changed the map sizes. They feel significantly smaller and more intimate than the console versions, and at time, it can be quite hectic. Nukehouse, a scaled down version of Nuketown, falls victim to this the most. There were times where I would literally spawn in front of an enemy, causing a quick death.

In addition to the scaled back modes and player numbers, the number of maps have also been scaled back. With only 6 maps, you’ll find yourself easily getting bored with the selection while playing. The game, though feeling like Call of Duty, feels scaled back and watered down. It’s a real shame too, this game could have been amazing. Imagine if Activision took after EA and tied in multiplayer progress between the Vita and PS3 versions of Black Ops. Cross-play, though nice, wouldn’t be as necessary as cross-stat-saving in my opinion. Had my progress/unlocks carried over to the console version, I would feel more compelled to continue playing. Without it, I’d rather play the console version with more maps, more players, and more community.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: At this time, Ad-Hoc multiplayer had been added through a patch. I did not have the opportunity to test it out, as no one near me had the game. It contains the same modes as the online.)

Overall, this game, while functional and competent, fails at what it sets out to do. It positions itself to be a score-chasing single player game, but the bland story, lack of objectives, and lack of depth provide little to no incentive to continue playing. The survival and time trial modes, while good in theory, are hard to enjoy when the controls impede your ability to play. The multiplayer modes, while quite enjoyable, feel watered down and incomplete. Even though this game is far from great, it’s also far from broken. What results is a hodgepodge of a game that had so much potential, but it squanders it with its execution. Do yourself a favor. Don’t pay $50 for this. Wait till it drops in price. Pick it up for <$15. Hope that it gets added to PS+ to increase the community size. In the mean time, sit back and hope that Killzone Mercenary finally delivers on the promise of a good FPS for the PlayStation Vita. Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is not the game you were waiting for.


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Written by Eric R. Miller

A 21 year old multimedia student who lives, eats, and breathes everything Playstation. Follow me on Google

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