The PS Vita was supposed to revolutionize handheld gaming. The system has two analog sticks, making perfect for shooters and camera movement. When Activision first announced a Call of Duty game was coming to the system, most of us called it right there. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the last we heard about the game until it launched. Rarely had anyone seen footage, and little was known about its structure. Now we all have copies in our hands, but are left wondering how someone could mess up a perfect formula this badly.
Black Ops Declassified is a shadow of its console counterpart. Bringing the game to portables has definitely crippled a lot of what makes the series work. For starters, the controls are a mess. Yes, you still aim with one analog and move with the other while using the triggers to look down the sights and shoot, but adjustments have been made. The targeting just feels off. The game tries to make up for the lack of precision by slightly altering the way you target enemies. It just doesn’t work, and it takes a lot of getting used to. I was constantly overshooting enemies, thus creating a false difficulty curve that didn’t help.
The game also uses an auto-sprint to help make up for not being able to click in on the sticks. Again, this rarely ever works, and feels more awkward than it needs to. It almost feels like the developers were trying to get all the features in there, instead of figuring out how to make them work for the game. A prime example is the touch screen controls. Crucial abilities like melee and grenade tossing are mapped to these functions. This makes pulling them off in the heat of battle really convoluted. The game really feels like a copy of the series instead of carrying its pedigree for precision controls.
Once you get accustomed to the controls (if you can) the problems continue to surface. First up is the solo mode. Here, instead of a story-driven campaign, you are dropped into tiny missions featuring characters from the Black Ops series. There is no large-scale plot, and missions last literally minutes. There also aren’t a ton of them, so powering through in one session is going to be the norm. On paper, bite-sized missions are a great idea, but here it just feels like a tacked-on excuse to claim you can play the game alone. It is also worth mentioning that if you die, you start over. There are no checkpoints to be found.
You also have time trials to complete if you want, which consist of you going through courses shooting wooden targets. Yeah, you know the training missions CoD titles usually carry with them? They made a game mode out of that. There is also a horde-style mode called Hostiles, but its poor AI and lack of variety wear it down fairly quickly. Speaking of AI, the solo mode of this game is chock full of brain-dead enemies, so if you want any real competition you better head online.
Declassified features eight player online modes that sort of mirror the console outing. There are perks, custom classes and XP to gain, as well as a host of familiar maps and weapon attachments. The idea was to make a smaller, more compact CoD experience, but what you end up with is literally a watered-down version. None of the maps really stand out, and the loading between matches is atrocious. I once waited upwards of five minutes for a game to load, only for it to finally kick me out as soon as I got killed once. Yeah, that is not a fun experience.
The game looks decent for a pint-sized version of CoD, but again the lack of variety is where it suffers the most. The maps and modes don’t feel distinct, and there simply aren’t enough of any of them to make it work. Sound is awkwardly quiet and feels like some of it was just missing when the game shipped. This wouldn’t shock me, as the entire experience just feels half-hearted on almost every level.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified was supposed to be THE Vita game. This was a system seller, and one that would forever showcase just how hardcore the PS Vita was in the handheld scene. Unfortunately, what we ended up with is a watered-down, uninteresting version of CoD that feels almost like a cheap knock-off of the series. I cannot recommend this game for Vita owners with so much other quality software dropping in the last month. Shooter fans continue to hold out, Declassified is not the shooter that will define the PS Vita… at least not in the way Sony hopes.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.