Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified Review
I don’t really know what happened here and truthfully, I don’t want to know. I’m assuming it has something to do with the rumor that Nihilistic spent less than five months preparing the game, likely because Sony desperately wanted the title to launch alongside Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Whatever the reason, I simply don’t care. The Vita needed a well-crafted portable franchise iteration, not a sloppy, aimless mess. And considering the vast capability of Sony’s new handheld, Black Ops Declassified is even more disappointing.
Even when it was unveiled, a great many gamers were going— “…uh, that doesn’t look very good.” No, it doesn’t look very good. The textures are muddy, the detailing is mediocre, the set pieces are a huge letdown (especially in comparison to the awesomely bombastic set pieces found in Black Ops II), and the lighting sucks. I suppose in comparison to other handheld productions, Declassified looks somewhat better, and the effects aren’t too bad. Still, it’s awfully hard to find bright spots in this visual presentation, which is an embarrassment to the Vita.
The sound is a little better but due to various technical issues, such as major balancing problems and sound dropouts, it also fails a simple inspection test. There’s nothing even remotely impressive about the audio and at first, I thought it was just because I wasn’t adjusting my expectations for the portable world. But after returning to a few great Vita titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and the recently released Need for Speed: Most Wanted, I abandoned that train of thought. The soundtrack is generic and ineffective, the voices aren’t anything special, and only the effects manage to be, at the very least, somewhat invigorating.
This was a great chance to bring the mainstream masses to the PlayStation Vita, a unit that has wonderful potential. Furthermore, there has already been a successful first-person shooter test in the form of Resistance: Burning Skies, which had a few problems but essentially proved that FPS mechanics can work brilliantly on a portable device. Dual analog sticks FTW! So it’s not like it can’t be done and by all rights, Declassified should’ve been a straightforward affair. Give us a decent campaign – one that maybe complements BOII in a variety of ways – and that industry-defining multiplayer for which the CoD franchise is known.
I mean, really, it’s not that hard. ...then again, maybe it is. First up, the controls just aren’t right. The basic control is loose and surprisingly unreliable, and for some inexplicable reason, you aren’t allowed to adjust the speed of your aiming, which is incredibly frustrating. I always worry about touch functionality when it comes to fast-paced games and this time, my fears were justified. These features don’t work well at all and the interface is poor. Why in God’s name the on-screen commands are so close to the damn analog sticks, I have no idea. It’s just a bad presentation.
I almost could’ve struggled through these problems if the campaign was even the slightest bit intriguing. If I had a halfway decent story, if there were a few interesting characters, if the pacing was solid, if the objectives were relatively original and diverse, etc. Amazingly, I got none of that. Whose grand idea was it to create a story mode that essentially consists of insanely repetitious missions and a bunch of random time trials? Does any designer really think that’s what gamers want? Or that such a structure is the groundwork for a quality production?
The AI is ridiculously terrible, as some enemies reminded me of the good ol’ PS1 days when foes would exhibit obviously brain-dead behavior. The story is basically a waste of time, as we’re never asked to care or learn more about the characters, and all we’re really seeing is a series of events that supposedly happened during the Black Ops timeline. Well, yay. If you’re not going to give me anything to latch onto, it’s like seeing a bunch of barely cohesive shots on those old overhead projectors we had in school. And wow is that boring. Like, snore-inducing boring.
“Boring” is a good word to describe the tedium of the repetitive and uninspired missions. The only good news is that because the campaign is barely a few hours in length, you don’t have to suffer for very long. The bad news is that although the multiplayer is a little better (when it works), it still falls well short of saving the game. That’s an absolute travesty, too, because a top-notch multiplayer experience on the Vita would’ve been fantastic for generating hardware sales. And when the name of that experience is “Call of Duty,” this title would’ve been a boon for Sony’s handheld.
Sadly, while it can be entertaining at times, a myriad of problems plague the online action. The style and structure isn’t bad, as it will likely remind you of past series entries, but beyond that, it’s unstable, uninvolving, and just plain unfun. Yeah, I’m using a made-up word because it fits so perfectly. There are tons of glitches and glaring flaws like massive collision detection issues and total spawning idiocy. Games frequently crash and freeze, there are constant connection problems, and the maps are freakin’ small as hell. In general, the CoD maps are smaller than in other shooters but this is just ridiculous. It couldn't get more cramped, I don't think.
The fast-paced intensity of the multiplayer only enhances the subpar control and wonky touchscreen features, and the available modes are merely pedestrian. There’s just nothing to keep you coming back for more, primarily because you’ll likely be infuriated due to a host of annoying, recurring issues. Granted, if you get a good round going with some friends, you can have a good time. I’m not denying that, nor am I saying such a possibility doesn’t exist. I’m just saying the game is such a colossal disappointment from top to bottom that you shouldn’t waste your time.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified had a chance to be one of the first system-sellers for the Vita. But it’s clear to me that this is nothing more than a half-assed rush job, resulting in a monotonous, glitch-riddled, highly repetitive portable experience. The game looks like hell, the AI is terrible, the story is meaningless, and the controls just aren’t right. There is some legitimate entertainment to be found in the multiplayer, but that aspect is so terribly plagued with technical mishaps and an overall ho-hum feeling that it’s not reason enough to warrant a purchase. Man, it’s just depressing to write reviews like this…despite the opportunity to be creatively bitter. ;)
The Good: The visual and sound effects aren’t bad. Solid multiplayer fun with friends is possible.
The Bad: Poor technical presentation. A horde of glitches and glaring errors. Story is boring and meaningless. Even basic control is subpar, and the touch functionality is flawed. Terrible AI. Generic, monotonous action offline and online.
The Ugly: “The Vita didn’t deserve this kind of treatment.”
11/19/2012 Ben Dutka