Black Ops: Declassified was made from tears, tears of a development team who managed to port the Call of Duty engine to the Vita before having the game ripped out from under them.
It marks the second Vita bomb for Nihilistic, Declassified a follow-up to their sub-par Resistance: Burning Skies. Both games dimmed the appeal of their respective franchises, although in the case of Declassified, it is more of a stake through the heart of the Vita than the Call of Duty name.
The Vita needs Call of Duty more than Call of Duty needs the Vita. Impact on the franchise will blow over, while the community will point to this portable edition as a beacon for the console’s troubles. If nothing else, Declassified, as a subtitle, makes sense. This lifts the veil off of Call of Duty to reveal what these games look like before they are finished.
Enemies shoot walls, cars, and straight ahead. They become devoid of peripheral vision as the player stabs a partner. They walk past crouched soldiers waiting in ambush, and won’t react when shot. They blow up vehicles to commit suicide. They throw grenades at walls that take out themselves and others. They statically stay in position despite having no cover. They keep their heads exposed even when ducked behind boxes.
Declassified is not scripted; it is utterly broken. Those above events were not one-off occurrences during the 45-minute (!) campaign. They happened every mission. Situated somewhere between the two Black Ops titles, the mess of a story deals in bulk Russians and a bit of Middle Eastern terrorist-types with recognizable series protagonists in the lead like Frank Woods. None of that matters.
Missions are timed and scored, turning this – seemingly out of total desperation – into an arcade-like methodology. Try for the best score, best accuracy, best time, etc. It comes off as ancillary stuff, a coating meant to heal what ills this choppy shooter, designed to be played in five minute chunks. There is no excitement in these restrictive shooting galleries, weak foes carrying less personality than the recycled sprites of light gun shooter Lethal Enforcers… and those were digitized cardboard cut-outs of sorts.
Say what you will for value, but Declassified does understand some of what makes this series tick. With slight adjustment to the limited motion analog sticks and maybe a tweak of the sensitivity, this bears the franchise name for a reason. Foes drop in lines more akin to Dynasty Warriors thanks to the (lack of) AI, but snapping down the sights and dropping incoming baddies feels right at home. This is aside from the lack of challenge, or sometimes even a fair challenge for that matter. Trying to pop someone who unloads clips straight ahead without an available offensive angle in a straight hallway is falsely enforcing the issue.
Maybe, just maybe Declassified could find life via multiplayer since the two additional single player modes are an utter waste. Multiple training mission runs and survival “Hostile” play types are dreadfully dull. However, they are playable. Even post-301MB patch to fix crashing lobbies, this mini-Call of Duty is unable to load matches, freezes at the loading screen, crumbles under the weight of four-on-four combat, and refuses to pull up map voting options in the lobbies.
Once into a game if you’re not so lucky, tragically small arenas are preposterously unbalanced. Safe spawn points are often a dream, and guns have such an inconsistent effect on opposition, you cannot tell if you are in the midst of a safe kill. All of the usual perks and leveling will not salvage the tired, droll attempt at transitioning otherwise world class multiplayer in handheld form.
Does anything change for Call of Duty on Vita? Touch screen grenade tosses take too long to function under duress, so you can curse the lack of buttons. Holding the rear touch pad to steady sniping aim is an amicable solution, and slipping your thumb off the right stick to the front screen for melee is sufficient. Not all of these ideas can be considered a loss, but even after just one game on this console, Call of Duty needs a reboot.