Back at Sony’s E3 2012 Press Conference, Jack Tretton made an announcement that Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified was hitting the PS Vita this holiday season and that they were releasing a console bundle with it. This portable title was stated to be a “game-changer” for the Vita. Activision attached Nihilistic as the developer for this COD title, whom were also responsible for Resistance: Burning Skies. However, there was shocking news revealed that the game was only in development for a mere five months…which means development started the moment Resistance: Burning Skies released back in May of this year. With the stressful task of pushing out a game within only a few months, did Nihilistic succeed?
Black Ops: Declassified’s story aims to bridge the gap between the events of Black Ops and Black Ops 2. There are a select group of special operations during the 70s that still show traces of the Nova 6 gas being worked on. You will take control of either Frank Woods or Alex Mason to prevent the gas from being dispersed and becoming a threat. The final mission will fast forward to the 90s, in which you will have to try to assassinate drug lord Raul Menendez, the antagonist of Black Ops 2. The story is told in COD fashion, through briefing cutscenes that try to give you an idea of what’s going on and why you’re going to a specific location. Problem is, none of it really makes a whole lot of sense and is entirely forgettable. Even worse, there’s not even an ending to the story. Once the last mission is completed, that’s it. There’s nothing that really leads into Black Ops 2. It’s a wasted opportunity to be honest.
Black Ops: Declassified has opted to utilize the Modern Warfare “Spec Ops” mission style as a campaign for players to get through called “Operations”. While this design decision makes sense, seeing as how it suits a more “on-the-go” feel, the problem is that there are only 11 missions. To put it into better perspective, these 11 missions will take you just under an hour to complete on Normal difficulty. Each mission will take you between 2-7 minutes, which provides for a quick pickup-and-play feel. If you’ve played MW2 or MW3‘s Spec Ops missions, then you’ll know what to expect here. There will be your “item retrieval, breach and clear, hostage situation, plant C4 on certain objects” type of missions. There are no on-rails or vehicle segments in this campaign. Also in Spec Ops fashion, there are no checkpoints in the missions at all. Normally I’d say this is an issue, but since the game is built with the Spec Ops mentality, it makes sense. Missions aren’t anything too memorable but still provides for some entertainment. The game’s AI can be a bit questionable as well. There were occasions when they would take cover and shoot at the object they were taking cover in, as opposed to popping out of cover to shoot me. If you’re looking to add longevity to the campaign, you can tackle the missions on Veteran difficulty. However, be warned! This is the hardest COD title on Veteran since COD: World at War due to the AI’s deadly-accurate aim (when they’re not shooting walls).
In terms of controls, if you’ve played a COD title, then the transition will be seamless for you. The buttons are mapped exactly the same as they are on the consoles. Nihilistic also implemented the same touch screen buttons from Resistance: Burning Skies for you to melee and throw grenades. You can touch pretty much any part of the screen to melee, while you’ll have to touch and drag a grenade to throw it to the location you’re highlighting. It may not have the fluidity as it does on consoles, but what’s here is completely serviceable.
Aside from Operations, there are Time Trials and Hostiles modes to take on as well. Time Trials mode has five missions that are simply obstacle courses, where you try to achieve the fastest time possible shooting the hostile targets and avoiding civilian ones. Basically, these are nothing more than glorified shooting ranges. Trying to grab a three-star ranking on these will require you to be absolutely perfect. Hostiles mode is essentially MW3’s Spec Ops Survival mode, only that it is now restricted to a single-player only affair. As opposed to getting stars based on how many waves of enemies you survive, it is now based on how many enemies you can kill. While “horde” modes can be fun, this one felt a bit mundane and lacked any frills.
Now, the one element that a majority of COD fans purchase these games for are for its multiplayer. Well, the multiplayer plays decently…when it actually works. There are five modes you can choose from: Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Drop Zones, Team Tactical and Free-for-All. Team Deathmatch will split the teams into a 4v4 match. Kill Confirmed adds a twist to Team Deathmatch in which you’ll have to not only kill the opposing player, but collect their dog tag to confirm the kill. Drop Zones has you holding a specific area to obtain more points, as well as care packages. Team Tactical simply groups Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and Drop Zones into a random setlist that automatically switches up each match. Lastly, Free-for-All pits eight players against each other. These are all straightforward modes but trying to actually enter a match is an entirely different matter altogether.
Simply put, BO: Declassified’s multiplayer is an absolute buggy mess that’s close to being unplayable (even with the latest 400+ MB update). In my experience, entering a match would result in sitting at a loading screen for over a minute and just when you think you’re about to finally jump in, the game kicks you back out to the main menu. Then, you try to go back in and the game freezes, forcing you to hit the PS Home button and close the game out, then restart it. Now imagine doing that three or four times before actually jumping into a match. Yeah, exactly…very annoying. Then, when you FINALLY get into a match, you start moving, find an enemy, pull the trigger and BAM…you’re back to the multiplayer lobby menu. Doesn’t this sound amazing so far? So the question now is, did I ever get a chance to finally play the multiplayer? Yes, I did surprisingly. And when I finally jumped into a match that didn’t kick me out for no reason, the game ran lag-free and was legitimately entertaining. The maps consisted of smaller versions of those from previous COD titles, including my personal favorites, Nuketown from Black Ops (now called “Nukehouse”) and Shipment from COD4 (now called “Container”). The game still has the whole Create-a-Class system with the customization of perks and equipment in full effect. You can’t customize the camo of the guns though, so if you liked changing that on the console versions, you’re out of luck here. Also missing are the Killcams from the console versions. Once you die, you just respawn by pressing X or waiting eight seconds (not sure why “eight” seconds), not to mention that you may respawn next to an opposing player and die again within a second. Additionally, there’s no in-game voice chat to speak of. Thankfully, the PS Vita has the Party app to voice chat with your friends so you can rely on that. Bottom line is though, when the multiplayer works, it can be enjoyable at times. Unfortunately, it’s way too much of an unnecessary chore to get matches going and provides for the least functional COD multiplayer available on the market.
When we saw the first trailer of Black Ops: Declassified, the game looked less than stellar from a visual standpoint. Thankfully, the game looks a little bit better since it’s unveiling, but still nothing great. Basically, the game is a mixed bag. The guns and your character’s hand on-screen look pretty sharp, with some of the environments and NPCs looking decent. On the other hand, a good portion of the maps have some bland textures and some of the backdrops in the distance of maps are clearly painted images…and those could look pretty poor. Also, the game doesn’t run at the smooth 60 fps (frames per second) like the console versions do. This may be jarring for some but this honestly didn’t pose an issue. Overall, the game doesn’t look awful by any means, but it doesn’t exactly take advantage of how much more powerful the Vita is. It just borders on the line of being average looking.
What do you do when you only have less than half a year to develop a game? Borrow resources! The soundtrack in Black Ops: Declassified mostly consists of the original Black Ops’ score. While this sounds a bit lazy, the music tracks here are still effective and even includes the awesome song from the Rooftops mission (“Numbers”) from Black Ops. Sound effects are pretty decent, with the guns and explosions sounding pretty solid. Voice work is provided by the actors who portrayed Woods, Mason and Hudson in Black Ops, with their dialogue consisting of mostly f-bombs. Their delivery isn’t bad at all and still maintains that COD feel, but at the same token, feels forced to remind you that you’re playing as these characters. The problem with the sound is based on the inconsistent audio mixing. First off, I would recommend playing the game with subtitles because when characters speak, chances are that gunfire and explosions will completely nullify their voice work. Also, I had to crank up the volume on my Vita to the highest setting just to get adequate sound out of the game. However, once I’d go back to the PS Vita’s Livearea screen, the audio there was twice as loud than what was in the game. There are no audio options to adjust in the game. The overall audio isn’t bad, just a bit unbalanced.
Overall Score: 9/20 = 4.5 out of 10
Ultimately, Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified had the potential to be a great portable title. That’s not the case unfortunately. What’s here is a completely rushed, buggy mess of a cash-in. While the game can be mildly entertaining at times, the abundant amount of issues that surround this game are simply astounding. Activision, take note. Don’t rush your developers to push out a game for sales purposes. To be fair, Nihilistic did an admirable job for the five month development time, but the game obviously wasn’t ready for deployment and is very difficult to recommend. For $50, you’re better off investing that in a 1-year PS Plus subscription and getting some free PS Vita games because there’s nothing here that justifies that price point.
+ Shooting mechanics feel decent and the campaign is playable
+ Trying to nab three-star ratings on all missions increases the longevity
+ Soundtrack accompanies the game pretty well…even if it is rehashed
+ Comes with downloadable COD: Roads to Victory for PSP, only if you buy the retail version
– Campaign is less than an hour long
– Visuals are a mixed bag
– Glitches that crash the game
– Multiplayer is nearly unplayable and consists of fighting with loading screens and menus
– Audio mixing is inconsistent (even on highest volume) and can’t be adjusted in-game
– Story is practically non-existent with no ending to speak of
– Are they seriously charging $50 for this?!