Stepping onto the Vita as one of the exclusive FPS’ available for the hand-held, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is in unknown territory. Sure it has a powerhouse franchise behind it, but most users are expecting a console-like experience on a handheld. Declassified ends up delivering a frustrating campaign, but its multiplayer can be a silver lining--when it works.
First and foremost, Declassified cannot compare to the experience you have on a PS3. While it looks good for a hand-held, graphically it is sub-par. Missions have tightly choreographed cutscenes, borrowing on the art house feel of the previous Black Ops transitions. There are also short rendered scenes at the mission start, but mostly everything else is in-engine. Textures are muted and while everything looks like you’d expect, there is definitely a difference. Many maps are inspired by an original, but overall size is reduced and environments simplified. Menus and icons are also more like the original Black Ops than its sequel.
Enemy AI has some strange visual glitches from time to time. Most enemies seem confused and will wander in front of you, unaware of the incoming stealth kill. Other times a gaggle of enemies will emerge in unison from various areas of cover in a room. It is like a puppet show of death. Enemies will also get stuck in cover and refuse to come out--except when motivated to do so by a grenade toss. The biggest disparity though, is when they can actually shoot you through cover and you cannot even see them. It sucks when you have to absorb a whole clip just to melee a dude in the face.
Call of Duty Black Ops Declassified is a first-person shooter, and does actually execute genre expectations competently at times. My experience is limited with these games on the Vita, but it feels mostly as you’d assume. Two sticks, shoulder buttons, and a few rare touch mechanics; Declassified even has a mechanic that allows your character to sprint by default when moving in a straight line. Guns have weight, feel distinct, and are mostly balanced. I say “mostly” because shotguns feel overpowered in multiplayer and tend to be an enemy favorite in some of the offline modes. That isn’t what is frustrating about the enemies though. Lack of variety can be supplemented by rewarding combat and intelligent AI, neither of which are found in Declassified.
Hostiles Mode suffers the most due to bad AI, and will honestly bore you to tears. It takes the available multiplayer maps and populates them with waves of enemies. They are mostly generic clones, using familiar behavior patterns, chasing you down in a level. Hang out around a corner long enough and you can watch each enemy approach in the exact same way. If you’ve figured this out, there is a row of bodies lined up after each wave, like shooting fish in a barrel. This carries over into Operations Mode and is compounded by further examples of poor design choices. In this mode, you run a timed mission to complete a series of objectives. At about four minutes a pop and at 10 missions, it would only take an hour, but it took me much longer.
The biggest problem is that the levels are not designed to be played at blazing speeds. Enemy numbers can be overwhelming at times, along with some lazy level design that creates unnecessary choke points. Between the aforementioned visual issues, bad AI behavior, and level structure, you will find yourself dying and having to replay a mission from its start. That’s right, NO CHECKPOINTS! I understand the need to cater to “expert” fans, but all these things combined create for a truly unrewarding experience. While Declassified’s story bridges the gap between events in the Black Ops series proper, it isn’t that significant. And honestly, not once did I finish a mission and think to give it another go for shits and giggles; I just wanted it to be over. Time Trials Mode on the other hand, is a series of shooting ranges and it has no “real” enemies. Naturally, those missions work just fine. That sentiment carries over to multiplayer where jumping online with some human opponents actually made for a good time.
So here is the rub; I actually enjoyed the multiplayer portion of Declassified. Sure it has problems connecting at times, and of course the actual community is smaller than its predecessor or successor, but the key is that it works where it should. I can jump online for some 4 v 4 action in modes like Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, and a few others, and it feels almost like the real thing--just maybe a bit smaller. There are only five maps after-all and they are not as entertaining as their big brother counter-parts.
Still, Declassified has a familiar leveling mechanic, Killstreaks, the option to create custom classes and Prestige. Honestly, if you’re the type of person who can buy a Call of Duty game and only play the multiplayer, you might not be that disappointed. It could certainly use more maps and maybe clan support, but speaking purely from my first chance to experience true multiplayer on a handheld, Activision has something they can build on. Now if only the rest of the game wasn’t completely vapid experience.
ScrewAttack's News Director Sean Hinz worked in logistics for over four years before decided it was time to switch industries. After a couple years spent getting an MBA and freelancing, he finally found a home at ScrewAttack.com. As far as games go, Sean likes to play anything he can get his hands on, but especially enjoys third-person action RPGs. Is that really a genre?
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