Platform: PS Vita
Nihilistic’s first Vita game, Resistance: Burning Skies, proved that first-person shooters were a suitable match for Sony’s dual-analogue sporting handheld. Admittedly, the game was a bit basic, a bit ugly and rough around the edges, but compared to using the face buttons instead of a second analogue stick like we were forced to on the PSP, it handled like a dream.
On learning that they’d be handling the Vita’s first Call of Duty title though, I was a little concerned as I thought development would go to someone with a more impressive CV. But hey, I was probably worried when Sony gave a little known studio called Ready at Dawn the reigns to create a God of War PSP game and they utterly nailed it.
Sadly, it would seem that Activision are less gifted when it comes to spotting talent. Nihilistic have ballsed this right up. Oh dear Activision, first you let Sleeping Dogs go (while still known as True Crime: Hong Kong) and now this. It’s a good thing that Black Ops 2 and Skylanders have made them a fuckton of money I suppose.
But onto this mess. When we saw the first in-game shots at Gamescom we were surprised at how poor it looked graphically and despite an extra few months of development, the game still looks shocking. Characters are boxy and their animations seem stiff. Textures are jagged and blurry, with the odd explosion orange fart-clouding its way into existence from a barrel or a mild grey stirring of dust signifying what might be a grenade detonating somewhere nearby.
Not that this matters for the campaign’s cutscenes as they’ve opted for the infuriatingly dull images of classified paperwork with lines marked out in black marker and crash zooms on maps and satellite images while your CO blathers on about the mission. The ‘story’ supposedly links the two Black Ops games between 1975 and 1982. You’ll see the likes of Woods, Alex Mason and Menendez around, but you’ll have no clue what’s going on.
For the most part, the game handles like an FPS should. But there are a few technicalities that annoy. Grenades will go unused thanks to them being mapped to the touchscreen. You can tap the icon to quick-throw or you can drag and drop for more accuracy at the risk of -most definitely- getting shot in the face. Melee attacks are touchscreen activated and very unresponsive, causing a lot of brought-a-knife-to-a-gunfight deaths.
The missions themselves are usually less than five minutes long and although that doesn’t sound very long, the lack of checkpoints mean you’ll be restarting over and over again. Most missions are kill-everything A-B gauntlets, while others are the reliably annoying escort mission types. The most Vita-bending mission involves rescuing groups of people who insist on running straight into the middle of the gunfight between you and their captors. Restart. Restart. The only reason it took me so long to finish all ten of the missions was that I had to keep going away for breaks to avoid smashing my Vita to bits. And when I say breaks, I don’t mean the usual half an hour for a brew, I mean a good few days. Not including restarts though, my mission times added up to 45 minutes. That’s 45 minutes to complete the main single player game. Poor.
Points are rewarded for finishing missions with bonuses for fast times, higher difficulties and accuracy, but nothing extra for headshots apparently. These points translate into XP and you level up, but the reason why is never made clear. Apparently just the sight of the XP bar going up is entertainment enough.
Time Trial modes task you with taking on pop-up targets while Hostiles is a separate survival mode against multiple waves of enemies. You start off with pistols or hopelessly weak shotguns with each wave usually bringing new guns to the action. The problem is, it’s just so bloody boring. By the time you’ve reached anything that fires automatic bullets you’ve looked all over the map, found a few safe spots to back into and wait for the enemies to come. By the tenth wave you’ll be so bored you’ll start to wonder out of your comfort zone and ultimately get killed, but the boredom-suicide cycle will be complete. If this was online-enabled so we could team up with friends à la Zombies or Spec Ops then it might have been decent.
There are some competitive online options to try out though. And to all you rental fans out there, the game DOES NOT require an online pass of any form, meaning you can borrow or rent the game and try everything out for yourself, which considering the direction this review has taken so far is unsurprisingly the best suggestion I can offer this side of buying £35 worth of broken biscuits instead.
Create a class options, adjustable killstreaks and so on are present, but there’s a lack of modes to play compared to the generous options provided by Black Ops II and MW3. Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Drop Zone (territory) and Kill Confirmed (pick up dog tags) are all that have been included. The loadout editing is more in line with MW3, than the open system we enjoyed in Black Ops II. Weapons level up though, giving you the chance to unlock attachments eventually. Lots of familiar challenge milestones are there too for XP boosts. Near functionality allows you to download nearby players’ loadouts, which can be handy before you’ve unlocked items yourself.
The maps are nothing special and only including half of the nuketown map is a slap in the face. Arenas are smaller than you might be used to for COD games, namely due to the smaller 8-player matches. The lack of modes or uninspiring maps isn’t the biggest problem though, getting matches with reliable connections is. When Black Ops: Declassified is working, it starts to feel like a fun multiplayer game, well, apart from the really tiny maps that are spawn spot campers catnip. Sadly though, I experienced frequent crashes when a match was loading up or I’d suddenly be thrown back to the menu mid-match, without even a disconnection message - utterly heart-breaking when you’ve finally hit a bit of form and you lose ten minutes of golden XP hunting. Combine this with the rest of the game’s problems and you’ll either let loose a sigh of relief that you only rented it, or you’ll hope for a continuation of the tradition of COD titles still selling for a lot pre-owned when you chuck it on eBay.
- Online is fun when it actually works for a whole match
- No online pass required means you can rent it
- That’s about it. Buy Black Ops II instead
- Campaign takes less than an hour
- Touchscreen controls are poor
- Visuals are amongst the worst on the Vita yet
- Stable online connections are rare
The Short Version: This is a huge blow for the PS Vita. The handheld really needed some killer apps from third-party publishers to convert hesitant gamers. Nintendo probably sent Nihilistic roses for giving their competitor such a rotten apple. Nihilistic have since reorganised and renamed their company and shifted towards mobile titles. When you think of all the decent studios that went under in 2012, you can’t help but wish they’d gone too. Some of the blame must also rest with Activision, who should have stepped in to avoid such damage to be inflicted on the otherwise excellent Call of Duty brand. Are there any third-party developers still out there capable of bringing a Triple-A title to the Vita? The signs are not looking promising right now.