Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified
From the makers of Resistance: Burning Skies comes a Vita exclusive CoD Black Ops game, but it's not without some serious problems.
Earlier this year I played through Resistance on the Vita and thought it was a pretty ho-hum, no thrills or frills experience. In the last few days, I have been playing Nihilistic's latest Vita game, Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified. A twin stick FPS, Declassified features three single player modes as well as online and Ad-Hoc multiplayer for up to eight players.
At first boot, I was prompted to download a 370MB patch which added the Ad-Hoc mode. As it downloaded, I checked out the Campaign which has two modes, Operations and Time Trial. Operations is the heart of the single player experience. It contains ten missions split between two operatives, Woods and Mason. Woods' missions take place in Vietnam and the former Soviet Union. Mason is involved in ops in Germany, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. Although you can see and read about each mission in the Operations screen, you have to play through them in order. When you launch an Op, a video explains the situation, although all of these videos are nearly identical in style and content -- just the voiceovers are different.
In-game, each mission starts out with either Woods or Mason already behind enemy lines, with a pre-determined loadout, just a few steps away from their first kill. Hudson keeps in constant radio contact with you to inform you of mission objectives and things, although the on screen cues, including the marker, make finding your way a snap. Level design is also linear and barebones, and built for speed, which is really what Nihilistic was pushing. Some missions require you to hurry, either to save some hostages or escape a facility that's about to explode. During those times, a timer is shown at the top of the screen. However, at the lower left of the screen is a "Time Played" counter that constantly ticks up. Those looking for a higher score for more XP will want to go through the missions as quickly as possible. All missions are short, most can be completed in fifteen to twenty minutes, some much less than that. Three difficulty levels increase the challenge and amount of XP earned, but speed is the name of the game here. I didn't really understand or agree with the decision to emphasis speed so heavily in the Campaign, but that's you can expect.
You can also expect some really disappointing AI. I'm talking about the kind that shoots into walls or not even your direction. I've even see one bad guy mow down his own comrade because he was in the line of fire. Enemies will shoot directly into objects directly in front of them, often times before you've even turned a corner to make yourself visible. This is certainly a 'quantity over quality' AI, especially in the latter missions where the game throws loads of enemies at you at once, all just asking to be put out of their misery. Killing so many bad guys in such a short time may seem exciting, but I was more so overwhelmed with a sense of dissatisfaction. I mean, I would rather be up against a dozen strong, challenging AI then a hundred mindless ones.
Besides Operations, Time Trials and Hostiles are available for single player. Time Trials literally takes about five minutes. There are five ranges that you must run through, shooting pop-up targets and avoiding hitting pop-up civilian target boards. The goal is to run through these, hitting every enemy, as quickly as you can. Gold is awarded generally around the thirty second mark, which gives you an idea of brief this entire mode is. Hostiles, on the other hand, pits you against waves of enemies in multiplayer maps. There are five maps, with Stars awarded for reaching a certain number of kills like 30, 80, and 150 for Bronze through Gold. I thought the amount of space you had to operate and move around in was good; in other words, you're not just pinned up against a wall with a bunch of ammo laying in front of you, you're playing in an actual multiplayer map.
While the map sizes work for Hostiles, in actual online or ad-hoc multiplayer, they feel cramped, especially when you have eight players. On several occasions I have spawned in and been killed before I can even take a step. When you die, you can change Class or respawn instantly, often again right in the middle of the action. For those that just want to continue the full speed run-and-gun of the campaign, this can work, but I've literally spent more time connecting and loading up a match than playing the match itself sometimes. That said, when you launch Multiplayer from the main screen, you are given the option to Find a Public Match or use the Party feature of the Vita. The Vita's Near tech can also be used to share custom Classes with players in the area. Unfortunately no ne near me has a Vita, so I couldn't do anything with this.
Under Barracks, you can review your KD ratio and other stats, look at Challenges for Weapons, Killstreaks, match types played and so forth. Most of the challenges are very reasonable and attainable even by someone who doesn't play 24/7, which is a plus. You can also view Leaderboards under the Barracks menu. I should also point out that you can view Leaderboards in the Operations, Time Trials, and Hostiles modes under single player.
Multiplayer modes include Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Drop Zone, Team Tactical, and Free-For-All (classic DM). In Kill Confirmed, it's essentially TDM, but you also must snatch the dog tags of the enemies you kill to score points. Drop Zone has one team trying to hold control of an area. Team Tactical just rotates between TDM, Kill Confirmed, and Drop Zone. I haven't had any trouble finding eight players in the lobby, but I have had trouble with the games actually launching. Sometimes the counter at the lobby will go to zero and I'll enter a 'loading' state that ends up just booting me back to the main menu. Other times I don't get as far as even that before I'm booted out. And yet other times I get a screen with no menus, just the background image from the main menu screen. I have to exit the game and relaunch it to try to connect again. My Vita reports a connection strength of 75% or better when I have these errors, and my internet is working fine on my workstation, so I have to think it's the game itself that is the source of these problems. I will say that it seems like just joining the only non-team mode, Free For All, seems to work more often than the Team games, oddly enough.
When I am able to connect and play, the matches have played smoothly and, as mentioned above, frantically. As with any multilplayer experience, your mileage will vary, but if the community can maintain this much activity and Nihilistic can continue to patch and new content, there is a chance your time with Declassified will be extended beyond the first few hours (i.e., long enough to clear the single player mode and play some initial multiplayer matches). Creating Custom Classes and sharing them with Near may also net some extended playtime, although I don't see myself using those features.
No matter how you play, controls are key and they do work well in Declassified. Controls specific to Vita tech include tapping the front screen to use your knife for melee encounters and touching and holding the rear 'screen' to steady your aim when sniping. Grenades and flash grenades are thrown by touching the icon in the HUD and swiping your finger across the front screen to where you want to throw them, I thought it worked fine. Sensitivity and inversion toggling are available, too. You can carry a couple of weapons at a time which can be switched with Triangle, jump and crouching is X and O respectively. Nothing about the controls really broke or made the game for me, which isn't a bad thing.
Graphics and sounds within Declassified were at least sufficient but never quite impressive. The framerates are smooth, which is very important for the pacing this game strives for, but texture detail isn't anything to write home about. Enemies all look the same, with just a few subtle differences and environment details are kept pretty minimal. Falling snow and snow getting on your gloves is a nice touch, as were the sounds of bullet casings hitting the ground. Gunfire is the constant sound you will hear, as expected, making the soundtrack almost nonexistent. CoD's constant focus on XP gets annoying though; for every single kill you will see +100XP pop up, which only reminded me of the Bulletstorm commercial making fun of the modern military shooter.
As a total package, Declassified disappoints. The campaign, a disjointed set of ten missions, is brief, uninspired, and rife with boring level design and antiquated AI. Time Trials is forgettable but Hostiles is pretty fun, but it too shares some of the same problems as the rest of the single player has. Online play has a fairly bustling community right now and while the maps are small and I've had a lot of connection problems, it's pretty fun when it works. Whether it's enough to justify the purchase is another question.
To the summary...