Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified Review

By Adam Rosenberg - Posted Nov 28, 2012

Black Ops Declassified is a disservice to the Call of Duty franchise and it should be aggressively skipped by one and all.

The Pros
  • Hostiles provides the only real source of entertainment
  • Package includes a download code for Call of Duty: Roads to Victory (PSP)
The Cons
  • Sparse amount of content
  • Bland level design and stone-dumb enemy AI
  • Features a spectacle-free "campaign" in name only
  • Too-rapid aim acceleration doesn't feel like a Call of Duty game at all

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is a worst-case scenario. Carrying a console game over to a portable platform is always tricky business, but games like Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation and Uncharted: Golden Abyss have demonstrated that the PlayStation Vita is capable. Nihilistic Software failed in its platform-first Vita FPS, Resistance: Burning Skies, and the California-based developer fumbles badly once again in Black Ops Declassified.

Super-Sized Spec Ops

The "campaign" in Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is meant to fill in the narrative gaps between Black Ops and Black Ops 2, sending players out on a series of missions involving familiar characters like Mason, Woods, and Hudson from the Treyarch line. There are 10 of these missions in all (with separate Time Trials for each), laid out in a menu that bears no small resemblance to the Spec Ops menus in Modern Warfare games, complete with three-star ratings next to each item.

The feeling that Declassified's campaign is a souped-up Spec Ops mode lingers after you jump into a mission as well. The franchise's focus on blockbuster spectacle in its campaigns is completely absent, replaced by straightforward runing and gunning through a series of bland war-torn urban environments. Each mission is also a minutes-long affair, though some start to feel significantly longer once the cheating enemy AI picks up steam.

Call of Duty games might be linear, but enemies have a tendency to be unpredictable due to the nature of its invisible checkpoints and multitude of spawn locations. Declassified sacrifices all of that in its campaign missions, opting instead for fixed enemy positions that make each engagement feel more like a minimally dynamic shooting gallery.

The inconsistent AI doesn't help either. Your mostly stationary goes will either draw a bead with laser precision, killing you in a few shots, or they'll forget to stop crouching and fire an entire clip into whatever object they were using for cover. This computational stupidity brings its own hilarious rewards whenever an enemy accidentally blows himself up by throwing a grenade into his own face or destroying the car he's cowering behind.

While it's certainly funny when this happens, the yuks will always be followed by the same, cold realization that you paid real money for this.

Mo' Modes, Mo' Problems

Sliding in alongside the campaign is the Survival-like Hostiles mode, which pits players against endless waves of re-spawning enemies on five different maps. This is the only marginally entertaining aspect of Black Ops Declassified, with the terrible snap-to aiming turned off (you should turn it off in the campaign as well) and marginally aggressive enemies. It's still a sub-par shooting gallery, but your foes will at least put some effort into trying to shoot you as they crowd in from all sides.

There's also a Time Trial mode which is essentially a multi-stage take on The Pit from Modern Warfare 2. You'll run through a series of speed-oriented training courses in a hunt for the best time. As with every other offline mode in the game, the five Time Trials are built around earning up to three stars based on your performance.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Call of Duty title without some kind of multiplayer mode. Black Ops Declassified features the same progression-based trappings that fans of the series have come to expect. You'll level up, unlock gear to use in Create-A-Class (accessible after level 4, 'natch), Prestige... everything carries over.

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Multiplayer in Black Ops Declassified is centered around 4v4 matches on pint-sized maps that mostly reuse assets and environments from other parts of the game. This isn't a crime in and of itself, but the map layouts lack the creativity of the console/PC entries in the series. There's nowhere to hide and very few places to run to, with matches often being won by the team that sticks close together.

That is, of course, assuming you can make it to the end of a match. There are some crippling connectivity issues in Black Ops Declassified at the time of this writing. Activision and Sony are aware of the issue -- which amounts to multiplayer disconnects and game freezing in the menus -- and are working to address it, but it remains a pretty significant problem at the moment.

Foundational Breakdown

Reading all of this, you might think that the biggest issue with Black Ops Declassified boils down to an uneven execution. Perhaps patching could fix this monstrosity, you wonder. Unfortunately, while the incredibly sparse amount of content and lame level design are both major problems, the biggest issue is how unlike a Call of Duty game Declassified feels.

The series' popularity has a lot to do with the fantastic FPS framework devised by Infinity Ward and put to use in recent years by IW, Sledgehammer Games, and Treyarch. The arsenal of firearms you're given to play with on the console/PC is a diverse one, with each gun feeling unique in one way or another.

The skin that wraps around Black Ops Declassified certainly carries the suggestion of a Call of Duty game, but the play feels "less than" in every conceivable way. Your guns just don't strike with the same punch that they do in the console games. More importantly, the aim acceleration is completely off. You can adjust the aim sensitivity in the options menu, but it doesn't help at all. The reticle acceleration just isn't right, and it effectively ruins the flow and the feel of the game, whether you're playing solo or online.

Call Of Poop

Black Ops Declassified is a disservice to the Call of Duty franchise. Its sins are so atrocious that Activision really ought to address whatever it was that happened here publicly. This is a broken game, and perhaps a half-finished game. It isn't worth your money or your time, and it effectively kills the PS Vita's chances of ending its launch year with at least one quality portable FPS in the books. You know there's a serious problem when the highlight feature of the package is an included download of the so-so (but still better) PSP game, Call of Duty: Roads to Victory.