Black Ops Declassified: this is not a Game Boy port

Friday, 19th October 2012 17:11 GMT By Dave Cook

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassfied is heading to PS Vita November 13th, but VG247′s long-time CoD fan Dave Cook is a bit worried about how it’s shaping up.

Back in the heyday of Nintendo’s original Game Boy, handheld ports or adaptations of home console games were often viewed with an air of scepticism. How could those tiny, wee, monochrome characters and the Game Boy’s measly two buttons compete with the awesome force of the SNES or PSone?

Well, they couldn’t in terms of raw power, but when adapted well, and turned into something more suitable for handheld play, ports can often offer a neat addition to their bigger brothers – and in some cases surpass the original effort.

“Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is – from what I’ve seen and heard so far – a prime example of how not to transfer an established console franchise to the handheld arena. ”

But what about handhelds today, when the PS Vita’s specs sit comfortably alongside Xbox 360 and PS3? Is there any call, want or need for shoddy handheld adaptations of home console IP? Is there any excuse for taking a full home console game, scooping out a cross-section of what it offers and cramming it into a smaller format?

The answer all depends on the game in question of course, but Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is – from what I’ve seen and heard so far – a prime example of how not to transfer an established console franchise to the handheld arena.

Declassified is developed by Nihilistic – the same team that brought you Resistance: Burning Skies – a game I personally reviewed and felt wasted a chance to show that twin stick shooters could exist happily on Sony’s handheld

It just didn’t gel for me personally, but I can appreciate that some people did enjoy it. The fundamentals of the game’s shooter controls worked well enough, but the I simply felt that the game wrapped around that core felt shockingly last-gen.

The visuals were shoddy, the plot was weak, and its multiplayer modes felt sparse and uninspiring when compared to home console shooters. In Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, Nihilistic has a chance to make amends and to build on the foundation it laid with Burning Skies.

But after seeing the game in action during gamescom this year, I came away feeling irritated and disappointed. Make no mistake, for all the shit it gets me, I’ll happily admit that Call of Duty is my all-time favourite multiplayer series, and I saw true potential in Declassified when it was announced.

”If I stripped out level 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. and tried to market it on iPhone as a brand new experience tailored to your handheld device, you’d probably spit in my face .”

However, while sitting there, watching four players clumsily run around maps that looked like they were ripped right out of the original Black Ops, and what I assumed were re-used assets, menus and HUD markers, the realisation started to creep in that this could be another Game Boy-era handheld hatchet job.

Had I time-travelled? Did the last ten years of game development innovation simply not happen? I was genuinely taken aback by what I saw then, but it’s key to stress that I haven’t actually played the game yet, so again, please only treat this as a first-impression deal.

But as they say, first impressions are everything, and I wasn’t impressed at all. The multiplayer map names were the first thing that caused concern. Take Shattered for example, a map that looks like a slice of Black Ops map Cracked, or Rocket, which appears to be a scaled down version of Launch.

They’re not new maps in an aesthetic sense. I’m sorry, but if I stripped out level 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. and tried to market it on iPhone as a brand new experience tailored to your handheld device, you’d probably spit in my face for having the audacity to ask that you pay for it. The returns here are diminishing, and it left a sour taste.

Visually, the Cracked map I saw didn’t look brilliant – certainly not falling in line with Call of Duty’s home console iterations. Another issue was the fact that melee and grenades are mapped to the touch screen, due to the absence of rear triggers. Watching four people throw grenades at the same time into all the wrong places to show how ‘well’ the mechanic works isn’t a good sign.

Grenades are hurled by dragging them on screen – the same mechanic employed in Resistance: Burning Skies. It was crap then, and if it’s verbatim in Declassified, it will be crap in that game as well. It’s necessary given the handheld’s control limitations, but it doesn’t compare to classic digital controls.

”I for one won’t be putting money down on this game. I’ll have Black Ops 2 by then, a game that I feel pulls in the opposite direction and for me, personally and sincerely, is the best entry to the Call of Duty series to date.”

Its strange that Nihilistic recently stated that Declassified is a multiplayer-focused title, because the campaign – which is simply broken down into small, easily digestible chunks – is the only part of the game that so far makes sense to me.

When you’re on the go, you just want something short and contained that you can dip into, and that’s fine, but chopping down Declassified’s multiplayer to just eight players in total raises all sorts of problems. I’ve since read accounts of multiplayer that suggest spawn kills are a common occurrence, given how small the maps are. That’s simply not on.

Take Nuke House for example, which is supposedly just a house with a street and garden on either side – it apparently feels like it was ripped right out of Black Ops map Nuketown.

In fact, IGN’s hands on impressions of Nuke House are telling:

Even 2 vs. 2 matches feel cramped on this map, and spawning directly in front of the barrel of a waiting enemy became a regular occurrence. With so little room to breathe it didn’t feel like normal CoD, where teams have a chance to regroup and recuperate even if they’re getting beat down since they’ll end up spawning far enough away from the action to reassess and respond to the other team’s playstyle.

It just feels a bit too chaotic, like no matter how skilled I am I’ll have to deal with people getting the drop on me simply because they spawned in one of the few places they can at the wrong moment.

If this is a genuine problem, why not make new maps that offer something new, and that are better tailored to scaled-down play? Why crop down and modify existing play-spaces and make them feel weaker by comparison. These are all questions Call of Duty fans should be asking.

These aren’t problems that are exclusive to Declassfied, because as I mentioned earlier, this kind of bite-size porting was common back in the day, but in the age of powerful tablets, smartphones and handhelds, should paying consumers stand for such lethargic takes on existing IP?

I for one won’t be putting money down on this game. I’ll have Black Ops 2 by then, a game that I feel pulls in the opposite direction and for me, personally and sincerely, is the best entry to the Call of Duty series to date. Here’s why:



  1. Erthazus

    “long-time CoD fan Dave Cook”

    When you started playing Call Of Duty? MW1 or the first game?

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    CoD 2, I missed the craze with the first one man. But I’ve since played it yeah.

    CoD 2 was wicked like. Parallel to MoH it was like :O

    It’s a long series dude, let’s just say I’ve played it for the majority of time, I know my way around it.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. lexph3re

    You really are on a agenda to get people to not buy this game huh Dave?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @3 not at all, absolutely not. It’s just an opinion piece from a concerned fan of the series.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. lexph3re

    I’ll say this much. If this game sells well and move even 3 million copies. Wouldn’t you expect a part 2 that rectifies and makes it more enjoyable?

    Look at how Activision aren’t even developing it. If this game moves in high volume it’s a big possibility they might come and give you exactly what you want.

    My advice? Don’t buy it. I know I won’t (different reasons though). Let others build it up and wait for a potential definitive version.

    Nice opinion piece

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Dave Cook

    @5 I would, and I sincerely hope that my fears are laid to rest because again, I’m a huge fan and that’s why my first impressions got me so annoyed. I think there is much more potential here to do something better.

    Also, I see what you mean about doing a follow up that builds on the original, but Burning Skies to me, feels like that original, same as the original Black Ops. Declassified has so much in common with both games they already have a foundation to build on, but they haven’t from what I’ve seen.

    They appear to have played it so very safe, that the game feels uninspired. Again – and I said this in my piece – I haven’t actually played it, so this is purely a comment on my experience of seeing it being played live, so I hope to christ I’m proved wrong come November. I actually want to be proven wrong here.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Gekidami

    Well, if Criterion can get a whole PS3 game on the Vita (with only the number of players in MP taking a hit), i dont see why Acti didnt just port Blops 2. I get that they wanted a new game for it, but if you’re just going to hand it over to the cheapest devs around to rush out some crap using as many assets from an old game as possible, you may as well just do a port.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @7 Well said, partly my point. You don’t dick around with franchises as big as CoD, so I honestly don’t understand why they didn’t do what you suggested, or developed it in-house. I mean Resistance was bad in my opinion, really, really bad.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. killersense

    @5 that is exactly what i think will happen. activision could make a big deal about how they are doing the vita version in house and will be on par with the console versions next year. my guess is black ops 2 development started way before they got vita kits and they didn’t want to do one this year and sony probably really pushed for it and hence they allowed it to be outsourced for this year. these cod games are on a tight dev cycle so i don’t think they were interested in dedicating time to the handheld version at this point. i fully expect next year to be in house. we shall see if it is true.

    on a side note hats off to ubisoft though because that assassin’s creed game looks really good and i am actually more interested in the vita version than the console for some reason.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. tenthousandgothsonacid

    And it’s not even 60fps ffs. I could take crap visuals if it was 60fps. Sony could have cleaned up on Vita sales if this had been any cop but sadly it isn’t :(

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Dragon246

    I dont know what to say. I dont want any game to fail but the failure of this game will do more good to vita customers and sony too imho. It will tell devs that half-assed ports wont make the cuts and will make sony realise why they dont have many killer franchises despite so many exclusives. B grade exclusives by B-grade studios are a complete no-no.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. OlderGamer

    Welcome to Vita. Enjoy your stay.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. Dave Cook

    @12 is it mad that my most played and favourite Vita game is Lumines: Electric Symphony. it’s actually brilliant.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. OrbitMonkey

    Does this come with zombies? Because theirs a really decent version available on ios for a tenner, is it?

    #14 2 years ago
  15. polygem

    at least they chose the right titles: resistance: BS and COD: declassified…..epic hints.

    resistance BS was such a let down. it was a bad game. i still cannot believe sony letting that happen to a very good franchise…

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Dave Cook

    @14 no zombies, only 6 MP maps, 4v4 multiplayer.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. lexph3re

    @13 my most played are GR and recently the beta for PAS. Soon will be Rag and AC3L though

    #17 2 years ago
  18. ManuOtaku

    And the usual people reacted yesterday, like they normally do, knowing the WiiU version of black ops not being the best, like i said in that thread activision do not care that much for the WiiU version and neither Vita, i will not say is entirely their fault on both fronts, but they have they share of fault IMHO, and this reinforces that notion.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. Dragon246

    My most played are wipeout 2048, unit 13 and escape plan. Rag isnt announced for eu right?

    #19 2 years ago
  20. lexph3re

    I don’t think it is. They actually might push back the US release date again too. If they do I’m going to cry man been waiting paitently with it paid off saying take my money and the F*cks won’t take it :’(

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Belmont

    I find all of this quite a bit dissapointing.One of the best names in gaming in the hand of such developers. I think that in general Sony should have sufficed with AC3 L for fall and waited for Killzone Mercenary. Vita has a decent line up so far.but this COD is a shame.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. ps3fanboy

    just wait until this horrible game is done, it will sell in millions. it will show activision that they can get away with anything. because the cod sheep’s will buy anything branded as cod. welcome to the mediocre gaming world of 2012.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. Nfanboy

    I just don’t understand why Sony did not put more pressure on Activision to produce a better game.

    On the PSP, the GTA, MGS, FF games were top notch. They helped the PSP perform pretty well, even if the DS was never in reach.

    Declassified had a really the opportunity to help Vita sales. But clearly this is a flop in the making. Ok there is a Vita bundle coming with Declassified, but Nintendo has just a Mario Kart 7 bundle with a “white” 3DS on the horizon… Just sayin.

    With no price drop on the hozizon and no killer ap anythime soon ( maybe Liberation can help ), the Vita situation is more and more worrying…

    Sony needs to seriously step up to save a brillant piece of hardware that has yet to receive proper support from Sony and 3rd party devs.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. Gekidami

    ^ If Sony forced anything, Acti would just stop making the game and it would hurt their relations. No one wants the platform holder breathing down their necks, and Acti are big enough to not have to put up with it.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. Erthazus

    “why Sony did not put more pressure on Activision to produce a better game.”

    Because Declassified quality is the same as Infinity or Treyarch’s game.

    If you think that i’m wrong then name at least one thing that is better on console/PC version then on the Port Station Vita’s CoD game.

    #25 2 years ago
  26. Da Man

    It’s amazing how Erthazus doesn’t even need to take PCP to go properly, genuinely nuts..

    I don’t know what kind of English reading comprehension one must have to ask why Psv port comes across inferior in the comment section of an article about it. No matter how many times the idiot was ridiculed and proven to be utterly wrong he still thinks he can have an ‘opinion’, on top of that he actually believes his bullshit.

    It’s just proper, severe denial.

    The game comes across as a huge missed opportunity and a desperately put together churn.

    #26 2 years ago
  27. woe

    This looks horrible.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. Erthazus

    @TardMan, wrong thread. It’s PSV, Sony and CoD not your favourite Xbox 360 or Halo thread. Cry moar better there.

    “The game comes across as a huge missed opportunity and a desperately put together churn.”

    Yeah! Sticky Jumps! POSV!11 my PS2 was broken 10 times and this will be no different with PSV!111111 you forgot to add.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. Da Man

    Thank you for proving my point.

    #29 2 years ago
  30. ArabianSwagga

    Actually Nihlistic sucks! Sony made the big franchise that’s called Uncharted and they made a PS Vita version and it turned out to be a great game and a best seller!

    #30 2 years ago

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