Black Ops Declassified: this is not a Game Boy port

Friday, 19 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:

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