Call of Duty came from nothing and became the biggest franchise in gaming. Year in, year out, a new one comes along and it breaks records - records that were set by the Call of Duty that came out before it. And so it has been since time immemorial (well, the last few years at least).
This year, something different happened; there was not one but two new Call of Duty games unleashed on the world. The first, Black Ops II, was pretty damn good - we gave it 8.6, praising it in particular for the way in which Activision and developers Treyarch were prepared to mix it up a bit and actually add compelling new mechanics to the formula.
Declassified, on the other hand...
Developed by nStigate games (you might know them by their previous name, Nihilistic Software), the team was also behind the only other first-person shooter on Vita - Resistance: Burning Skies. Experience at making games of the genre, on the platform, with the added bonus of the Call of Duty license - that can only be good, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong.
To be fair on nStigate, rumours are that the game was made in just a few months; some suggest as few as five. Having played it, it seems likely that even some of that time was wasted playing pool or picking noses; regardless, it’s important to point out that buying this game for any more than about $15 is a total waste of money.
So what’s wrong with it then? Unfortunately, just about everything.
For a start, there’s no singleplayer campaign to speak of, despite there being a “Campaign” option in the main menu. That, like the Call of Duty label on the front of the box, is a lie. This isn’t a Call of Duty game and it doesn’t have any form of campaign mode.
Instead, it has a set of ten short levels that you can play through what is little more than a shooting gallery. Enemies pop up, you shoot them down, you move on. The AI is stupid, the difficulty starts at “brutally painful” and only goes up from there, and at no point will you enjoy the experience.
There’s also an actual gallery game, much like the tutorial / difficulty selector mission from the start of the original Modern Warfare, which allows you to progress - sort of - even if you miss the badly signposted targets that pop up, leaving you stumbling around with no clue (and no hope). Replaying missions to beat your score and shoot for 3 stars is kinda fun, in the same way that playing a game of tic-tac-toe on your forearm with the pointy end of a knife is more fun than just slashing away at it; neither option, however, is desirable.
You can also play the wave-based “Hostiles” mode, in which progressively more difficult sets of enemies will rush you until you ultimately die. Again, it’s kinda fun-ish, in a way. You can’t really see past the ultra-stupid enemy AI, mega-tough difficulty, or rote nature of the design, but of the options on offer, it’s one of the modes you’ll spend time in, should you buy the game, as you try to justify the fact that this travesty is full price.
Multiplayer most closely resembles an actual Call of Duty game, but even there you’ll find horrendous issues that will ultimately cause you to cast the game aside, never to play it again. While the guts of the gameplay (including leveling, killstreaks, etc) are solid, you’ll be lucky to experience it with any regularity; instead, you’ll find yourself inexplicably back at the menu right about the time you were expecting to be shooting some noob in the face. Buggy? Hell yes. It’s riddled with game-breaking networking issues and your chances of playing a game from beginning to end are slim.
The maps are also tiny, resulting in ridiculously frequent enemy encounters; you can practically run around with your finger on the trigger, certain to hit someone at random. I literally did that, just to prove the point, and killed some poor chap as he spawned right in front of me.
Visually it’s mostly nondescript, with heinous lighting issues in some levels, but occasional flourishes that reveal the potential of the franchise on the Vita. Fluttering material or bursting grenades give you the slightest glimpse into what a real CoD experience might be like on the platform, making it all the more frustrating when you realise that what you’re playing is anything but that.
As you can imagine, the developers have also needlessly shoe-horned in a bunch of Vita-specific controls, too. You can touch the screen to melee someone, but good luck pulling that off with any finesse, as it necessitates you removing your hands from the main controls. Similarly, chucking grenades about with the touch screen might seem like a good idea to, well, someone, but in reality it means that you'll be standing stationary in harms way for a crucial few seconds, rendering the weapon all but useless.
Ultimately, it’s about as disappointing as a game could be. It’s less “Call of Duty” and more “cynical cash grab,” attempting to con Vita owners out of their hard-earned. At a budget price, with the bugs fixed and a name that better suits the experience, things might be different; as it is, this game is less Declassified and more Disgusting. Avoid, and tell your friends to do likewise.