Activision promised that this would be “a true Call Of Duty experience” on Vita. Perhaps it should have told Nihilistic Software, which has made something that resembles Call Of Duty in the same way that a movie trailer resembles a feature-length film. As a far smaller package, the intention is clear: Black Ops Declassified is meant to be Call Of Duty: The Edited Highlights. It’s a pity, then, that Nihilistic’s aim is as wonky as it makes yours – the latter a result of temperamental right-stick control and capricious auto-targeting.
The fragmented story is designed to fill the gap between both Black Ops games, with Alex Mason and Frank Woods embarking upon a series of clandestine missions. The objectives are familiar: shoot the bad guys, rescue the hostages, retrieve the documents and then go home. Few, however, would expect to be returning from this globe-trotting adventure quite so quickly.
Its episodic setup is designed to fit its host device, yet if the pitch is a COD you can play on the toilet then it soon becomes clear that Declassified’s singleplayer portion won’t take many loo breaks to finish. Each of the ten objectives is over in less than five minutes, although the absence of checkpoints ensures the one-hour playtime may extend as far as two, or even three at a push. The structure isn’t necessarily a bad idea in and of itself: it’s quite clearly geared towards repeat plays for high scores. But while three difficulty settings and star ratings might encourage replay value in a better game, it’s difficult to see anyone returning to this.
The problems are manifold. The story is a limp mess of witless and profane dialogue barked between angry men, stitched clumsily together with interstitial clips that labour to provide narrative motivation. Basic character movement feels awkward; you can tweak the sensitivity, but the skittish default setting is soon made sluggish, with seemingly no happy medium. An auto-sprint encourages a brisk, aggressive approach to combat, yet running and gunning is often a recipe for instant death. Happily, Nihilistic has avoided the traditional view-obscuring jam splatter when hit, but the faint splash of red that appears when you’re wounded is so inefficient at communicating low health that it’s constantly chaperoned by a text warning.
You’ll need to spend a fair amount of time stopping and popping, then, though that has little to do with enemy intelligence. You might retreat from a grenade, only to witness the thrower jog over to where it landed, and then fly haplessly past you when it explodes. Step into the next room and you’ll probably see another soldier determinedly shooting a wall at point-blank range, or pointing their weapon at a suspicious-looking door. You’ll rarely be surprised, though, even with the fuzzy graphics doing their best to camouflage distant foes: many enemies loudly announce their presence by firing round after round into empty corridors before they could possibly have caught wind of your arrival. And with night vision enabled, you can merely see when an enemy is aiming his rifle at a wall, while another crouches with his back to the entrance.
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