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With two analog sticks built into a powerful handheld for the first time ever, the PlayStation Vita is the perfect platform to bring Call of Duty to the mobile gaming masses. So will developer Nihilistic’s treatment of Black Ops make fans salivate at the prospect of carrying Call of Duty wherever they go? The short answer: No. The longer answer: Nooooooooooooooo.

Let’s get this out of the way right from the start: Black Ops Declassified could have been great. It wears its promise on its sleeve, but then expediently takes its shirt off, douses it in gasoline, and sets it ablaze while mumbling in an unintelligible, grizzled voice. All the puzzle pieces of a quality portable gaming experience are here – bite-sized missions, a robust multiplayer offering, and solid visuals – but the speed at which the game abandons all semblance of playability is really quite astounding.

Like all Call of Duty titles, Declassified is a first-person shooter, so the only part of your own character you ever see during gameplay is your hands holding a weapon. Put simply, your task is to shoot and/or blow up everything that moves. This isn’t a terribly complex concept, and to the game’s credit the gunplay does feel like Call of Duty, but that’s where Declassified‘s accomplishments end.

The story mode isn’t really a coherent narrative, but rather a collection of loosely connected events that put you at the start of a long, winding murder hallway where you’re constantly being timed. The timer rarely has any significance, and in most cases it’s just there, in the corner, ticking away. At the end of each short mission you are given a score and your final time, but there’s really no incentive to replay any of the levels.

In theory, the various missions are supposed to flesh out the seedy Cold War dealings of various characters from the first Black Ops title, but aside from a few familiar voice actors, none of the objectives seem to have any real connection to the already confusing Black Ops storyline. The levels are embarrassingly linear, with next to nothing in the way of branching paths or actual choices.

There are almost zero opportunities to use any kind of tactics or trickery when approaching a group of enemies because the environments are so cramped that you quite literally have no room to plan an attack other than simply running forward with your finger on the trigger. In the rare event that you come upon a slightly more open room or courtyard, there is always one piece of cover to hide behind, and one bottleneck through which to proceed. Choosing which nameless, faceless soldier to shoot first is the closest you’ll come to a meaningful choice.

The enemy combatants pour out of random hallways at every turn, and while the term “monster closet” is used quite frequently to describe enemies that seem to come out of nowhere, Declassified breaks new ground. In almost every mission of the campaign you’ll find short hallways that produce anywhere between 5 and 15 enemies. After taking the dimwitted warriors out, you can actually walk down these corridors and find a small, plain-textured room, with no additional doors or other openings whatsoever. At best, it’ll break your immersion, and at worst you’ll wonder why the developers didn’t just skip adding enemies altogether.

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The multiplayer mode – which is what keeps Call of Duty fans playing for weeks, months, and years after each games’ release – suffers from its own laundry list of issues. With modes like Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, and Drop Zone, fans of the original Black Ops title will find plenty to keep them busy. Likewise, a lot of attention was given to various weapon unlocks as well as perks and equipment. There are a ton of deadly tools to try out, but your frustration will likely reach the breaking point before you even scratch the surface.

The various maps – each of which is based on a battlefield from Black Ops – are tiny. Call of Duty isn’t exactly known for having large, expansive maps, but the options here are considerably smaller than anything the series has seen before. Take, for example, Nukehouse, a map based on the fan favorite map Nuketown from the console release. The original Nuketown is small in its own right, but Nukehouse is less than half the size of its older brother.

Because of this, you will frequently see enemies spawn directly in front of you, within feet in some instances, and you’ll be treated to the same each time you start a new life. This is especially unacceptable considering that teams are comprised of just four players, cut down by a third from the console titles. The outcome of each match is determined more by your ability to reload your weapon before the next player spawns into your crosshairs than by any type of skill or use of tactics.

There are also some pretty amusing glitches that will ruin even your most enjoyable moments. In one game of Team Deathmatch, a Care Package icon was moving around the map in a seemingly random pattern. It was an open air battleground, and nowhere did a Care Package actually appear. The icon would frequently cross right over the top of me, but the actual box never made an appearance. I also had the game outright freeze on me twice, producing a PSN error message and demanding that I restart the game in order to play again.

Bottom Line: There is little in the way of a redeeming quality to Declassified. Short story missions are good for a mobile console, but pointless firing in one direction isn’t. A wealth of multiplayer content is great for shooter fans, but not if matches are nearly unplayable.

Recommendation:Black Ops Declassified is a bad game. But beyond that, it’s bad for the Vita and Vita owners as a whole. This is a game that could have very well been the killer app for Sony’s mobile console. Instead, it does its best to disappoint at almost every turn. Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, or enjoy nearly broken multiplayer experiences, it’s best to pass on this one and pray Declassified will at least prove to be a good learning experience for Activision and Nihilistic, if they ever decide to give a Vita shooter another try.

[rating=1.5]

Game: Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified
Genre: Shooter
Developer: nStigate Games
Publisher: Activision
Platform(s): PS Vita
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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