Shoulda stayed classified
On a small, remote island in the Bay of Bengal, there lives a tribal society known to the Western World as the Sentineli. For as far back as anyone can tell, they’ve refused all contact with outsiders, slaughtering anyone who dares to cross into their waters. After decades of careful, distant observation, anthropologists have concluded that they’re one of the most isolated peoples on earth, still unaware of such rudimentary technological advancements as agriculture and fire-making. It goes without saying, then, that none of them have ever seen a firearm, played a videogame, or heard the words “Call of Duty.”
Even still, I’m confident that if you put 20 Sentineli in an office building with a PlayStation Vita development kit, a two-month deadline, and a $500 budget, they could cobble together a more competent first-person shooter than Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified.
I’m not sure it’s possible for me to overstate just what a monumental failure this game is, but I’m damn well going to try.
Let’s start, as I did, with the single-player campaign. Rather than bothering with silly things like narrative or purpose, Declassified is instead presented as disjointed series of standalone “operations,” presumably so-named because they’re about as painful as major surgery. Each one follows the same basic formula—a disembodied voice shouts vague, profanity-laced orders at you while you trudge forward against an incessant tide of identical enemies. Every so often, just to mix things up, you have to walk up to a door and hold down the Square button.
Slogging my way through all ten took me a grand total of 90 minutes from start to finish. If it weren’t for the fact that the game features no mid-mission checkpoints, I could’ve easily done it in 30. During that hour and a half, I encountered such horrors as: enemies emptying clip after clip into the wall in front of them; textures that would’ve looked outdated on the N64; a never-ending parade of narrow hallways masquerading as “levels”; and, most memorably, a terrorist who ran straight past me and phased through the flaming wreckage of a helicopter like Patrick Swayze in the 1990 film Ghost.
Things I didn’t encounter: fun.
“But wait,” you might shout, your tender heart filled with childlike naiveté, “perhaps the fine folks at Nihilistic Software just put all of their time and effort into multiplayer, since that’s the only thing most Call of Duty fans really care about anyway.” You’d be right in the sense that Declassified‘s online multiplayer appears to have gotten the lion’s share of Nihilistic’s attention. You’d be wrong, however, if you assumed that made one shred of difference.
Trying to join a multiplayer game is a lot like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded revolver. Sometimes you’ll get dumped back into the title screen without any explanation as to why. Sometimes the game freezes up completely, forcing you to quit out and restart. Sometimes, if you’re especially unlucky, it’ll actually load you into a match.
Once you’re there, you’ll be treated to rehashed, pared down maps from the first Black Ops, an anemic selection of guns, perks, and killstreaks, and more unwieldy, unresponsive touchscreen controls than the entire gaming section of the iOS App Store. To make matters worse, the ludicrous 8-player cap means you’ll spend most of your time wandering around aimlessly, searching for anything that resembles human contact. You know, just like in real life.
Then there’s the endless barrage of glitches. I don’t want to get all Rutger Hauer on you, but I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Men moonwalking across the floor at 45 miles an hour. Bodies hanging in midair, forever frozen at the exact moment of their death. A helicopter sprouting up from the ground not three feet in front of me, rising slowly but deliberately into the air as it tore through buildings, teammates, and the very fabric of my reality.
See, that’s the thing about Declassified. You don’t play it. It happens to you. You survive it. Maybe you pick up a few entertaining stories along the way. Maybe you just walk away with a hefty dose of emotional trauma. Either way, you’re still out 50 bucks and your last pale glimmer of faith in humanity.
SUMMARY: Declassified is such a laughable attempt at capturing the Call of Duty formula that it borders on self-parody, with a flaccid campaign that can be beaten in under an hour and agonizing, bug-riddled multiplayer.
- THE GOOD: There are brief moments when multiplayer gets within 200 miles of fun.
- THE BAD: Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified.
- THE UGLY: The harsh, meaningless universe that allowed this game to be made.
Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified is (thankfully) a PlayStation Vita exclusive.