If you are at all familiar with the ongoing saga of Sony's flagship handheld console, you'll probably remember the rather sordid affair that was Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified
. When it launched, the game was buggy, criminally short and seemed rushed to market to cash in on the runaway success of the Call of Duty
name. It would be easy to dismiss this entry to the franchise as a cynical cash grab without a single redeeming quality. It's buggy, overly linear and plagued with some baffling design decisions, but you know what? It's not that bad.
At least, not once you know the full story. Black Ops: Declassified was doomed to fail from the start, and probably not for the reasons you're expecting.Here's what happened:
On November 13, 2012, Declassified launched at a premium pricepoint of 49.99(MSRP)
. Almost immediately, it was universally panned by critics, who cited its clumsy controls, poor level design and game-breaking bugs as proof of the game's slipshod nature, with Destructoid's Jim Sterling calling the game "...a mess of illogical design and broken mechanics." Currently holding a 33/100 score on Metacritic, it is the second-lowest rated Vita title to date, comfortably seated within 'worst games ever made' territory. Ouch.
Call of Duty games on a handheld system are nothing new, with Nintendo DS offerings for almost every major release since Call of Duty 4
and even an offering for Nokia's Ngage. None of these games have even approached the same level of pre-release buildup or so clear a need to succeed, so why would Sony take a chance on allowing such a high-profile product to go to market in such a clearly unfinished state? The answer may lie with the nature of the Vita itself.
When the Playstation Vita was announced on January 27, 2011 as the Next Generation Portable, it was clear that this was no ordinary handheld offering. With an impressive 130mm OLED screen, twin analog sticks and a beefy quad-core processor, Sony promised to revolutionize on-the-go gaming by putting the power of a console in your pocket. It was everything that the PSP promised to be, and the implications for handheld shooters were a no-brainer. Even before the official announcement of Sony's NGP (later revealed as the Vita), rumors were rife that a handheld Call of Duty experience would ship with the new platform, and Activision's announcement at the 2011 Playstation Meeting sealed the deal.
With Sony's promise of "a console experience in your hands," it was hard not to get excited. It was immediately obvious that everyone stood to win with a true on-the-go Call of Duty experience if Sony could just hit the right notes. Features like persistent leveling and cross-play would have made the console a must-buy for fans, leaving Sony and Activision in a position to sell double the copies.
And then came the trailer. It was an unfinished, unpolished mess. It wasn't the Call of Duty we were hoping for. It wasn't the Call of Duty we were promised. It looked like a handheld game.
When the final product reached shelves, it was an undeniable disappointment. Instead of providing an engaging narrative set in the Black Ops universe, it opted for a jumble of bite-size loosely-related missions prefaced by an entirely forgettable narrative. It came off as a poor imitation of the console experience. It felt like Call of Duty Lite. Players were surprised, even angry. There had been an unspoken expectation on the table: This will sell Vitas.
And when it didn't, people felt betrayed. We'd been promised a PS3 in our pocket, and the reality stung.
Like it or not, Call of Duty is one of the biggest franchises in the gaming industry. If any one game had the potential to sell consoles to hardcore gamers, it would be a standalone Call of Duty release. Except; it didn't.
Above is a video trailer for Call of Duty: Roads to Victory, a PSP spin-off of Call of Duty 3. It sold well, but was generally panned in favor of other made-for-PSP shooters. Bear in mind, that when this game was released, Call of Duty was not yet the unstoppable gaming juggernaut that it is today, but the fundamentals were in place by the time Modern Warfare exploded onto the scene. As a matter of fact, each Call of Duty title since Modern Warfare has recieved a handheld tie-in.
Having played them all, I can tell you now: none were any better than Black Ops: Declassified. Declassified trumps them on every level, from graphical quaility to ease of control. These games were passable at best, pixelated and finicky, as budget DS titles could be: but none of them recieved scathing Black Ops: Declassified scores. Why? Because they were marketed as the handheld spin-offs they were budgeted to be, completely unmarketed except by the label they carried.
At its core, Declassified is just the prerequisite handheld spin-off produced for the flavor-of-the-month Call of Duty release, likely with no more budget allotted to production than any the previous Nintendo DS efforts. And yet it was trotted out as something akin to the handheld Messiah, promising a 'complete' experience. But when you try to pass off budget title as a full-blown retail release, you shouldn't be surprised when it winds up being judged by the same standards as the console version. And as a console game, Black Ops: Declassifed sucked. If this game had been marketed as what it was, it probably could have been a modest success, quietly releasing alongside the console offering and selling well to casual gamers and younger siblings who want to emulate the Call of Duty experience on the small screen. But it wasn't, and the 49.99 price tag it carried came as a slap in the face to common sense.
So will we ever see a true Call of Duty experience on the Vita? Maybe. Killzone: Mercenary
showed the world that a full console shooter experience on a handheld is not only possible, but even profitable. I wouldn't think twice about dropping fifty dollars on a portable CoD game with the same level of polish. But call a spade a spade, Activision. If you want to build a better Call of Duty, you're going to have to meet us halfway.~Zurn