It says COD but it tastes more like Marmite.
This title is certainly going to divide opinion. Ever since the Gamescom trailer reveal, and the announcement that it was Nihilistic, and not either Treyarch or Infinity Ward or even an in-house Activision team working on the title, the poor game has been lamented and derided before it even hit the shelves.
It also doesn’t help that Activision have been reluctant to discuss this at any real length, nor released any new screens or footage. I was even told that there was enough information on show and that it was ludicrous that I would suggest that the title was being hidden. I can’t even take new screen shots for you to look at because it has been disabled from the game.
But there you go, that’s all in the past now and what we do now have is a Call of Duty title on the PlayStation Vita, arguably the biggest juggernaut gaming franchise there is these days, the series that ploughs through everything in sight. But how is it? Is it like a Ronseal product and does exactly what it says on the tin, or is it like the cheaper own brand imitation that’s not quite as good?
I suppose that comes down to what you are ultimately expecting. I came into the title having not played a Call of Duty game for about two years since the first Black Ops, with a little scepticism and not holding out high hopes, and as a result I am pleasantly surprised. But that’s not to say that corners haven’t been cut and sacrifices made. And believe me, there have been some serious cutbacks here.
The best place to start is Multiplayer, as this is ultimately what Call of Duty is renowned for, and before I go any further I should tell you that the game doesn’t support NAT 3, so if you do have that type of connection then you will either need to find a workaround or pass.
The game ships with six maps which cater to 8 player matches, either in free for all of 4v4 in team based matches. Many of your favourite game modes may be missing, as you can choose from the aforementioned Free for all, Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and Dropzone, with Team Tactical being a playlist rotation of the three team modes. Series regulars are conspicuous by their absence. No Headquarters, no Domination and no Search and Destroy. Whether they will be added later as DLC or not remains to be seen, but releasing a title with the modes you would expect is a little short sighted.
As you have heard and may expect, the maps are pretty small catering for the reduced player count, although this doesn’t reduce the tension as you will encounter players very often as a result. This is also a negative point, because as you run and gun you will encounter players respawning frequently which can disrupt what would be a naturally flowing game with impromptu deaths because someone reappeared behind you. It also isn’t always clear why you died or the direction from as there are no kill cameras either. The maps vary in appearance somewhat from a snowing research facility, A container dockyard and a quiet 1950s street which is basically Nuketown from the original Black Ops, but cut in half, When it was already a tiny map. The maps are all inpsired or homages to previous maps in the series.
What is good to see is a whole stash of weapons, attachments, kill streaks and perks, including a few new ones for the series all of which unlock through a levelling system as you would expect, complete with challenges and prestiging. The matches themselves are very fluid and I haven’t encountered much lag at all, but I have been the victim of a few random disconnects and being kicked from the matches with no real obvious reason.
The game is also the beneficiary of a 450+MB day one patch, which also adds Ad Hoc multiplayer, I didn’t get a chance to test this out only having one Vita to play with, but it says that basically every single customisable aspect of the game is unlocked and free to use, but you won’t earn any experience points. The patch also addresses balancing issues but it doesn’t elaborate further.
You can choose to use public matchmaking or party matchmaking, making full use of the party application that the Vita has, which is also incidently why Nihilistic have limited the number of players to 8, due to limitations with the chat. Through this option you can choose to have a public or private match with your friends.
The large selection of weapons available allow you to really set yourself up well with shotguns, assault rifles, sub machine guns and sniper rifles all present although how much use you will get is debatable. You can also customise up to five different classes in addition to the standard 5 generic ones available too. A great use of “Near” is also present as you can create and share a class and also download others this way if you are struggling to come up with something useable yourself. You can only keep one “Near” class at a time though.
When all is said and done, the multiplayer is great fun. It definitely has a sort of Call of Duty feel to it, but it this will never stand up as a realistic alternative to the real thing on consoles. It’s an absolute blast and you will enjoy it in short bursts either with friends or online and that is all it is really suitable for in its current form. Just remember it’s very light in content overall.
Which leads us on to the next section, which are the single player offerings. The campaign is called “Operations” and is actually a series of ten short missions, which are supposed to bridge the story between the first and second Black Ops console games, but in reality are a series of very short challenges, similar to the Spec Ops missions from the Modern Warfare line. You are treated to a short cinematic before being thrown into to missions which can be played on Regular, Hard or Veteran and earn stars accordingly. There are no check points and the enemies positions and AI seem to be set in stone, so once you learn the placements you can breeze through it pretty quickly, but the longeivity aspect of this mode is set from the repeated frustration of dieing. A lot. It also has a set of 5 time trial missions for you to attempt.
Declassified doesn’t have a zombies mode despite the expectation that it might, as a Black Ops title. Nihilistic have said that it is down to Activision. What they have given you is “Hostiles”, a wave based scenario with increasing numbers of enemies. Once you have cleared the wave you have a few seconds to locate the care package to increase your arsenal. It never gets more than frantic, and the intelligence of the soldiers is laughable to say the least, in many cases they will stand there and let you shoot them. It’s very replayable, as you will no doubt want to beat some of your friend’s scores but it’s all very repetetive, especially when you are playing on the same maps from the multiplayer aspect.
The game has improved a great deal from what we have seen in the launch trailer at Gamescom and indeed from the screens that you can see on this page, as they are also from Gamescom. With an inability to take screenshots, I asked Activision if they could provide me with any newer screens and they said that they didn’t have any. It’s really not as impressive as you would expect from the franchise to be honest, and I would have thought that the Vita would have been capable of better. They are on a par with Unit 13 really, functional and they do the job. It all looks very COD-like, from the presentation to the games, all of the menus and screens all feel very familiar.
The audio in the game doesn’t sound the best, playing through the speakers doesn’t do the weapons justice, they all sound much better than you may have expected if you are using headphones. But in your match ups that is all you will hear, it’s all quite eeriely quiet except for the occasional crack of the weapons.
The controls are pretty much standard fare, left analogue stick moves you, the right looks around, the triggers are you aiming and shooting. Triangle changes your weapon, x is your jump and the circle is your crouch and prone. Square is your interaction button in campaign. Sprint is toggled on or off by using down on the D-pad in the absence of the usual practice. And it actually works pretty well. Any kill streaks you have set are also activated through the pad. Grenades and Melees are all brought into play through the touch screen, swiping the screen will use your knife and grenades are both brought into the fray by dragging across the screen. It works reasonably well, but the sticks are very sensitive and even on the medium setting they are very loose and may need some serious tweaking for you to find your preference.
All things considered then, it does do a close approximation on Call of Duty, but it is very much a COD lite. So, going back to my earlier question about doing exactly as it says on the tin or being a cheap imitation, it is easily an imitation, but at almost the same price as the former it’s hardly cheap. Although it does just about do the same job. You will be doing yourself a favour by not buying from the PlayStation Store as it is quite ridiculously priced there and not worth it.
The fact that it is fun saves it from mediocrity but this could and should have been better and only really fills a hole in the library for now. Over to you, Guerrilla.