With three reviews, COD Vita is sitting on a 30/100.
Call of Duty, the largest game franchise in the world, produces a game worse than a port of a Gameloft iOS port. How could such a thing happen? How could Activision have been so stupid?
That’s the question we should all be asking of them. Looking at how much of a money maker this could have been for the Vita (and a system seller) it’s almost unbelievable that they would take such a lazy approach to their most valuable brand. Let’s try and de-construct.
They chose a poorly reviewed developer, and gave them no time.
Nihilistic games were contracted to create this game for Activision. Their recent efforts have not been the most acclaimed, for instance the Resistance Franchise’s Burning Skies for the Vita was released earlier this year from Nihilistic, and it received some mixed reviews ending up with a 60 on the metacritic scale. This is one of Sony’s big franchises and they give a lot of time and thought into who they work with. It looks like Nihilistic was given just over a year to work on this game after they made the underwhelming Playstation Move Heroes (53/100) on the Playstation 3.
With the work that they had done on the Vita device, building an engine and having the only real FPS on the system (other shooters being third person), the bean counters at Activision thought they would leverage their work, and get them to make a Call of Duty game. This in itself was not a huge mistake, given the right leadership and support from their publisher Nihilistic could have created a serviceable game, but they decided that this game should be released for the 2012 holiday season.
This puts Nihilistic in an incredibly difficult situation. Release a game they know will be bad and get a straight cash sum for it, or not have a project to work on. There’s a lot of blame to go around, but Nihilistic software shouldn’t receive much of it, considering the critical response of their last game they weren’t really getting their doors knocked down by publishers to get work, but they came upon the worlds biggest gaming franchise. Why not take the job? A paycheck is a paycheck and a developer needs to keep their doors open. Now that the game has been released Nihilistic has changed their name of 14 years to get away from the bad press.
What were some of the tell-tale signs this game would be a bust?
1. Media blackout
For one, there were no screenshots, game videos or details until months after the original announcement. Games like Soul Sacrifice or Killzone Mercenary, games that weren’t due out until next year had full trailers at E3 that showcased at least some gameplay. But nothing for the game that would be released in less than 6 months time. No one knew who the developer of the game would be either until a few months later! This type of secrecy is strange in such a close-knit community.
2. No series actors reprised their roles
There are many different characters in the Call of Duty universe, but the ones that appear in Declassified are the same ones that appeared in the first “Black Ops” game. Despite this Nihilistic/Activision didn’t get any of the original actors. This shows that they made the game on the cheap, why pay Hollywood stars the full rate when you can get a local actor to do the same for almost nothing? At this point only one actor from the production has added it to their IMDB profile, meaning they would rather not broadcast they were part of this production, just like how Ben Aflfeck might not want people to remember Gigli.
3. No early review copies for game reviewers
Reminiscent of the movie industry, when a studio knows a film is a dud, they don’t show it to critics, because the bad reviews prevent those first weekend ticket sales, and then their advertising strategy is cut down at the knees. This is the same thing that has happened with COD vita. Commercials were created for the new Call of Duty game on Vita, and to prevent everyone knowing how bad the product is, they hid it from the public.
4. The developer retreating forever more from retail, while changing their name.
Even before the game was released Nihilistic software decided they would change their name to NStigate games and work on digital titles only. This seems like the only way the developer could survive the negativity it’s received from gamers, just because they were trying to keep food on the table. It’s quite easy to blame them, but the fault is really with Activision.
What does this mean for the platform? And the franchise?
The PSVita is in need of a killer app, I think that anyone can agree that despite the console`s strengths, sales are not one of them. Call of Duty was like a beacon of hope for the device, something that would differentiate it significantly in the eyes of consumers are more adult than the 3DS, and more “hardcore” than iOS games. But what we’ve received is a buggy, overly short (most reviewers complete single player in an hour or less), disgrace of a game.
Call of Duty as a franchise will continue to chug on, but there’s no doubt that it will burn anyone who buys this game. That’s just a shame, and something we as gamers should be vocal about with the publisher. It’s a sad day for handheld gaming that’s for sure.