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Will Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified lure gamers to the PlayStation Vita? (hands-on preview)

Activision Blizzard is taking the wraps off previews of its upcoming PlayStation Vita game, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. Gamers have high expectations for this game because it should settle once and for all whether first-person shooter games can work well on mobile devices.

We got some hands-on time with the Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified game this week. Unfortunately, the game has its pluses and minuses, and so it is not as definitive in settling the question about mobile game shooters. I’m afraid we won’t be seeing a multibillion-dollar first-person shooter business (as exists on the game consoles) anytime soon on the Vita, which has not sold well and desperately needs software that will make it seem more unique and desirable.

Nihilistic Software developed the game for Activision Publishing with the goal of bringing the Call of Duty experience to the Vita, which has analog controls and touchscreen features that make it a lot easier to play a first-person shooter on a mobile device. Normally, touchscreen controls just don’t cut it for precise shooting games, and so companies like PrimeA and Wikipad are addressing the problem with added controller hardware. The Vita, on the other hand, has a beautiful five-inch screen that can display outstanding 3D graphics and the controls to make a console shooter veteran feel comfortable, said producer Neven Dravinski.

I played a round of multiplayer combat and was pleasantly surprised that I was able to shoot and hit my enemy. You shoot with the right trigger and use the analog sticks to maneuver and fix your aim on a target. You can do that at high speed, but it takes some getting used to. I wasn’t able to hold my target reticle on a moving target for a long time. So I often missed getting enough shots off to take down the enemy, and merely wounded the other guy a number of times. The best thing about it is that the game looks like a Call of Duty game, and the game play is a lot like the console and PC titles. You can hit the left trigger to aim down a gun sight. And you can choose (or customize) your weapon loadout and play against multiple enemies via WiFi or hardwired links. I figure I can get used to the combat, but it was not a spectacular experience.

The story of the single-story Vita game bridges the gap of the 1960s-era Call of Duty: Black Ops game and the sequel coming out this fall, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, which is set in the year 2025. The multiplayer game supports up to eight players on WiFi, and it has six different maps. You can play in modes including Free for all, Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Dropzone, and other “classic Call of Duty modes.” You get Killstreaks for multiple kills and earn XP, or experience points, for performing well. You can toss a knife, and throw a flashbang or frag grenade. I got enough kills to call in a Spy Plane, so that I could see on my mini map where the enemies were located. The battle chatter was nice, and the audio for the machine guns was top notch. And I have to say, it was the best experience of playing a shooter that I have seen on a mobile device. But that’s not really saying too much, and it is not what I would expect to keep me continuously playing a shooter on a mobile device.

R3 or L3 controls (where you push down on your analog sticks) don’t appear anyhwere. To throw the grenade, you touch the screen and drag a grenade icon to the area of the screen where you want to throw it. You can hold down the icon to shorten the fuse so you enemy has less time to react. Sony tells me that makes the placement of grenades a lot more accurate and lethal. To sprint, you press down on the directional pad, or you can hold a stick forward to sprint. I played a two-on-two game, but you can also play four-on-four multiplayer on WiFi. If you stick to the outside edges of maps, you won’t get lost easily.

You can call in Care Packages, which are loot drops parachuted to the filed. Unfortunately for me, I earned a Care Package and threw the marker on the ground for it while inside a building. That meant that the Care Package landed on the roof, where I couldn’t reach it. I did this not only once, but twice. Very embarrassing.

You can fulfill challenges, choose your perks, and rank up to Prestige levels. You can play single-player objective-based operations and perform Survival and Time Trail missions (like rescuing a hostage before the clock runs out). The multiplayer leveling up will have lots of ranks, so players who really enjoy the shooting experience on the Vita will be able to play for a long time.

The game comes out on Nov. 13, the same day that Call of Duty: Black Ops II debuts on the PC, PlayStation 3, and the Xbox 360.


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