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Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified Preview: Stripped Black

Nihilistic's Declassified strips back the CoD experience - but could it be a little too bare?

It's Call of Duty, and it's on a Vita. After a slow start, Sony are likely hoping that combination alone will give the handheld the boost it so desperately needs, but a glimpse at Black Ops Declassified gives some indication of why it's taken over a year for a serious look at the game.

Call of Duty's always been a game that's spartan with its looks, the run-down shanties and sprawling complexes all being smoothed over by that trademark 60fps refresh rate. That's not a feature of the Vita version, which is no real surprise - but what's left behind looks far from appealing.

Shattered, one of six multiplayer maps that's available, is a mess of rubble, overturned cars and bombed out buildings, a central alleyway running down the spine of the map. Without that frame rate, and with only eight players ever able to run through its corridors and cramped spaces, it's a bleak looking affair.

This was always going to be a cut-down Call of Duty experience, though, and enough of the formula remains intact to make Black Ops Declassified a familiar and, at times, exciting proposition.

Multiplayer's only available in 4v4 - and it's only available over wi-fi.

Declassified bridges the gap between the mainline Black Ops games, threading the story of Mason, Woods and Hudson between those two games. Its single-player will be told in small, objective based missions designed with portable gaming in mind, and that's not the only concession being made to the platform in hand.

The Vita's touchscreen is used, most interestingly, to equip, cook and then aim grenades or throwing knives (or, as Activision's Ryan Scott put it, they can be 'directionalised' - it's a feature that's new to the series, so why not make up a new word in its honour?).

It's brought in meaningfully elsewhere, too: get a kill-streak in multiplayer and you can direct the rewarded mortar strike with the touchscreen. The rear touchscreen comes into play too, being used to hold your breath when lining up a sniper shot. Near, meanwhile, can be used through the share a class feature, which allows friends to access each others builds and play with equipment even it they've yet to unlock it themselves.

Away from the novelties, though, it's threadbare. The boxes are all ticked - there's Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and other, unspecified modes are spread across that slim selection of six maps, and there's an XP and leveling system that allows you to prestige - but there's no sign of the taut design that's helped propel Call of Duty to its success.

The scrappy, lo-fi nature seems more fitting of throwaway entries such as the PSP's Road to Victory than the slick action of the core series. With Nihilistic, the team behind the mediocre Vita shooter Resistance: Burning Skies, on development duties, that impression isn't really alleviated in any way.

But it's Call of Duty on a Vita, and that's perhaps enough to extend the Vita's appeal beyond early adopters. Everything that makes up the core Call of Duty experience is here in Black Ops Declassified; the only question is if it can manage to maintain that little something extra that's helped make Call of Duty great.