So far the PlayStation Vita hasn’t exactly been a booming success right out of the gate. While most console launches are far from perfect for a variety of reasons (defective hardware, limited supplies, poor software), the Vita hasn’t been a flop but it hasn’t lived up to the success Sony has had when launching prior consoles. The low sales numbers the Vita received in Japan have been particularly distressing considering the solid software line-up Sony put together which catered to a variety of tastes and interests.
While no one is claiming that the Vita is already dead, at least outside of a few folks on NeoGAF and other sites, the Vita in a way is facing an uphill struggle to gain an audience and more importantly show that a pure gaming handheld device still has meaning in this world filled with smartphones and games that can be bought for a $1.
As of now the support Sony has gained for the Vita is good and that shows in the launch line-up that gamers received in North America and Europe. Future titles for the Vita are still being kept under wraps for now but what does the Vita need in order to succeed? Every console and handheld has at least received one key killer app which has shot it to fame amongst core gamers and the mainstream audience, a key example being Halo for the original Xbox and Uncharted for the PlayStation 3. Key first party Vita titles may still be in the early stages of development or are still germinating into something exciting, but the salvation of the PlayStation Vita may rest in an unlikely source: the Call of Duty franchise.
Since I haven’t reviewed any of the major Call of Duty games so far on Shogun Gamer, I’ll let my feelings on the franchise be known up front: I’m not the biggest CoD fan out there. While I originally was entertained by the reinvention the series received in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, I quickly grew a bit tired of the silly plots and overly scripted action which honestly had me banging my head on my desk upon playing the grand finale that was Modern Warfare 3. I can understand the immediate appeal of the franchise in its Michael Bay action glory, but for me the previous Call of Duty games have been quick one and done affairs as I’ve literally finished them in a day or two, played a bit of the multiplayer modes and then never go back to it again. Even the multiplayer mode doesn’t appeal to me that much as the key strategy in the game revolves around almost aimless XP accumulating, camping, or abusing one key weapon and ability non-stop which to me makes for an all-around unpleasant experience.
With my feelings on the Call of Duty franchise off my chest I do think the imminent PlayStation Vita version in the series could become what the Vita requires in order to gain more interest or at the very least make more people look at the device. Now with the CoD Vita situation there are a few major what-if type scenarios that could spell immediate doom for the game or make it so successful that casual gamers will think it’s the best thing since the analog stick was invented. I won’t completely talk out of my ass concerning how much of an impact a good Call of Duty game could make on the Vita since I’m not trying to gain some hits on a game millions of people love. I swear.
As of now we know one simple but almost finite thing: a Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified will be coming to the PlayStation Vita in late 2012. Initially revealed during Sony’s Vita segment at their E3 2011 conference, the news of a CoD game appearing on Sony’s new handheld wasn’t quite a megaton but at the very least showed that a major publisher such as Activision was going to support the device with a major franchise. Since the initial reveal we’ve obviously received a few major details on the project, the first of which was the official name and the second of which were basic game details released last week.
The nature and direction of Black Ops: Declassified is interesting for a few reasons since it could either be the best of both worlds or an obvious abomination that is a quick cash-in attempt, possibly mirroring the obvious cash-grab ports the PSP received early in its lifecycle. Obviously gamers will be interested to play a new CoD game, especially one set within the Black Ops universe, but will a CoD game without a serialized Hollywood story mode still be appealing to the millions of gamers who purchased Modern Warfare 3? In some ways the lack of a story mode won’t be a major determent for those who pick up Black Ops Declassified, but at the same time it does show that Activision may not be looking at the project with the same triple-A nature it does the core Call of Duty games.
Maybe I’m jumping the gun just a bit by thinking Black Ops Declassified will be the black sheep of the Call of Duty franchise, but the ultimate success and effort put into the game could mean whether the PlayStation Vita will be looked as a powerhouse handheld or simply a niche device that has a few gems but isn’t close to matching the library of the PlayStation 3.
For the sake of discussion let’s say that Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is handled by a core developer (possibly Raven Software) and looks nearly identical to the PS3/Xbox 360 versions. Will that alone be enough for gamers? Obviously the Vita installment of Call of Duty may have a few bells and whistles thrown in such as touch controls and some sort of integration of the front camera to perhaps allowing gamers to take a snapshot of themselves for online gaming. Personally I think the end all be all of whether or not Black Ops Declassified will be deemed a success is on what everyone cares about: the multiplayer modes.
We may have received four games in the last few years that feature a single-player campaign and multiplayer modes but the big draw has and likely will always will be what sort of multiplayer action is provided in a CoD experience. My feelings on the multiplayer design of the CoD series has already been made clear, but I can’t deny the success it has had, even in respect to the subscription based Call of Duty Elite service which has roped in quite a few gamers and has proved to have longstanding legs to it.
The heavy online base of the Vita should enable gamers for the first time to literally do battle in the Call of Duty universe wherever they desire, something which could be a huge thing for mainstream consumers and hardcore CoD fans. The Call of Duty franchise has appeared on the DS in a slightly scaled down form and on iOS devices in titles based on the CoD Zombie mode, but both haven’t really pushed online gaming in the same way the Vita CoD entry could. As of now there hasn’t been a “true” Call of Duty handheld gaming experience and if the Vita delivers such a thing it could shoot the device to immediate stardom.
What could make Black Ops Declassified a major hit, and this is barring if Activision is smart for once, is if the game features cross-platform play. So far Sony has been pushing the ability for Vita gamers to play online against PS3 folks in a completely seamless experience devoid of any major issues. Games like Wipeout 2048 and PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale support cross platform play between the Vita and PS3 and such a thing could be a key selling point for Call of Duty’s Vita debut. The fact that gamers will have a stable online network via the PSN, could play against gamers on the PS3, and still accumulate Trophies could be absolutely epic for the Vita as a key piece of software, even if it’s not a key 1st party title.
I’ll be realistic in knowing that the major audience for the Call of Duty series has been on the Xbox 360 in recent years and that’s more than obvious given the amount of exclusive DLC and special console editions that have been released. But I think in the end gamers, even those who aren’t necessarily part of the PS3 audience, may still be interested in seeing a CoD iteration that they can take with them on the go.
There’s still bound to be the hump amongst some gamers as to why they should pick up CoD for the Vita, especially if it’s a port of a title they can play on their PS3 or Xbox 360. I don’t foresee the core CoD fanbase, which based on sales thus far seems to be in the 5 million+ range, will go out and buy a Vita just so they can play CoD on the go, but such a thing could still prove to be instrumental in making the Vita more appealing given its existing and growing software library.
Part of the reason why the Vita hasn’t exactly been successful so far, even compared to the launch of the 3DS, is that some gamers and consumers just don’t know what to make of the device. Existing core gamers are still waiting for major software and casual gamers still don’t know what the immediate difference is when comparing the Vita to their iPhone/iTouch from a gaming perspective. But seeing a game that is recognizable and known worldwide such as Call of Duty running on the Vita with stellar online play and interesting exclusive features could be the moment in which folks contemplate paying $250 for a Vita and going all in with the device.
The potential is there for Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified to be a killer-app to a degree but it’s just a matter of whether or not Activision will put the time and effort into making the game any good. We know that we’ll likely never receive a CoD game that is ridden with mass glitches or bugs since it’s the biggest moneymaker Activision has going on, but with that said, there’s no guarantee that Activision will give us a quality product and instead simply follow suit with what they’ve done with the Wii and DS iterations of Call of Duty by quickly put some stuff together and hoping that people buy it because of the brand name since little to no advertising was done.
Most gamers will admit that the PlayStation Vita is an impressive piece of technology that as of now makes it the most appealing gaming handheld on the market. Even with Sony showing their technical prowess once again the Vita is just in an odd situation where the software is good (it’s not too gimmicky or overly reliant on established franchises) yet isn’t hooking people in, either to the point where they want to buy the Vita or even have such a notion enter their head.
Seeing as how people can be swayed by big names and game that are a sure thing, the arrival of Black Ops Declassified on the Vita could be the moment in which the Vita will see rise above the current slump it’s in or simply be further proof that core handheld gaming is a lost cause.