In early July, Sony Computer Entertainment SCE president, Andrew House, said that gamers could expect a "good raft of content" for the company's fledging handheld, Vita.
Mr House also acknowledged that "killer gamers are going to be what sells this device", and that there "are other aspects to the proposition that we can build in there."
Since then gamers have gotten Resistance: Burning Skies, the hardware's first true first-person shooter, and a game that ended up feeling the wrath of critics and gamers alike. Dull, uninspiring and unmemorable, the game seemed to suffer from the same issues the genre did on Vita's predecessor, the PSP.
Fortunately developers realised that the PSP wasn't quite the right piece of hardware for the genre, and we ended up getting FPS franchises transformed in genres that, surprisingly, turned out better than their console counterparts. The top-down action game, Killzone: Liberation, was proof of this. This was a game that is actually better than any Killzone FPS released.
The PSP was also fantastic for third-person shooters, and with Unit 13 receieving plenty of praise following its Vita release, it seems as though the genre would once again find a place on the device.
And yet, Sony has thrown plenty of weight into the ring with Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified, a supposed "classic Call of Duty experience" that was shown for the first time at Gamescom over the past few days.
If Sony is banking on this game to help move hardware...well...it might have made the right choice. Afterall, this is Call of Duty, and the brand itself is enough to move hardware. It will sell, and it's certain that Vita will move some hardware in the process.
The sad reality is that the game looks exactly like Burning Skies. Unsurprisingly, it's being worked on by that game's developer, Nihilistic Software.
What's most disappointing is that it seems like gamers are just getting a portable version of a "classic" Call of Duty experience, which, in PR speak, reads more like "old" considering reports of the game's lackluster off-hands showing at the convention.
Black Op 2's new loadouts and score streak system have been the talk of the industry since it was revealed earlier in the week, and yet that same innovative changes to the series are nowhere to be seen in Declassified, which is disappointing.
It's a little hard not to be a little frustrated at the prospect of this game. Then again, we should'nt be surprised: Call of Duty on PSP was anything but stellar.
While it's tough to be so critical of a game before anyone in the press actually gets a chance to play it, it's hard to imagine that it will actually be any good: it can't be a coincidence that Nihilistic's two Vita games, which are releasing only a few months apart, look so similar. If you got someone to play Burning Skies and then put the trailer for Declassified in front of them with all branding removed, you can bet they wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two games.
I personally hope Sony doesn't think it can grab big third-party games and offer lackluster experiences for the sake of moving hardware, which is something it did with the PSP: most third-party FPS games on that system were awful, and it was only when developers took the risk to develop interesting, innovative experiences away from the familiar offerings of the brand that we got good games. Liberation is a perfect example of this.
Would a third-person Call of Duty game have been better? First-person shooters are continuously tried over and over again on handheld platforms, and while the cheaper offerings on tablets and mobiles are decent at best, at least they're not priced at full retail cost like we know Declassified will be.
Rumours surfaced last year about a Sledgehammer Games-developed third-person Call of Duty experience, which certainly begs the question as to whether it might have been a better move for the handheld: was Activision too cautious to take the risk and turn a series so reliant on its first-person offerings to bring gamers a third-person perspective?
Maybe, but now Vita gamers face the prospect of getting the first "blockbuster" title that actually turns out to be as lackluster as its creator's other offering.
What do you think of Declassified based on what you've seen and heard so far?
By Gaetano Prestia