The whole world in your hands

Criterion’s enthusiasm is infectious. “We’re going to make the best racing game on Vita this year,” an excitable Alex Ward told IGN last week. And judging from the reaction to Need for Speed: Most Wanted's first showing, it’s going to take some beating.

Unlike the vast majority of other developers, the Guildford-based studio has opted to build the open-world racer in-house. “It would’ve been really easy to do Vita out of house,” he said in the same IGN interview. “But when I saw the specs for the Vita, I knew we had to do it.”

And what an impact that uplifting attitude has made on the game. Need for Speed: Most Wanted may be an identical port of the PS3 title, but what it’s achieving on Vita hardware is nothing short of staggering. Factor in cross-save compatibility, and it makes for an undeniably compelling proposition.

Contrast that enthusiasm to the savage critical reception received by Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, and it raises an interesting question about Vita development itself: why aren’t more studios following Criterion’s lead?

Publishers may argue that the platform’s limited install base may not warrant significant investment, but it’s hard to imagine EA is spending much more money on bringing Need for Speed: Most Wanted to Vita than Activision is on building Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified from scratch. Indeed, developer Nihilistic Software’s fees probably far outweigh the finances being injected into Criterion Software to handle the ambitious port.

Breaking hearts

There’s no doubt that tailored content is infinitely preferable to more of the same, but if Activision didn’t want to splash the cash on developing Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified properly then it should have examined other means. A direct port of the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 with various cross-platform mechanics would have been much more enticing than the half-hearted effort it seems we’re going to get.

Spewing venom at developer Nihilistic Software is a fruitless exercise – we very much doubt that the Californian outfit intends to make lacklustre products. The studio’s questionable resume is probably more a consequence of limited resources than a genuine lack of talent. After all, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified will be the developer’s second first-person shooter in the span of six months. By contrast, Treyarch has had two years to put together Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

But that statistic highlights the precise problem with Vita development in the first place. Why bother releasing a game if it appears that you’re going to treat it with such little care? Would it really have cost Activision that much money to port the Call of Duty engine to Vita and build the game properly?

Criterion’s showing other developers how it should be done. Need for Speed: Most Wanted on Vita is unlikely to set the sales charts alight, but it still looks certain to provide a valuable alternative option to early adopters of Sony’s latest handheld. Unless there’s a dramatic last minute turn around, it’s unlikely that Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified will do the same. And that’s a real shame.

Are you going to purchase Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified? What do you think about the current state of Vita development? Let us know in the comments section below.