Nihilistic Software, Sony and Activision – An Opinion

This November, we’ll be getting the first Vita entry of Call Of Duty, the mega selling behemoth of the FPS genre. Black Ops Declassified arrives this November and we haven’t seen much. But what we have seen hasn’t been pretty. In fact, it’s very unsettling what we’ve seen of the game so far. If you didn’t already know, Black Ops Declassified is being developed by Nihilistic Software, the now infamous developer behind Resistance: Burning Skies. And that is a title I think they don’t deserve.

Now, some opinions differ on Burning Skies, but the general consensus is that the game just simply wasn’t very good. As an FPS, it was competent. It controlled well enough and somewhat cleanly, but then again, this should apply to every FPS. Burning Skies was a bad Resistance game. Now someone argued with me that you can’t (and shouldn’t approach Burning Skies as an Insomniac game). And that person is right. But you do have to approach it as a Resistance game. The tellings of a Resistance game are a good story, good gameplay, a good narrative and great characters (yes Joseph Capelli, I’m looking straight at you). The problem was that Nihilistic failed here. The story wasn’t good, the gameplay was very basic, the narrative was poor and the characters were flat, one dimensional and uninteresting. And to go along with that, the multiplayer was…“bear bones” as I believe Analog Addiction’s very own Jamie Briggs put it.

Call Of Duty Black Ops Declassified doesn’t look much better. It was worrying enough that we just had an announcement of the games existence at this years E3 and that we had no glimpse of the game for over two months until we saw it at Gamescom 2012. The worst bit was that it was being developed by Nihilistic. Obviously, Nihilistic were working on Declassified before the release of Burning Skies so Activision and Sony had little idea of how the game would ultimately be received. Now it’s too late. You can’t just hand off Declassified to another developer. Activision and Sony are stuck with this game and I think they want to forget it.

If you’re not familiar with Nihilistic’s back catalogue of games this console generation, allow me to run you through it. In 2007, they developed Conan for the PS3 and Xbox 360 which I actually liked quite a lot. In 2009, they released Zombie Apocalypse for XBLA and PSN. In 2011, we had Playstation Move Heroes which was well, Playstation Move Heroes. Most recently, we’ve had Resistance: Burning Skies.

Now lets look at Declassified. It’s not going to have a zombie mode which is absurd from a sales point of view. I know people who literally only play the zombie mode and it’s gone from a little bonus level to almost a game in itself. The interesting thing is that Nihilistic would “love” to add the inclusion of zombies to Declassified. What really made me raise my eyebrows was when they said over Twitter “Only Activision and Sony have the power to greenlight Zombies mode for CoD Vita. We would love to do it if they ask. But it’s not our call”. That statement just sends alarm bells ringing for me. What it says to me is that Activision and Sony just aren’t interested in the project anymore. This is the first Call Of Duty game on the first handheld that can handle an FPS. The next bit of worrying news is that they don’t even know if it will have additional content after release. So many games announce their DLC plans for their games. Nihilistic have said that “nothing has been announced” which furthers my theory about Sony and Activision all but giving up on the project.

Now back to multiplayer. The way it’s being described would make a name like Call Of Duty: Lite a more appropriate title. There’s no Theatre Mode or any other additional modes aside from Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All, Drop Zone, Team Tactical, Kill Confirmed Deathmatch. There’ll be no killcam which is very odd. I won’t pretend that I know any technical stuff about this game but surely it can’t be that much of a hassle to include it. If there is a specific reason, Nihilistic hasn’t told us what it is. A new wave based mode named “hostiles” will be a single-player only mode.

I’ve thought  a lot about this issue. I’ve thought a lot about Resistance: Burning Skies and Call Of Duty Black Ops Declassified and you know what? I’m angry. Not angry because Nihilistic has made a bad game out of the former and isn’t impressing with the latter. No sir, I’m angry at how Activision and Sony in my mind have thrown Nihilistic these franchises and have almost said “here, do this and do it to the same standard as Treyarch and Insomniac”.

Back in May, IGN’s Greg Miller interviewed Rob Heubner of Nihilistic games on Up At Noon. At around the 1.55 mark, Heubner tells us about how Sony approached Nihilistic with a similar attitude. They effectively told Nihilistic to design a PS3 shooter and then have time to add things in it but they didn’t know what franchise they were developing for or even the console they were developing for. My guess is that Nihilistic developed a very different kind of game and just didn’t have enough time to go back and do it properly. And it looks to be a similar story with COD. They’ve quite clearly been working on both Burning Skies and Declassified at the same time so neither game has got the proper development time it needs. Bear in mind that Nihilistic are a small studio as well. They’re not like Naughty Dog, Insomniac or Sucker Punch.

Quite frankly, it’s unfair to dump all this pressure on a small developer and expect them to make games from big name franchises to the same kind of standard with what is clearly not enough time. The Vita is a brand new and more than capable console so why doesn’t Sony seem to care about FPS games on it? Not only does it make Sony look foolish, but now it’s making Nihilistic only known as that-developer-that-makes-bad-games. Declassified isn’t even out yet and people are already calling it out to be a disappointment and I’m inclined to agree but I don’t blame Nihilistic. Quite frankly, I’d like to see what Nihilistic can do by themselves with their own game with a good amount of time. I think Sony owe it to them. Just reading and watching interviews I can tell that Nihilistic are a committed developer and it’s a great shame they’re kept on a short leash by Sony.

What do you guys think of this? I’d love to hear your comments about this issue.

Source for some of the information used here: IGN.

This is strictly a self opinion piece and doesn’t represent the opinion of Analog Addiction. The views expressed in this article are my own.

George Sinclair is an editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest news, reviews and previews. You can follow him on Twitter and his blog on IGN


Categories: News

4 replies »

  1. Took me awhile, but had this bookmarked for a long time to read. Very nice piece and I completely agree, seems silly on Sony’s part and unfair from Activision. I am a Call of Duty fan, there multiplayer is one of THE best.

    The multiplayer here looks…Well a shell of what the consoles receive, my Dad wanted to buy a Vita to play multiplayer on the go. But I don’t think he expected such a watered down experience and I think many others don’t either.


  2. This is so stupid on both Sony’s and Activision’s part. It’s like they want the PS Vita and COD: Declassified to fail. If they treat Nihilistic so bad, why the hell did they hire them in the first place for a new game? Why not wait ’till Black Ops II is finished and give the project to Treyarch? Even though the Vita doesn’t really have many great games, I think gamers could have waited ’till next year at least, and get a MUCH better version of COD for their console WITH zombies nontheless. Or if they still want Nihilistic to do it then for the love of God, as you said, give those guys more time. They’re not really what you would call “a big company”. They can make good games but they need time (and money nontheless). I don’t want to bash the game until I’ve seen it but I don’t think it’ll be better than Burning Skies. At best, I think it’ll be just like Burning Skies: underdeveloped.


    • Exactly. The problem seems to be is that Activision and Sony have clearly been far too focused on the console versions which would do well anyway. It’s a great shame for both Nihilistic and the gamers. I guess we’ll just have to wait for Killzone: Mercenary.


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