Call of Duty: Black Ops II is getting rave reviews, and judging by the early numbers we're hearing, it's bound to be another seriously big seller.
But not all versions of the game are created equal.
Just witness the stunning fall of Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified for the Playstation Vita. Intended as a companion to the console game, it was supposed to be one of the handheld's biggest holiday titles.
That's not going to happen, at least if critics have anything to say about it. Reviews of Declassified are just starting to roll in, but with an unthinkably low 29 rating on Metacritic, it's already got a shot at going down as the worst game of 2012.
Game Informer calls the title "appalling," "a complete embarrassment for gaming's biggest franchise" and "an absolute mess," citing artificial intelligence that is literally suicidal (hiding behind a car and shooting into it until it explodes) and a ridiculously easy campaign mode, which reviewer Dan Ryckert completed in just 42 minutes.
"If you're looking for a fun single-player shooter experience, you'd be hard pressed to find an experience less complete than Declassified," he writes. "In dramatic fashion, it completely fails to live up to the high bar of quality gamers expect from the Call of Duty name. It's also a discouraging sign for gamers like me who shelled out $250 for a Vita in the hopes of console-quality experiences on handheld. I can't recommend Declassified to anyone."
Giant Bomb can't, either. Reviewer Jeff Gerstmann dings it left and right, noting "the game feels too small to be entertaining, with maps so tiny that you'll literally spawn with an enemy in your crosshairs... or vice versa. This would be a questionable purchase at traditional downloadable pricing. But at $50? No way."
Other sites, including IGN, haven't published their review because review copies were not sent out in a timely manner. Pocket Gamer, who went out and bought one anyway, thinks that was by design.
"Call of Duty: Black Ops - Declassified is a cynical, half-baked, tired little mess of a game, and Activision knows it," writes reviewer Peter Willington, adding that it "gives a middle finger" to fans.
What happened? While it's hard to say definitively, there are rumors that development and production of Declassified were severely rushed, with game makers having no more than 8 months to put the title together. Even for an annualized franchise, that's a Herculean task.
The bigger question is what this might mean for Vita sales this holiday. Sony had high hopes that the game would give the Vita a sales boost during the holidays, even offering a bundle of the game and system.
But if reviews remain this low -- and there's little reason to think they'll turn around in a significant way -- it could be more bad news for Sony's handheld gaming device.