The latest entry into the FPS behemoth that is Call of Duty sends players back to the trenches of World War II, as Activision and Sledgehammer Games aim to recapture the magic that made gamers fall in love with the franchise in the first-place.
As mentioned, the game marks the series’ return to its 1940’s roots, and is a ‘coming home’ of sorts for developer Sledgehammer Games, who helmed the 2017’s brilliant Call of Duty: World War II. While the other FPS shooter on the market, Battlefield, opted to forgo a single-player campaign with Battlefield 2042, Call of Duty has doubled down on the solo mode of their franchise, giving players an interesting and somewhat spin on the usual WW2 story.
The single-player picks up towards the end of WW2, and follows four characters, each from a different nation among the Allied forces, who essentially formed the first special task force team during that era. Most of the missions are comprised of flashbacks and past heroics, which gives some insight into what these characters have endured throughout the war, eventually culminating in their mission to uncover some secret Nazi plans. From a gung-ho American pilot to a charismatic but cold Russian sniper, you get to play through some truly interesting scenarios, such as the Battle for Midway and the siege of Stalingrad with those characters respectively. You’ll be jumping from cockpits and deserts to sniping missions and all-out warfare in classic Call of Duty style, which makes you feel like you’re covering a lot of the ‘ground’ of World War II events.
It’s a great choice from a narrative perspective too, as what’s common in the genre, you tend to play as a faceless soldier with little to no context of who they are. Vanguard throws the player 4 seemingly random characters, who are then unravelled as the game goes on, helping you understand why they are the way they are, along with their own personal motivations to participate in the war.
The campaign itself, while not very long, is as big, bombastic, and stunningly polished as you’ve come to expect from a Call of Duty campaign in this generation. The visuals are spectacular, the character animations are sublime, and the scenes you encounter (whether choreographed or not) never fail to capture a sense of awe. The weight and feel of the game are notably more tangible too, finally pushing Call of Duty out of that zone where you feel like you’re shooting paper targets, and into a space where you feel like you’re actually taking on smart and meaty AI enemies who flail and spin in glorious ragdoll moments, rather than preset animations.
The single-player campaign is great overall, and while it may not hit the heights of the franchise, it takes some interesting turns and rests of some tried-and-tested (and incredibly enjoyable) mission designs that longtime fans will have fun with.
In terms of the general feel of the multiplayer gameplay, Vanguard feels very in line with that of 2019’s Modern Warfare reboot (it’s running on the same engine) which is a good thing, as the fluidity, momentum, and speedy weight of that entry felt great and a real refinement of the CoD pacing and gameplay dynamic. It’s snappy and responsive, but climbing through windows and making more tricky manoeuvres do carry a bit of realism to it in order to balance the speed of the experience.
Returning from previous entries, although featuring a bit of a revamp is the Combat Pacing system, which helps you find a style of game to suit your needs (so to speak). The options include: Tactical (lobbies that franchise veterans know well. This is the experience that you’re used to with classic Call of Duty combat timing. Tactical Combat Pacing is always 6v6.) Secondly, there is Assault, which provides balanced Combat Pacing that gives you enough room to breathe and a lot of targets to kill (around 20-28). Assault is a middle ground between Tactical and Blitz. Blitz is all about high-action lobbies that see the intensity cranked up to frenetic levels. Prepare for plenty of combat when choosing to join a Blitz.
Those who want to hop into a game can also set the Combat Pacing to “All” and get a variety of Combat Paces between each match, in a similar fashion to how Quick Play allows you to hop between an assortment of modes you select.
There are some highlights in the set of new maps, including the rooftops of Hotel Royal, the snowy Russian cityscape in Red Star, and the pacific island of Gavutu. The best thing about these maps, as opposed to some other Call of Duty titles, is that every map is vastly different. They look and feel as if they have their own personality from one another, and each result in different degrees of close-quarters or long-range combat, which really made each round feel entirely unique. Fitting together like gear cogs, the maps and Combat Pacing system work together well. On larger maps, like Red Star, playing in the Blitz gameplay mode works, as there are more than enough players around, fitting the atmosphere and frenetic action with the environment size. On smaller maps, like Hotel Royal, playing on the Tactical option is better, giving you a closer, (and aptly named) more tactical experience.
In terms of game modes, Team Deathmatch operates as you’d expect, along with the favourite Kill Confirmed — and a new one called Patrol, delivers an interesting spin to keep the action going. Based on the Hardpoint game type, Patrol is an objective-based mode that features a scoring zone in near-constant motion; if Operators want to rack up points for their team, they should keep up and move around the map within this Patrol point. It causes opposing teams to find one another with ease, and almost feels like an escort challenge / moving flag that forces your team to have your back.
There is the beloved Zombies mode too, which provides that same manic, frantic, and enjoyable undead-shooting experience fans have come to love. There are some interesting maps that keep you on your toes, but the main story element of the mode is yet to be released; which is an interesting and admittedly baffling decision from the developers.
With Call of Duty: Vanguard, it’s clear that Sledgehammer Games is developing its knack for storytelling and slickly-produced campaigns for the franchise, and is further providing arguably the most versatile multiplayer CoD experience to date, allowing you to adjust almost anything to suit your needs or what you’re in the mood for. It may not be reinventing the wheel, but Vanguard gives CoD players, whether single-player fanatics or multiplayer die-hards, exactly what they want from a Call of Duty game.
Call of Duty: Vanguard is available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and PC.
The Quarry Review — A Killer Summercamp
Does Supermassive Games’ latest horror-adventure deliver the frights?
If you’re a fan of slasher flicks, teen horror movies, and 80s and 90s horror icons, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more suitable and fitting than Supermassive Games’ The Quarry in your gaming library, delivering all the gore, screams, and sinister villains that go with the genre, while throwing you into the mix as you participate in how the whole ordeal plays out.
For those who may not know, The Quarry is the spiritual successor of sorts to Until Dawn, Supermassive Games’ playable horror-movie, which lets you partake in a Cabin in the Woods-esque scenario, making life or death choices, exploring, and even directing how dialogue plays out. The Quarry follows the same set-up, but has added in a whole lot more ‘game’ into the experience, allowing you to do all the above, along with some guided shooting, running, and other flight-or-fight moments. Of course, these games are all about the story and the repercussions of your decisions, and in that regard, it thrives.
The story itself follows nine young camp counselors who must survive a night at Hackett’s Quarry in Upstate New York while being hunted by bloodthirsty locals and a creature much more sinister. There’s the usual roster of naive teens, helpful law enforcement, and suspicious locals, and while it hits many of the beats fans of the genre will know, it does a great job to flip some expectations, along with the fact that the game can play out in a lot of different ways.
186 endings, to be exact. No, that’s not a typo: one-hundred-and-eighty-six. Every choice you make, characters you manage to keep alive, and the dialogue decisions you make will steer the outcome of the game, which provides a lot of replayability. Of course, with over 180 endings available, these can range from drastic changes, such as characters being alive or dead, to slight permutations, such as an additional line of dialogue or item change. Seeing the same scene with and without one of the main characters (who kicked the bucket early in one of our playthroughs) was great to experience though, and showed how certain scenes will play out different with or without certain characters.
The Quarry is essentially The Avengers of horror history’s who’s-who
Supermassive Games’ love for horror classics is clearly present throughout all their games, but The Quarry pays homage to the best of the best, with the cast featuring a host of well-known actors celebrated for their roles in horror movies. Not only do you get David Arquette (Scream), Grace Zabriskie Child’s Play, The Grudge) and Lin Shaye from The Conjuring franchise, but Lance Henriksen (Alien vs Predator, Aliens) and Ted Raimi (The Evil Dead) also play notable roles. The voice work is great, and the improvement in motion capture technology in recent years really allows each actors’ input to be showcased.
Misery loves company
While The Quarry doesn’t have any traditional multiplayer per se, the fact that Supermassive Games even included a cooperative experience is a huge plus. In the game’s couch co-op mode, you and up to seven friends can experience the horror together. Each player is assigned to play as one or more counselors, with one controller passed around the group each time a different counselor becomes the current playable character. Whether you decide to work together or suddenly swerve the story in a new direction is up to you. It’s an incredibly fun addition that turns a solo horror experience into a hilarious game of ‘let’s see who can keep their character alive the longest’, which makes for a fantastic evening with friends.
While Supermassive Games has been slowly improving and enhancing their own little niche in the gaming world: the narrative-story-driven horror genre, The Quarry is the best of the bunch and the perfect nod to the teen-slasher/supernatural horror milieu of yesteryear. The larger cast, gorgeous visuals, scarier setting, and slightly tongue-in-cheek atmosphere of the game sets it up to be another classic.
The Quarry is available on Xbox Series X, PS5, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.
Sniper Elite 5 Review — Shot Through the Heart
We review Rebellion’s fifth primary entry into the beloved Sniper Elite series.
The much-loved, Nazi testicle-destroying franchise is back, as Sniper Elite 5 delivers another sharpshooting adventure for players to indulge in; but is the face-shooting formula beginning to wear thin, or is this under-the-radar series finally making itself known?
The enjoyable nature of the Sniper Elite games has always been down to its simple premise. Much like a WWII Hitman, you’re dropped into a sandbox environment and tasked with taking out a VIP, planting some bombs, stealing documents, or a variety of other primary and secondary tasks. You’re free to go about doing these in any order and how you see fit, and that freedom of choice is where the game shines.
You once again take control of series hero Karl Fairburne as you set out to stop Project Kraken — some sneaky plan those pesky Nazis have cooked up. Each location you visit, which are all spectacular and range from a Nazi-occupied castle to a quaint farmhouse, delivers its own challenges and edges you closer and closer to finding out what Kraken is, and how to stop it. They’re all excellently designed, have numerous paths and ways to take out your targets, and make exploring and getting lost a joy rather than a chore. Instead of going through the front door, you could wander around the surrounding beach and find an under-construction wine cellar entrance that gives you access to the target’s office or bedroom. These moments make exploration feel satisfying and worthwhile.
And as for the overarching mission, instead of the ‘destroy this because it’s bad’, you get a bit of a mystery around what Project Kraken is that evolves as the game progresses. This, along with the developers adding more of a story-element to the campaign, gives some background to the behind-closed-doors moments of what the baddies are up to, talking about ole Fairburne like he’s a real thorn in the side of the Nazis, which does make you feel that much more of badass.
Of course, the shooting is what Sniper Elite is all about, and that is as polished and enjoyable as ever. The sniping mechanics of finding the enemy’s distance, adjusting for wind and bullet-drop, and getting your timing right while holding your breath is always satisfying. The series’ famed X-ray death cams have been enhanced too, giving you more detail and some improved ragdoll physics when enemies are popped-off, but the most improved area of gameplay must be when using other weapons, which always felt like an afterthought in past releases.
This time around, machine guns, silenced pistols, and even pulling off violent melee moves (with the accompanying gory x-ray vision) feels slick and in line with the other elements of the game. The real benefit of this is that it makes going in loud or taking other options to sitting back and sniping feel like viable (and enjoyable) alternatives.
Enemies are also a bit sneakier, and seem to be able to spot you from much further away, while also coordinating to rush you when spotted. Those virtual Nazis have definitely had a boost in their AI, so you’ll need to be sharp when picking them off one by one.
No shot-in-the-dark World War II mission is perfect, though, and Sniper Elite 5 does have some awkward invisible walls and the odd choppy animation, but nothing that breaks the experience. Thankfully, everything that was great about the series has been beefed-up, with replayability at an all-time high thanks to the bigger and denser levels. Fans will love it, and it’s a great (albeit challenging) jumping-on point for newcomers.
Sniper Elite 5 is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, and PC; and it’s also included on Xbox GamePass, so it’s a no-brainer to play it if you’re a member.
MotoGP 22 Review — Cutting Corners or Perfect Season?
Does the latest entry into the fan-loved MotoGP series deliver a knockout lap?
The MotoGP franchise has seen a steady rise in quality over the years, with MotoGP 21 delivering one of the best games in the series to date thanks to some serious overhauls. However, the franchise did have some growing pains and weird omissions making its leap to the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Thankfully, it’s safe to say that MotoGP 22 has ironed out these kinks for a much more comprehensive (and gorgeous) experience.
MotoGP 21 saw a huge boost in visual fidelity, but MotoGP 22 has rounded off the presentation to represent something even closer to the real-life action. From the moment you boot up the game to your first pull-off from the startling line, it’s clear that MotoGP 22 has seen some polishing up to an admittedly jaw-dropping level. There are a lot of reused assets and cut-scenes from MotoGP 21, but the tweaks to animations, spiffier track details, shinier bikes, and an effective motion blur push MotoGP 22 to photorealistic levels.
Of course, the on-track racing is the real test, and on the Playstation 5, MotoGP 22 runs like a dream. Speeding through the MotoGP 22 season tracks and venues in glorious 4K, 60 frames a second is quite the exhilarating rush, which finally captures the blistering sensation of speed and frenetic energy of the real-life event.
With the series essentially nailing the look and feel of the real-life MotoGP, the latest games are really about refining that and adding new elements to enhance the little moments on and off the track, with the utmost realism being the goal in mind. Some tweaks to the physics stand out this time around, as your bike feels and moves like its own entity, rather than being directly attached to your rider, along with a greater focus on how your tyres and suspension perform on the track.
Real bike-nuts will get a huge kick out of tweaking everything from aerodynamics, electronics, engine power and consumption, chassis, and even petrol management. The great thing is, MotoGP 22 doesn’t just make it an aesthetic distraction of gauges and numbers, because, with each tiny adjustment, you can actually feel the difference on the track.
And you’ll need to refine your bike and approach as racing (like the real thing) can be brutal if mistakes are made, but incredibly rewarding when done right. In this regard, MotoGP 22 prides itself on being a true simulation, requiring an understanding of your acceleration speed, braking capacity, and distance, and a familiarity with the track you’re taking on. Thankfully, a new tutorial mode has been added to help newcomers familiarise themselves with the layered systems that exist in MotoGP 22.
While the action around the apexes is sublime, those who enjoy the culture and management off the track have a lot to indulge in too. The Managerial Career, whereby you have to run and coordinate your team (admittedly, there is a lot to get your head around), still delivers the most comprehensive look behind the curtains of MotoGP that you’ll find anywhere.
Add in the fact that you get all the official rosters and tracks of the 2022 Season, and MotoGP 22 really is a high point of the series. While the improvements are gradual year-on-year, you can’t fault the game itself as a standalone experience, add in the fact that split-screen now makes an appearance, and it’s a reasonable upgrade from last year. All in all, MotoGP 22 has seen enough refinements and interesting add-ons to keep bike-fanatics invested for another year.
MotoGP 22 is available on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, Xbox One PS4, Switch, and PC.
MenStuff reviewed the title on PS5.
3 Game Reviews in 3 Minutes — Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, MLB: The Show 22
Check out our takes on the latest games hitting the South African market.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
Available on: PS5 | Xbox Series X | PS4 | Xbox One | PC
What is it? A spin-off of Gearbox’s beloved Borderlands franchise, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands is another over-the-top first-person shooter full of guns, great humour, and some outlandish bad guys to dispose of.
Is it any good? While Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands piggybacks off the mechanics, foundation, and design of its bigger brother franchise, Borderlands, the game is a surprisingly confident and self-contained shooter, that brings similar humour and shoot-’em-up flair that fans of Borderlands will love. The fact that the game and story doubles-down on the table-top RPG/Dungeons and Dragons spoofing is great and fits in well with the tone, and the abilities and spells are a blast to use in conjunction with your weapons. With that said, it does tend to retread a lot of the same grind-y mistakes that Borderlands does, culminating in a lot of work to push some XP and level numbers up.
It’s still a fun time though, and shooter fans and those in-the-know of D&D and the like will love the satire and inside jokes strewn across the adventure.
Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
Available on: PS5 | Xbox Series X | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch | PC
What is it? While it seems like there’s a Lego Star Wars game coming out every odd month, this title is the big one – it’s the creme-de-la-creme of the Lego Star Wars franchise, combining the entire Skywalker saga story, and reinventing the gameplay with new combat mechanics, an over-the-shoulder shooting system, and a whole lot of new tricks.
Is it any good? A fully-fledged Star Wars game exploring the Skywalker saga would be nice, but we’re happy to do it even if a Lego one is the closest we’re going to get. Thankfully, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker saga is a fantastically well-designed experience, giving you simple yet incredibly enjoyable combat and exploration. It won’t deliver the most nuanced gameplay experience to hardcore gamers, but even those who enjoy light platforming and action games of a more ‘mature’ setting will find a lot to indulge in here.
Even if you’ve played previous Lego Star Wars games and are overly familiar with the Star Wars story at this point, this is still a hilarious and enjoyably blocky retelling of the iconic scenarios with enough gameplay twists to keep things fresh.
MLB: The Show 22
Available on: PS5 | Xbox Series X | PS4 | Xbox One | Switch | PC
What is it? The latest instalment of the official Major League Baseball game, that has garnered quite the following since its reinvention a couple of years back.
Is it any good? Baseball might be a somewhat obscure and niche sport for South Africans to love, but the quality of the MLB: The Show releases can’t be disputed, and MLB: The Show 22 doesn’t break that untarnished run. The moment-to-moment gameplay is fun and snappy, with pitching and hitting as simple or intricate as you’d like, being very accessible to newcomers and rewarding for baseball-nuts too. Off-field, there is a lot to enjoy, with the customisation tools being bolstered dramatically this year, giving essentially a baseball-themed RPG adventure, where you can tweak the abilities of your created players and build them up throughout the leagues.
It’s hard to recommend a game to someone that doesn’t have a love for the sport, but if you have the slightest inclination to dabble in some baseball action, you are not going to find a better gateway drug than MLB: The Show 22.
WWE 2K22 Review — Return of the Champ?
Spandex Smackdown or disappointing DDT?
There’s no denying it: WWE 2K20 wasn’t up to the standards we hoped for from the long-running wrestling series, but thankfully, 2K and Visual Concepts listened to the fans, acknowledged the shortcomings, and have done some serious overhauling for WWE 2K22, but is it a contender for the title of best wrestling game of all time?
The problem with the WWE games is that, much like FIFA with regards to football, they almost perfected the formua, and the on-going tinkering ended up breaking the experience with WWE 2K20. While physics were off, animations were broken, and the game just generally ran quite poorly, WWE 2K22 has refined all these elements thanks to a brand new engine. Developer Visual Concepts clearly took the fresh approach to the game, which, to be fair, was probably needed after years of déjà vu kicking in.
Big visual smackdown
The result is something that is still familiar, but looks and feels new, and while there’s definitely some adjusting needed, it really is a great overhaul. Visually, the game looks substantially better than WWE 2K20‘s waxy look, with the character models now resembling their real-life counterparts in frighteningly accurate detail, and the arena environments and crowd looking remarkably better.
Furthermore, there have been some reworked physics when it comes to tables, chairs, and the deformation of other items or objects you’ll smash your opponents’ heads through. This makes every table smash, chair shot, or breakage look a lot more organic. On top of that, thanks to the meticulous detail that the developer isn’t afraid to show off, there are some much closer camera angles during big moves and moments, giving you a front-row seat to the action.
There’s no doubt that the game looks better, but does it move better too? The gameplay tweaks have made WWE 2K22 the fairest and most dynamic game in the series to date. The light, heavy, and grapple attacks and control scheme is still there, but there are more opportunities for reversals and counters, giving players who are taking an absolute beating a chance to recover, even when things look bleak… just like the real-life action.
The fairer and ‘easier’ controls make putting together spectacular fights where the momentum swings back and forth between superstars much more common, which should make diving into the WWE 2K22 experience a lot more alluring for newcomers.
Against the odds
In a franchise-first, WWE 2K22 adds the MyFaction mode, which lets you build a faction that rivals the nWo. Almost like management mode to build the ultimate wrestling team, you can recruit, manage and upgrade your crew of WWE Superstars, putting them through their paces with weekly events and regular updates. It’s a great addition to the modes already available, and gives those who love the rivalries and familiar with the current who’s-who in WWE something to sink their teeth into. It should appease those who enjoy a little more team management elements in games, and although the depth of management doesn’t necessarily hold a candle to other games in the sports genre, it’s a nice touch.
Top of the ladder
If you’re looking for some more single-player immersive action, WWE 2K22 features not one, but two story campaigns. Known as the MyRise adventures, you’ll be able to start your career as either a male or female wrestler, each with unique storylines. The campaign, so to speak, itself is quite enjoyable, with a long list of rivals, trials, and tribulations, taking you through King of the Ring, Royal Rumble, and other arcs; all with campy romantic and bombastic side-plots that emerge. It’s cheesy, predictable, and fantastic! Anyone who’s a longtime fan of the outer-ring drama will love the effort and focus put into the MyRise mode.
The one drawback is that your MyRise superstar, during or after your single-player campaign, can’t be imported into other modes, requiring you to remake your character from scratch. This would’ve been a welcome element, as being able to pull your character from your MyRise journey into a team of wrestlers in the MyFaction mode would’ve been great, but alas. Thankfully, the creation suite is easy and fun to use, but having this function would’ve been a no-brainer.
Much like The Undertaker, it’s clear that the WWE 2K franchise has risen from the grave bigger, meaner, and stronger than ever, providing one of the best wrestling games in a long time. Regular fans of the series will appreciate the new changes, and newcomers who have lost track of the WWE world will find it to be the perfect jumping-on point to indulge in the spandex-clad superfluousness once again.
WWE 2K22 is available on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.