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.