Call of Duty: Vanguard Review – Champion of the FPS Hill
Call of Duty: Vanguard brings the popular first-person shooter series back to the World War II era. This is a more fictional take on the historical events surrounding the war, however. As such, it manages to distinguish itself from the plethora of other WW2-based shooters out there.
From the onset, Vanguard’s single-player campaign set the tone for a more story-heavy experience. You assume control of a member of a group of elite soldiers, who – in the aftermath of WW2 – are tasked with the job of hunting down a Nazi commander, who has some confidential data that’s crucial to the Allies forces. Things don’t go as planned, and your group finds itself held captive in the Nazi prison. It’s here that the individual character-specific stories begin, as the group’s leader Arthur Kingsley recalls their past one and a time via flashbacks.
These flashbacks are essentially memories of war and trauma, and, given the varied ethnical background of the group, they offer unique perspectives on the effects of the consequences of war and conflict. Each character’s mini-campaign, if you will, is self-contained and manages to remain interesting enough. A couple of unique skills are attributed to each character, making the gameplay side of things feel a little different for each mission outside of the set-piece-driven shoot-fest that Call of Duty campaigns are essentially known for.
There’s a genuine attempt at developing characters and telling a story here, and it’s worth commending, even if it’s ultimately half-baked. Polina, who is voiced by Laura Bailey, is particularly worth mentioning as one of the more likable characters in the group. Her struggle feels real, as she’s robbed of her home and family during a sudden invasion that reigns terror upon Stalingrad. Her ability to crawl through tight spaces and ventilation shafts makes her agile and stealthy. One of the more memorable instances from the game has her entering a multi-floor hall filled with enemies as well as furniture and shafts to crawl through, making it a playground for her to sneak across and take out her enemies one by one.
The characters and story are both held back by the short length of the campaign. You simply don’t get to spend enough time with the group outside of getting to know their backstories. It ultimately feels like a great introductory chapter to a story that has yet to receive its main course. Call of Duty games haven’t received DLC story missions in the past, and, therefore, that’s unlikely to be the case here as well.
Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer is a more refined take on 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Much like the latter, the time-to-kill is low here, and taking out multiple enemy players in quick succession is a viable option in close-range combat. After being a no-show in Black Ops Cold War, MW’s mount mechanic makes a return in Vanguard, and it now comes with a new blind fire mechanic. The right trigger on the PS5’s DualSense controller can be pulled down halfway to raise your gun for blind fire, and pulling it all the way lets you shoot from behind cover. Alternatively, much like in MW, pulling the left trigger down and hitting the R3 button lets you mount your gun onto the adjacent cover spot and benefit from reduced recoil and higher precision. It’s a nicely implemented cover system, and both mount and blind fire come in handy in different situations.
Another meaningful addition is the Combat Pacing system, which allows you to filter matchmaking based you’d like your matches to have. The three options available are including Tactical, Assault, and Blitz. Tactical favors a lower player count to deliver tense encounters that require a more tactical approach, while Blitz is the opposite, where the player count is at its highest and there’s all-out mayhem. Assault is the middle ground, and things can get mildly chaotic while also remaining tactical to an extent.
Both new match types i.e. Patrol and Champion Hill, are great additions to Call of Duty: Vanguard’s multiplayer. Patrol is similar to Hardpoint, and but the main difference here is that the point you need to capture and hold isn’t randomly altered after a certain time. Instead, there’s a fixed circular area that’s slowly moving around the map. It results in some tense back-and-forth ambushes between both sides and varied tactical situations based on where the patrol point is at a given time.
On the other hand, the Champion Hill mode allows several teams of up to 3 players to compete simultaneously in smaller arenas. In the center lies the hub area, where eliminated players can view the game, and where active teams go to restock. Each team squares off against one another, and the lowest-scoring teams are eliminated. Ultimately, the final two teams face off in an intense duel to crown the champion. It’s a neat spin on MW’s 2 vs 2 formula that encourages a more tactical approach to the firefights and is tailored towards competitive play.
The other standard match types are also present, including Free for All, Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed, Search & Destroy, and the aforementioned Hardpoint mode. However, there’s no Ground War or Dirty Bomb equivalent large-scale mode in this outing.
There are a total of 16 multiplayer maps available in Call of Duty: Vanguard at launch, plenty of which are based on levels featured in the campaign. They’re well designed for the most part, and offer plenty of verticality as well as some environmental destruction. The inclusion of a door mechanic in Modern Warfare was a point of concern with regards to campers, but this has been dealt with nicely in Vanguard by making the doors destructible.
There are a bunch of issues with the multiplayer, such as players spawning near enemies on smaller maps, input-based matchmaking not being in place, and some unbalanced weapons/attachments. However, these quirks are likely to be ironed out in the first major update.
The coop Zombies mode in Call of Duty: Vanguard puts you and your squad up against a dark Nazi who has teamed up with a dark demon to command an army of the living dead. There are friendly demons too, however, and they provide the Allies forces with various powers. The mode is structured like a rogue-lite, complete with an upgrade system that requires you to take on missions and gather the necessary resources and currencies. In terms of content, however, the mode is severely lacking and doesn’t have the staying power that its predecessor in Cold War did. The lore is limited to a few audio messages, the story is non-existent, and there are no secrets to unlock. Things may improve in the future with content updates, but, in the here and now, Vanguard’s Zombies mode is likely to disappoint Call of Duty’s coop fans.
All in all, Call of Duty: Vanguard is a triumphant return for the series’ multiplayer, with some great new additions and a selection of great maps. Similarly, despite being short, the campaign is an enjoyable experience for as long as it lasts, with some interesting backstories for characters that deserved more time. On the other hand, the Zombies mode is content-starved and is likely to disappoint coop enthusiasts, at least at launch.
Call of Duty: Vanguard Game Information
- Price: $69.99
- Publisher: Activision
- Developer: Sledgehammer Games
- Platform: PS5 (Reviewed)
- Disclaimer: A review code was given by the publisher