Ten minutes into that Call of Duty: Vanguard Campaign and you jump from roof to roof in a moving train. Yes, classic Call of Duty is fine. Fast forward an hour and you’ll fight in the air above the ocean in a sky full of explosions. If this all sounds pretty familiar, that’s pretty much what to expect from the game. Instead of pushing the series forward, it instead feels a lot more similar to the best hits from the previous ones. If you were to buy yourself a Christmas compilation album, Call of Duty: Vanguard would be a collection of classic Mariah Carey songs.
That being said, Call of Duty: Vanguard isn’t a bad game. On the contrary, it’s pretty much fun. Everything you want from the series is here, only this time nothing really stands out. With a campaign, multiplayer, and zombies modes, none of the current offers feels like it’s on anyone’s top 5 Call of Duty list. Instead, it’s a solid offering that more or less feels like a workaround to get players to next year’s heavily rumored Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
His familiarity is immediately apparent in the campaign. During last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Call of Duty: Vanguard has taken some great steps to breathe new life into the mix, including multiple endings and an open mission design. In a way, it works because you are guided from one set piece to another, but ultimately you feel like you are a passenger on the ride rather than someone controlling the action.
All of this does not help if the campaign is mostly played out in flashbacks, set in by events in the current plot. It gives players the opportunity to experience a wide range of events, but it lacks the opportunity to engage the player with their diverse characters. Standout among the offers is Polina Petrova, a devastating sniper nicknamed Lady Nightingale. She’s cold, reckless, and grabs the best backstory from the group.
Call of Duty: Vanguard also tries to add some cultural relevance by incorporating modern themes like racism and sexism into the narrative. It has the perfect outlet for reaching a wide audience with these topics, but ultimately feels too insane to have any real impact. Characters often pause in fairly intense situations to address these issues, and it never feels natural and is more likely to be detrimental to storytelling. There is something to it, but if future editions are to attempt to discuss diversity, it may need to be handled a little better.
With all of this, the actual gameplay of the campaign can be tremendously fun and never let you do one thing for too long. The Call of Duty: Vanguard story mixes action-packed set pieces with a surprising amount of quiet moments and has a great pace that is never overtaken. As great as the narrative is, Polina’s missions are arguably the best. Each character has a unique ability; B. being able to focus and see enemies or hold more explosives. Polina can quickly scurry through gaps and fences, which makes her very manoeuvrable. The standout moments are definitely the grand battle arenas where you use the surroundings to your advantage while taking advantage of every nook and cranny. This is something we’d love to see in future installments.
Despite the fun campaign, most people are probably here for the Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer, which works absolutely well. That’s probably the best way to explain it. Nothing really exciting is on offer, but it feels nifty and full of content. With 20 tickets (!) At the start, it already trumps last year’s entry in terms of content and there is a large selection available. Unfortunately, they all feel pretty similar to the previous games in the series, and you’ll quickly be peeling apart any card to decipher its previous influences. There are even a couple of cards from Call of Duty: The World at War that you’ll immediately recognize if you’ve been a longtime fan.
At the moment, the multiplayer is extremely hectic and feels like Sledgehammer Games could have spent a little more time refining everything. A noticeable disadvantage is the number of explosions on a map at any given time. It really feels like your controller is vibrating all the time due to the onslaught of grenades and killstreaks that are going on for way too long. It is extremely disorienting and you will most likely be dead more times because you cannot react instead of being killed by sheer skill.
Spawn points are noticeably bad too, especially in goal-based modes like Patrol, where it feels like you barely move a few steps before someone puts a bullet in your head. Thankfully, the multiplayer feels great and has a much better array of maps and weapons than Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. While it in no way competes with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Warzone, anyone looking for a solid World War II themed multiplayer shooter is undoubtedly going to have a good time.
If we put these two modes aside, we finally get to zombies, and honestly, there isn’t really much to be said about it. It’s largely similar to previous entries and feels more like a new card than an entirely new experience. A game mode known as The Beginning messes things up a bit by adding objectives and turn-based survival, but all in all, don’t expect a revolutionary new take on the Zombies formula. If anything, the entire mode feels like a minor matter compared to everything else.
It might sound like we’re a bit behind on this year’s Call of Duty, but that’s just because we know the franchise has potential. Warzone proved it with multiplayer and Black Ops Cold War showed it with its campaign. We had hoped this would build on those foundations, but instead, it enters familiar territory. It’s by no means a bad game – even at its worst, it’s better than most first-person shooters out there – but as the game industry evolves, it’s time Call of Duty brought something new to the table, and that is it not.