Another year, another Call of Duty game, and Call of Duty: Vanguard marks its eighteenth main entry into the franchise. This iteration sees the series return to its roots, that of a World War II setting. I do prefer the exploration of this era as opposed to the highly fictionalised games set in the modern-day, as they let you play out events that actually happened.
Call of Duty: Vanguard – “If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going”, Winston Churchill
This year’s game has been developed by Sledgehammer Games with Treyarch handling the Zombies portion of the game, and once again, Activision is publishing. This is the third title developed by Sledgehammer, with the other two being Advanced Warfare and WWII. They did a great job with WWII so I was really excited about getting stuck into this one.
The game was released on November 5th, 2021 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC. I will be reviewing the PlayStation 5 version. As usual, it comes with its own campaign, multiplayer, and Zombies mode. Which mode did you like the best? Let us know in the comments below.
One thing I can commend the series for is the inclusion of a campaign, with the exclusion of Black Ops 4 of course. With its player base being primarily into the multiplayer side of things, it’s great that evidently a lot of hard work goes into the campaign. Call of Duty: Vanguard is no exception. While we do have a fairly short and mildly distorted campaign, it is still a lot of fun to play with some great battles and gratifying set pieces.
The game starts and sees us as playing as part of a special task force whose mission is to gain intel on a secret Nazi project called Project Phoenix. However, the operation goes horribly wrong resulting in the capture of the task force and imprisonment at the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin. From here on in, the game takes us on a surprisingly deep journey of each of the characters, and you get to play out events during the war before this task force, Vanguard was put together.
This staggered approach to a campaign is really quite different from anything else the franchise has done in the past, but it works fairly well. Each of the character’s backstories is broken up with scenes of present-day (1945), mainly in the form of interrogation from Jannick Richter played superbly by Dominic Monaghan.
These backstories let us play our part in some key theatres of World War II. Playing as ‘Lady Nightingale’ Polina Petrova, brilliantly acted by Laura Bailey (Abby in The Last of Us PartII), sees us in Russia 1942, Stalingrad to be exact. I was expecting, even hoping for some kind of Enemy at the Gates snipe-off. It didn’t happen but what we get is a compelling story of revenge from the Red Army-nurse-turned-sniper and an intriguing showdown.
Wade Jackson is a hot-headed US Navy pilot shot down during The Battle of Midway. After being shot down he is captured by soldiers. Here we learn just how useful a pilot can be after he loses his wings.
Lucas Riggs is an Aussie soldier stationed in Libya with a distaste for authority. As one of the members of the Rats of Tobruk, what we get here is probably to closest to a real-life event. During the Battle of El Alamein after discovering intel relating to the Nazi SS General Rommel, you deliberately disobey an order to hold the defensive line to try and retake the territory instead. What could go wrong? This is after destroying a bunch of German digs.
The last two members of the Vanguard are Brits Arthur Kingsley and Richard Webb. Kingsley is the leader of the group and he exerts his leadership well. His story takes place in 1944 as the Allied forces are storming Normandy. You take part in Operation Tonga by taking out one of the gun emplacements on the cliff.
While these stories were a lot of fun to play, I feel each one could have been a bit longer. My favourite of them was in Stalingrad where I believe Petrova got the most attention out of all the characters. Her story just felt a lot deeper than the rest and you could really bond with the character and feel her pain. It’s a shame the others weren’t fleshed out as much as her. However, the point-to-point gunplay was decent enough to keep you entertained. The absence of a HUD really made you feel part of the game. While playing as Kingsley you were able to command your squad which would free you up to flank. It’s a simple and underused addition to the game which did nothing to complicate it.
Call of Duty has had some really unforgettable and haunting moments in the past. Remember when the nuke went off in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare? Or even the entire mission ‘No Russian’ in Modern Warfare 2? These are moments that will stick with us and are still talked about today. Sadly, Call of Duty: Vanguard falls into the same pitfalls as the games from the previous 8-10 years. There are some moments that may linger in your mind for about a week, but nothing will really live long in your memory.
Oh lord the multiplayer for me personally was abysmal. This is a huge shame because I would regularly think ‘this would be really fun…if it worked’. I am the first to admit I am not the best player, but I am by no means the worst. It’s also common to ‘blame the lag’, but the latency really was an issue. How I managed to finish third or even second in some Free-For-All games is beyond me.
Two words…Packet and Burst. Whenever I saw these two words pop up together in the top left corner of my screen, I just knew I was going to die. I know for a fact that my internet is fine because I am wired into my router. My broadband package is decent with a fast download speed. Whatever the reason is for this latency is, I am still unsure. I tried all I could to combat it. Turning off the option to download textures in-game because that takes up bandwidth to produce higher fidelity, had no effect. I went to turn off cross-play because I thought it may be other people. Well, that was quashed when the option was greyed out and padlocked. So was I playing against PC players with lag switches? Who knows? Below is an example of how most of my games went.
I would say that 75% of the time when I had someone in my sights and fired off a few rounds, the screen would freeze as my gun was ejecting those empty shells and it goes straight to killcam. Watching the killcam, I see no lag, just my embarrassed little corpse…again. But I would like to finish off on a positive note. The other 25% was really fun and it was great to revisit a couple of old maps from World at War known as Castle and Dome. There are a staggering 16 maps available at launch and cater to all play styles. There are also an additional four that are exclusive to the new Champion Hill mode. Das Haus is easily the most frantic as it is literally a house. Get 16 of you in there and all skill just goes out the window, it’s just a murder frenzy.
A new addition to the multiplayer is Combat Pacing. This gives the player more control over how hectic their matches are. Tactical pacing will always be 6v6 which is something we are all a bit more used to. Assault Pacing will give you a fairly balanced game with lobbies of between 18 and 28 people. Blitz Pacing can just get crazy with its intensity. Lots of killing and potentially lots of deaths in lobbies of up to 48 people. Of course, you can filter everything with All Pacings if you want a little mix of everything.
Graphics & Audio
For the visual design for the campaign, I really cannot fault the game. At times it was a pure marvel to look at. With so much going on at times, I notice very little, if anything in frame rate drop. Thanks to the PlayStation 5’s 120 MHz capabilities, the game plays at a fairly secure 60 FPS. There are moments of tranquility in the game which allow you time to breathe and soak up some of the gorgeous visuals on offer.
There are various graphical options within the game that will aid your gameplay. Depth of field can be turned off enabling you to see enemies better at a distance. Other things such as field of view and world motion blur can all be changed to enhance your experience.
This of course is a different story when it comes to the multiplayer aspect. I have already mentioned the bad stuff, but when the game was stable, it did look good. Definitely not as good as the campaign, lacking fidelity with general foliage and buildings. This is to be expected as the action is generally more intense. These textures can be streamed on-demand to the detriment of your bandwidth. This texture streaming just feels like a massive oversight because so far all it has done for me is cause problems. With this on or off I experience packet burst and was mostly unplayable.
The sound design was stellar as always. The dev teams for Call of Duty games have always done a commendable job in the sound department, and this game is no different. The guns and explosions sound great. Using a blade to rearrange someone’s gastrointestinal tract sounds juicy and satisfying.
When I saw Bear McCreary was composing the score, I had no doubts in my mind that it wouldn’t be amazing. After all, he did do God of War (2018) and that was just epic. What has been composed is spine-tinglingly marvelous at times and mostly energetic to really get your blood pumping. While there are some more solemn compositions, they echo feelings of loss and have that ‘feel’ you get from other World War 2 games. You know the one, usually, it’s a lonely cello being played as his stringed mates join in some measures later.
The main theme sets the tone for the game quite nicely. An unnerving double bass enters with its deep C note before an accompaniment of strings and electric guitar transcends into an almost tribal rhythm. This is what represents the Vanguard. They are a tribe, a force that works as one, a force you DO NOT want to mess with.
If you have a spare afternoon then great, that’s all you need for the campaign. It took me about six hours to finish on normal difficulty. There is always the challenge of playing through on Veteran difficulty should you want to. That’s what I usually do, after a normal playthrough.
As is with all Call of Duty games, most people will be buying for the multiplayer. With constant updates and a massive amount of game modes, this will keep you going until the next installment next year, and beyond. Assuming it works that is. Again with Zombies, get a bunch of pals together for some zombie slaying fun from time to time. It’s not my favourite mode but it’s a good time passer.
It’s a tough one. There are so many merits to this game, but they lie in the most underused portion. I really did enjoy the campaign, though I think it could have benefited with a little more exploration of the characters, thus extending the length of the game beyond the crummy six hours. I specifically use the word ‘crummy’ because this game could be the crumbs of a bigger Call of Duty cake. This could be a Vanguard origins game. If that is the case, I really hope to see more from these characters in the future.
Multiplayer, as it is, is a huge letdown. It’s the biggest portion of the game, and quite frankly should be better. It is, for this reason, I begrudgingly award Call of Duty: Vanguard a disappointing Thumb Culture Silver Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.