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Call of Duty: Vanguard Review

Every year certain things happen without fail. The President of the United States pardons a turkey. We lose a little bit more of the polar ice caps to climate change, and Activision Blizzard releases another Call of Duty game.

This year’s offering is Call of Duty: Vanguard. Vanguard takes the series back to the second World War for the 6th time in franchise history. In an effort to separate itself from it’s WW2 predecessors, Vanguard has leaned less into realism and more into film inspirations. In a story clearly taking notes from Inglorious Basterds, players become members of an elite Allied taskforce on a mission to uncover the Nazi’s mysterious Project Pheonix.

The game’s campaign is short and relatively well polished. After an excellent opening mission, it ushers players from one bombastic set piece to another, using flashbacks as a tired but effective excuse to visit fronts of the war not often represented, such as the North African front. A much greater emphasis has been placed on characters this time around, and these flashbacks are used as lengthy introductions to each member of the team. This format is at it’s best with the team’s sniper, Polina Petrova, voiced by the iconic Laura Bailey. 

Petrova’s story opens in Stalingrad right before it’s attack by Axis forces. Players are allowed to explore the city as a civilian, talk with their neighbors, and deliver a crate of wine. The normalcy of these tasks make the inevitable attack all the more devastating when it hits, forcing players to watch helplessly as the city is devastated. As you attempt to guide as many civilians as you can to safety, you slowly witness Petrova become the cold person present in the first mission.

Unfortunately Vanguard’s flashback formatting also has some pretty serious downsides. With only the first and last mission taking place in the game’s present, there’s a sense that instead of a cohesive narrative, we’re being fed a WW2 anthology. Vanguard attempts to remedy this by connecting every mission with a well produced CG cutscene, but this only adds to the frustration, showing us glimpses of exciting action to come before sucking us into yet another intro mission.

Vanguard’s campaign is fun for it’s duration, but despite a few standout moments, it feels like a noticeable step down from the excellent campaign of its predecessor Black Ops: Cold War. Luckily Vanguard’s multiplayer fares far better.

Vanguard has the most multiplayer launch content of any Call of Duty in recent memory. The core multiplayer mode released with 16 maps, most of them good, but it will receive free updates and additional content throughout the year. The biggest new addition is “Combat Pacing”, which lets players choose how chaotic their games will be by adjusting how many players are in the game. This addition is excellent, and allows for a diversity of playstyles that aren’t often seen in Call of Duty. 

On top of that, the game runs on a modified version of Modern Warfare 2019’s engine, making it the smoothest and best feeling game yet. There is an inherent joy to lining up your crosshair on an enemy half a second before they do and barely escaping death. While they are wildly historically inaccurate, Vanguard’s guns feel, sound, and look excellent. Vanguard’s multiplayer is the best we’ve had in years.

Call of Duty Zombies is a franchise tradition. I remember staying up all night at a friend’s house playing Black Ops Two’s survival modes in 5th grade, devising new plans to try to finally break round 15 on Farm. Since then the mode has continued to evolve, with more fantastical locations, and even a giant semi open world in last year’s offering. I generally love Call of Duty Zombies. Which is why it breaks my heart to say that Vanguard Zombies is possibly the worst entry yet.

The launch offering is Der Anfang, German for “The Beginning”, a new mode that tasks players with teleporting around Europe to kill zombies and complete objectives assigned by our handy pocket demons. However, with only three areas to travel to and three objectives to complete, one of which is just to survive for 3 minutes, the mode quickly becomes tiresome. After 15 minutes I had felt like I’d seen everything the mode had to offer.

Overall Vanguard is a solid package, held up by an excellent multiplayer. The campaign is short and a little disappointing, and the Zombies will struggle to hold anyone’s attention past the first game. Nevertheless if you’re looking to jump into some multiplayer, this is definitely one of the best years to do it.

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