Taking the theatre of war back to World War 2, Call of Duty: Vanguard might just have the best campaign in the series for years.
With whispers of a secret Nazi program called Project Phoenix doing the rounds, a special operations task force has been created. Called Vanguard, its goal is to sneak into Germany, gather intelligence on the program, and then get out again. It’s safe to say that things don’t exactly go to plan, however, forcing Vanguard to adapt its approach.
With a team assembled from across the allied nations, after a dramatic opening Call of Duty: Vanguard visits each of their pasts, demonstrating why exactly they were chosen to work together. There’s Arthur Kingsley, a Brit who displays exemplary leaderships skills; Polina Petrova, a Russian sniper who’s incredibly mobile; Wade Jackson, a skilled American pilot, and more. You’ll take control of four of these allies overall, each with their own gameplay quirks that make their missions somewhat unique.
Polina, for example, can quickly move through through small crawlspaces, as well as climb certain walls. Lucas, an Australian, can make use of four deadly secondary weapons. And Wade can focus on his surroundings, revealing the locations of enemies. The latter is, admittedly, a little out of place in a Call of Duty game, but it does at least add a little more pizazz to the gameplay. And then there are new gameplay features available to all characters, too, such as blind firing and being able to run through certain destructible walls.
There are nine missions in all, and the way the story is told means that you get to visit a wide variety of locations. One mission has you dogfighting over the pacific in the Battle of Midway, for example, and another has you taking part in the Battle of El Alamein in North Africa. The result is one of the most visually varied Call of Duty games to date. It’s a ridiculously good-looking game, too. The character models here are as lifelike as can be, and the environments are wonderfully immersive. It’s only the limited interactivity and linear nature of the missions that take part in them that spoils the illusion that you’re actually there.
As ever, Call of Duty: Vanguard‘s campaign isn’t particularly long, though, and unlike last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War there are no decisions to make that change how the game plays out. So, chances are you won’t return to it unless you’re into collecting achievements/trophies or want to play though it again on a harder difficulty level. There are some issues to note, too. The pre-rendered story scenes can be a bit jittery, for example, and sometimes the visuals go out of sync with the audio. There’s also the occasional freeze during gameplay. Hopefully these issues will be ironed out with future updates.
As well as a campaign, Call of Duty: Vanguard features an obligatory multiplayer mode as well as Zombies. Jump into Zombies and you’ll find that it plays a little bit differently this year. There’s still an ever-expanding map, but the focus is no longer on collecting points to open up doors or blow up barriers, etc. Instead, you’ll be jumping into portals, taking you to smaller locations where you need to complete an objective before being thrown back into the hub again.
At the moment, portals offer three objectives: Transmit, Harvest, or Blitz. Blitz is perhaps the simplest of the three, tasking you with just surviving for a set period of time. Harvest, on the other hand, requires you to kill zombies and collect runes, before returning them to a series of obelisks. The trickiest of the three is seemingly Transmit, which forces you to follow a floating zombie head around, staying close to it while fighting off zombie hordes.
Complete an objective and the portal you used to access it will disappear, allowing you to explore more of the hub and take on yet more instances of the objectives via more portals. Complete at least four objectives and the option to call for an exfil becomes available, or you can fight on; it’s up to you. And of course, along the way there are numerous powerups to purchase to enhance your chances of survival.
It takes a bit of a while to get used to the changes made to this year’s Zombies mode, but once you get into the swing of things it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s just a shame that there are only three objectives at the moment, and only three zombie types to fight against. Survive three objectives and exploding zombies will be added into the mix, with minigun-wielding zombies coming shortly after. Still, it’s fun enough at the moment, and it’s going to be interesting seeing the mode expand.
When it comes to multiplayer, Call of Duty: Vanguard feels familiar, as usual, though there are some differences that will either attract or deter players. The time-to-kill is short, for example, leading to conformations that are usually decided simply by who aims first. The frenetic pace is balanced somewhat by the nature of the game’s World War 2-era weapons, however, that take longer to reload.
On the whole, we like Call of Duty: Vanguard‘s multiplayer a lot. It has a couple of new modes for players to try out, too. Patrol challenges teams to control a zone that moves across the map, and for those who prefer objective-based gameplay it’s rather fun. And then there’s Champion’s Hill, which can be played solo, or in teams of two or three. Across numerous rounds, players will compete against each other, earning money which can then be used to buy better equipment and hopefully secure success.
Does Call of Duty: Vanguard advance the series in any meaningful way? Of course not, but that doesn’t stop it from being a fantastic package for Call of Duty fans, or a good entry point for those seeking a way in. The campaign here is brief but captivating, managing to make you feel for its band of heroes despite your short time with them. Zombies has some interesting twists that keep you on your toes. And multiplayer is more of the same but with tweaks that some will love and others will hate, as usual. All in all, this is one of the best Call of Duty releases to date, and we’d love to see more of Vanguard’s exploits in the future.
Call of Duty: Vanguard Review – GameSpew’s Score