Call of Duty – much like FIFA or NBA – has become a yearly franchise at this point, so expecting any iteration to truly be different from the one before it is setting yourself up for disappointment. Go into Vanguard with the “if it’s not broke, they won’t fix it mentality” and you’ll enjoy it for what it brings to the table this year – a cinematic campaign, a fast-paced multiplayer offering and a co-op zombies experience.
This year’s COD takes players back to World War II and development of this game has been taken over by Sledgehammer Games. This game was reportedly made at home during the pandemic and it’s impressive that they’ve managed to churn out such a solid campaign without access to a full-fledged studio setup. Vanguard sheds some light on the first ever task force assembled, and you’ll globetrot through the campaign as you experience the horrors of war through each task force member.
While the core COD gunplay remains unchanged, Vanguard switches things up a bit as some party members play differently. The biggest standout is no doubt Polina Petrova’s campaign – played by The Last of Us’ Laura Bailey. As an agile sniper, her missions vary between long-range action and tense Splinter Cell-like stealth encounters, since she’s nimble and can fit into all sorts of nooks and crannies. Other members have their own perks too, like the ability to issue commands or slow time down, but they still feel very Call of Duty. While I enjoyed my time with Vanguard’s campaign, I couldn’t help but be disappointed at the lack of large set pieces this franchise is known for. Call of Duty: WWII, another Sledgehammer-developed title, was packed to the brim with them, so their omission here is definitely missed.
After the campaign, you’ll either jump into sweaty multiplayer lobbies, or partake in some zombie slaughter with friends. I loved what developer Treyarch pulled off with the Outbreak mode in Cold War, so it was disappointing to see it missing in Vanguard. Instead we get linear levels where you teleport to an objective, finish that objective while fighting off the horde, and teleport back to a base of sorts. From that base, you can upgrade your weapons, increase your health or movement speed and even invest in perks that allow you to revive party members faster. It definitely isn’t as satisfying as surviving zombies in the vast open-world like in Outbreak, but it’s a fun little mode that’s even better with friends.
If casual fun doesn’t cut it for you, jump into Vanguard’s competitive MP mode. Given that the game is based on the Modern Warfare (2019) engine, it feels more like Modern Warfare than Cold War. Depending on where you stand, that could be a good thing or not, since gunplay is fast-paced as ever with a faster TTK (time to kill). You’ll have 20-odd maps to play around with at launch, with more expected to release every season. Apart from the modes you’ve come to expect in a COD game, Vanguard ships with a new mode called Champion Hill. In it, you form teams of two or three (there are both duo and trip options) to take on other teams of 2 or 3. Think of it like the Gunfight mode from Modern Warfare, except in Champion Hill, you can upgrade weapons and gear, and even purchase better weapons during the interval. Lose a round, and you’ll face off against another team who lost their round. Beat them, and you can still claw your way back into the game.
No matter what your thoughts are on the Call of Duty franchise, Vanguard is a solid shooter on its own, offering a good amount of content to blast through, especially at a time when there aren’t a lot of quality shooters around. Sure, the campaign isn’t going to blow your mind and multiplayer plays like older entries, but Call of Duty is like comfort food and if you’re not expecting something revolutionary, Vanguard will hit the spot.