A new Call of Duty is as certain as Christmas, death, and tax returns. There are a few games that come around every year, with gamers flocking, keen to not miss out on something that has fast become part of every day culture. And yes, we may complain about the familiarity and how the production line churns them out, but it’s easy to forget how much content you get for your money. In Call of Duty: Vanguard you get a six-hour campaign, tons of multiplayer fun – with 20 new maps – and the tried and tested Zombie mode. Yep, there are hundreds of hours of fun here for you and your friends. But does it innovate or is it just the same again?
Vanguard takes us back to World War II again, and this time the campaign follows a group of individuals who have come together as a special unit to hunt down a Nazi officer who is leading a special mission called Project Phoenix. The game runs an interesting trope of starting at the end of World War II, where Hitler has committed suicide and the Nazi army is in its final throes. The team consists of a Russian Sniper called Lady Nightingale (based on a real person), an American flyboy with a cheeky attitude, an Australian bomb expert, and a British commander. They are captured by a Nazi played by Dominic Monaghan (who does an excellent turn) and one by one we go back in time to take in their backstory and see how they got there.
The story takes us across famous battles from World War II, from the D-Day landings to the Battle of Stalingrad. The story of Lady Nightingale is a particular stand-out with some brilliant moments that have us escaping the Nazi invasion and the destruction of the city all around her. Her story is particularly unique and feels like a great journey; it’s one that I could have easily played through as a full game as the character and her journey are superb.
In fact, all of the writing and dialogue feels very well-honed, dynamic and entertaining with enough heart and the odd funny line thrown in here and there. You could say that I’ve felt more invested in this team of individuals than any other Call of Duty game before it and it certainly feels like we could do with seeing more of them in another edition of the franchise.
The campaign comes with the usual bits of gameplay and from previous Call of Duty titles you will well know if you’ll love or hate it. First-person adventure and warfare galore is the main thrust, but then there is the usual array of weapons too – from the humble pistol to a little stint with a flamethrower in the Pacific campaign. There are a couple of new additions worth mentioning, particularly through those Lady Nightingale sections, as she can climb up walls. It’s in her sections where the level designs have been created to allow her to crawl through vents, taking enemies out stealthily and sniping from positions.
In other sections, there are a couple of nice additions – like when you are the British commander, commanding your troops to focus their fire on certain areas. There is a flying segment which takes you up into the skies, involved in huge dogfights in the sky and bombing runs on Japanese warships. There are some really good set-pieces included and these are certainly exciting. But maybe Vanguard doesn’t have the bigger plays that we’ve come to expect from the franchise. Overall though the campaign is the highlight and doesn’t ever disappoint.
And then we have the multiplayer – something which I have personally slowly moved away from over the years. It may be because my reactions are getting worse as I get older, or it could be as the chat is toxic and full of people swearing at each other. But the gameplay itself hasn’t seemed to change that much. It really is Call of Duty multiplayer and it’ll be totally personal as to whether you get on with it or not.
There are highlights though, mostly in the maps. A massive 20 arenas are available at launch and these are great places to hang out, trying to kill your fellow human. They cover the terrains of the main campaign and range from tight spaces to sprawling areas which require a more calculated way of playing. What I’ve mostly enjoyed though is that each map makes you think about the way you are playing, keeping the attention level fresh.
The normal modes like Team Deathmatch, Capture the flag, and my controversial favourite, Free for All are all in place. Playing them as a filtered playlist is a great way to spend a few hours of warfare, but there is the new mode of Champion Hill which puts you together in teams of three or two. It’s here where you are put into an arena and have 60 seconds to survive, all as a bunch of enemies are on the attack. The more kills you get, the more points you get, and you can use these to upgrade weapons. It’s a very addictive mode, but I think to get the best out of it you need to play with friends rather than random strangers; communication is key to success. Overall though it’s a good addition to an already packed multiplayer selection.
Zombies is here too – again a mode you will either love or hate. There are cutscenes that play out, showing a head Nazi delving into the occult and then releasing a ghostly Egyptian lord of death… or something. What it basically means is that there are loads of zombies coming your way, and you need to take them out. You can play on your own or with a team of four buddies, teleporting to several areas through portals. It boils down to getting to an area and absolutely massacring the mass of zombies approaching. Sometimes there is a time limit, other times you have to collect runes and drop them off somewhere. Fans of Zombies will once again enjoy this but content-wise it does seem a bit lacking.
Game modes covered, it’s probably best to chat about how Call of Duty: Vanguard looks, and honestly, the visuals and cutscenes are some of the best I’ve seen on Xbox Series X. The level of detail in an apartment in one mission, to the brilliant skies and amazing facial animations is remarkable. It’s most definitely a game to use as a showing off tool. The soundtrack is top drawer as well, with a brilliant score from Bear McCreary that is accompanied by superb effects and voice performances. They really are worthy of a AAA game.
So, Call of Duty: Vanguard. The campaign is great, the multiplayer is fun and Zombies will appeal to previous fans. As an overall package Vanguard is capable of providing hours of fun – all pushed along with brilliant visuals. This is a great trip back to World War II.
Call of Duty: Vanguard is available from the Xbox Store