Bear McCreary's soundtrack is superb, hitting all of the right notes during the campaign, while performances from the core cast (including the reliably brilliant Laura Bailey as Polina) are great across the board. Weapons also sound suitably deadly. Marvellous stuff.
On new-gen platforms, Call of Duty: Vanguard really sings, with an astonishing level of depth and texture to environments, great-looking characters, and cut-scenes with astronomical production values. There's very little, if anything, to gripe about here.
Slick and intuitive as always, Call of Duty: Vanguard is another dose of pick-up-and-play first-person shooter action, with tight weapon handling. Whether you're playing the varied campaign, multiplayer, or Zombies mode, it's impossible not to be entertained.
While Zombies is the weak link, relatively speaking, it's still decent. And given the countless hours offered by the campaign and wealth of multiplayer modes, as well as its connectivity to CoD Warzone, this is another robust, polished package.
Campaign offers the majority of objectives, while multiplayer achievements are almost entirely connected to long-term goals, like reaching level 55, or maxing weapon and operator levels. Zombies achievements have an equally long tail, so you'll need to dig in for a good few hours. It's alright.
November 08, 2021
The last time Call of Duty transposed its own brand of unique blockbusting action to the battlefields of World War II, it was in 2017, with Call of Duty: WWII. That game arguably had one of the best CoD campaigns, and so it's nice to see that developer Sledgehammer Games is back at it again for Call of Duty: Vanguard, with another pacy narrative. This one is told from the perspective of four members of a ragtag team, brought together to exact revenge upon a snarling Nazi general. It all begins at a startling lick, scampering across and around a speeding steam locomotive lashed by driving rain, as Nazi soldiers fight back and give chase in trucks. As set-piece openings go, it succeeds in pulling you straight into Call of Duty: Vanguard by the scruff of your neck, and, despite being somewhat fragmented and a bit on the short side, it's an adventure that’s effortlessly entertaining, like a Sunday matinee movie.
Introducing Arthur, the main man.
If you're here for Vanguard's campaign (I have to admit, I do love a good single-player CoD campaign), then you'll find the classically explosive affair here in full effect, the bulk of its story told by its main characters from the confines of a cell within a Nazi stronghold. Detained and interrogated individually by none-too-merry Nazi pencil-pusher Richter (played by former hobbit Dominic Monaghan), protagonists Arthur Kingsley, Polina Petrova, Wade Jackson, and Lucas Riggs each get their own flashback chapters, as they recount snippets of their heroics during different chapters of the war to the bespectacled fascist. You'll soon learn that Arthur is a born leader, a steely Brit who has formed the tip of the spear during several assaults; Polina is a crack-shot Soviet sniper with a personal vendetta to settle; Wade is a brash American ace pilot who's always sure of himself; and Lucas is a wise-cracking Aussie tough guy with “a mean right hook”.
During Arthur's segments, you can issue orders to fellow soldiers, while Polina can quickly slip through crawlspaces to get the jump on enemies, and climb with an agility that makes Ezio seem lethargic. Wade gets a sequence flying and dogfighting in a dive bomber, and Lucas takes part in an attack alongside a British tank unit – it's all remarkably good, with some intense and varied action, much as you'd expect from Call of Duty, of course. In the grand annals of CoD campaigns, Vanguard's stands out as one of the better recent examples, dispensing with fripperies like collectibles or choices – this one is strictly linear, and it's perhaps all the better for it. If Vanguard is indeed the first entry in a proposed trilogy, then it's off to a strong start, with likeable characters and stunning visuals.
Equally, Vanguard's multiplayer is yet another robust showing, with 20 maps and an expansive suite of modes, including the new Patrol game-type, in which your team needs to keep hold of a moving capture zone for as long as possible. It doesn't sound like the biggest innovation, but it actually makes for a fast and frantic game of tug of war. Champion Hill, meanwhile, presents solos, duos, and trios with a pool of twelve lives, before being dropped into a relatively small arena for tight, tournament-based gunfights – lose all of your lives and you're eliminated. Both Patrol and Champion Hill bring something fresh to the table, although traditional MP modes like Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination, and Search & Destroy are obviously accounted for.
One of the most interesting additions to Call of Duty multiplayer is the ability to choose 'combat pacing' prior to each match, Tactical Pacing providing a measured yet intense experience, while, conversely, Blitz favours fast-paced action and chaos. Assault Combat Pacing falls somewhere in the middle for a more balanced multiplayer affair, and you can cycle through different pacing as you see fit, or leave the default selection turned on to randomly switch between all three pacing types from match to match. Blitz is perhaps the most raw and enjoyable way to play Vanguard's multiplayer, the speed and immediacy with which the action unfolds proving consistently exciting and rewarding. Even when you're on the receiving end of a good hiding, playing Vanguard against online opposition invariably delivers blistering thrills and spills, although it's always nice to have a handle on the objective and an edge over your rivals.
Thankfully, the game's TTK (time-to-kill) is fairly well-balanced, and, when you do fall in battle, you can get back into the thick of the action almost instantaneously. Consequently, there's never a lull when engaged in a Vanguard multiplayer session, and the maps have been impeccably designed, deftly mixing open environments dotted with cover, with narrower choke points, where some of the most involved and intense engagements take place. Historically, I've never been all that good at holding my own in Call of Duty multiplayer, but Vanguard somehow manages to make me feel proficient, the end of each match rewarding three players with MVP status, which can be voted on by others. On several occasions, it was heartening to see my chosen operator popping up to be celebrated as MVP, for most multi-kills or highest number of points scored by playing the objective. I'd go as far to say that Vanguard might be the most fun I've had with CoD multiplayer in quite some time – I'm eager to jump in and play more.
Zombies is less successful, present in Vanguard as a slightly pared back experience, separated into short, sharp chunks accessed via portals from a single hub area. Despite being developed by Treyarch Studios - the creator behind Call of Duty's Zombies mode, introduced in World at War back in 2008 - the new offering feels somewhat lacking. It's slow to ramp up in intensity, and it's easy to put to one side, once you've sampled it. Playing online with random players during one session, two were so keen to wrap it up at the seventh wave that they decided to initiate the 'exfil' phase just to get out and quit without a fuss. I was hard-pushed to disagree with their choice.
Each Zombies portal transports you to a different objective, whether it's escorting a floating head to a shrine, while remaining bathed within the safety of its golden aura; depositing runes dropped by undead into a designated crystal; or simply blasting a certain number of shambling reanimated corpses back to hell. Having to leap through portals to get to each objective means that the overall Zombies package – at least on the base game's 'Der Anfang' map – is lacking in cohesion, although standard systems like the 'Pack-a-Punch' weapon dispenser, upgrade stations, and other devices for enhancing your operators' abilities remain present and correct. Ultimately, in attempting to make Zombies accessible and more generally straightforward, it's lost something in the process, and, as such, it emerges as the least enticing portion of the game.
As a complete package, however, Call of Duty: Vanguard absolutely delivers the goods once again. Its campaign is superb, multiplayer is comprehensive and practically unrivalled in doing what it does so well, and Zombies, despite its flaws, still provides a diverting co-op dalliance that's not without its charms. It's easy to slip into cynicism when it comes to assessing an annual Call of Duty release – to some, it may seem like the same thing reheated and wheeled out each year, but, the truth is, it's a franchise that's reliably stuffed to the gills with popcorn thrills, whether you're happy simply playing the short but sweet solo campaign, digging in for long-term shenanigans with multiplayer, or dabbling with Zombies mode. Call of Duty: Vanguard gives you your money's worth, and then some.