I have a long history with Call of Duty which includes everything from attending championship eSports events to being a part of the Black Ops 4 unveiling. That said, I have never really considered myself a typical Call of Duty gamer, and have not really focused on playing the game, especially competitively, since about the Black Ops 2 era. Those days I used to sit back with my friend Dakota and we would do local multiplayer for hours on end, and I loved the franchise. Eventually I just kind of got shooter fatigue and moved on to RPGs and simulations as my game of choice.
I bring up my history with Call of Duty because I think it parallels what at least a fairly large number of people feel. Yes, there are hardcore CoD fans out there who love the game, but a lot of others kind of got tired with the same old formula year after year. I also wanted to bring it up because Call of Duty Vanguard really changes the game in a good way. It was enough to bring me back into the fold as a committed CoD player, and I suspect that if others who feel the same way as I did give Vanguard a try, it may make them change their minds as well.
When Vanguard was in beta, I was able to try it out. Even though the beta only consisted of a few multiplayer maps and modes, it was enough to showcase how much Activision and developer Treyarch are doing everything they can to improve things, and bring lots of lost shooters back into the fold, like they did with me.
I enjoyed my first foray back into multiplayer and found that the recent changes to the level up system were really nice. It seems balanced now, and fair for both newer or less experienced players as well as those who are nearly professional.
The guns, a huge staple of the game, also handled really well. It no longer felt like a punishment to specialize in a certain weapon. In fact, weapon customization is huge part of the game now to the point where anyone can perfectly kit out their favorite firearm to perform exactly as need to support their style of play. I love my fully customized M1 Garand rifle now.
There were still a few minor problems with the beta. Sometimes my mute all settings would not stay active when new people entered a game, so I got to listen, in surround sound, to people talking about their friend’s suicide, and also a couple having an amateur rendition of the Maury Povich Show – all while at least one of them was playing the game mind you, which is quite a feat in itself. Anyway, after the Beta closed, Activation was kind enough to provide me a code to review full game, and I wasted no time digging right in.
I’ll start with Vanguard’s single player side as that has always been my preferred mode. In recent years it seems like the single player campaigns of Call of Duty games were short shifted in favor of multiplayer action. I don’t see that as the case with Vanguard. If you only want to play single player, then there is still a lot of good stuff for you in Vanguard this time.
When the campaign first booted up my first thought was “Damn, this looks incredible!” The sharpness of every detail was almost photorealistic. Even the details such as the anti-aircraft guns firing in the distance and the burning buildings set a perfect tone for the opening. You work your way through the prologue from a disposable character’s point of view. The way this character is eliminated was surprising and gruesome and it really added to the story.
I will also note that there were some precision jumps that had to be made, and as I was previously playing Borderlands, I assumed that Vanguard would also have a hilariously high jump height. My first time attempt at a jump I was WAY short, and I had to take a moment to realize that I am, in fact, not playing a sci-fi looter shooter, but a realistic World War II simulation type of shooter game.
From there you follow a fantastic story that is narrated and chocked full of historical parts that might actually teach you a thing or two about the war. One of the few gripes I have is that we hit a lot of the same battles (Stalingrad, D-Day) that are frequent fliers in almost any WWII game. Sure, I suppose we had to have them, but it would have been nice to see a few lesser known conflicts.
However, it was some of those impressive and well-known battles that really impressed me. The Battle of Midway as well as the El-Alamein Campaign really impressed me with their presentations and the use of combined arms in combat. All of the characters in the single player campaign are very likeable and well humanized, as well as perfectly voice acted. CoD Vanguard is really impressive in its single player story presentation.
That said, there were a few bumps in the road in terms of quality. The final boss battle for one of my favorite characters, Russian sniper Polina Petrova, consisted of a nerve fraying confrontation where you had to sneak around with only a knife to stab your enemies. The location reminded me of the Enemy At The Gates movie where Jude Law and Ed Harris are stalking each other in a bombed out department store. Polina’s section was a great, innovative approach to freshen up the typical Call Of Duty gameplay.
On the other hand the airplane section of the game leaves a little to be desired. That section can take a long walk off of a short cliff. Maybe I was spoiled by the excellent flight mechanics of Star Wars Squadrons, but I expected better controls for the flights in Vanguard, especially in the dive bomb section. I nearly ate my controller during those sections due to the limited functionality.
I moved to the multiplayer side of the game and realized, once again, I have no quick twitch reflexes. Going from the campaign where you have a few seconds to think to getting murdered three steps after you spawned was a splash of cold water. I tried sniping first, as that was my go to when I first started playing Call Of Duty games. It took two games and I was back to LMGs. In fact, certain characters specialize in certain weapons and you unlock them after so many kills or other special conditions. It did not take long before I was able to unlock Constanze who is an LMG specialist. Then I was able to rock and roll quite a bit, which felt really good in multiplayer matches.
This leads me to the multiplayer level up system. In addition to the standard level ups that give kill streak rewards, Vanguard also offers weapon level ups which unlock new upgrades. The amount of customization for each weapon is great.
For example, the LMGs have customization items for the sights, foregrip, stock, barrel, ammo type, and various belts of ammunition. As you unlock more gear, you can build the perfect weapon to fit your preference. I eventually left my Garand behind and built out a hellfire-spitting LMG that I loved. I was able to hold my ground as an LMG specialist in multiplayer matches, be a real asset to my team, and watch as my kill to death ratio slowly improved as I played.
Overall, I enjoyed the multiplayer part of Vanguard more than I thought I would. That said, I realized I am not the type to just play multiplayer for hours upon hours upon hours to “git gud” so to speak. I could only do the multiplayer for a few rounds at a time. Since the campaign is only about five or six hours long, that cut into how much I enjoyed Vanguard overall. That is not a knock against the game, just a personal preference.
Overall, this is probably the most fun I have had with a Call of Duty game since World at War. The controls are smooth and the gunplay was cathartic when it needed to be. The sounds of war were really well done and made the game more immersive. The voice actors were incredible and their back stories were well thought out. Also, they fixed the mute setting so I could play multiplayer in peace without listening to crappy techno music, a screaming baby, or the “PlayStation Presents: The Jerry Springer Audition Show.”
Do yourself a favor and pick up Call of Duty Vanguard. If you have ever enjoyed Call of Duty, even going back 20 years, then now is a great time to rejoin the fold. Activision and Treyarch really outdid themselves, putting Call of Duty back on top for shooters.