Review: Call of Duty: Vanguard

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It’s impossible to imagine autumn without another Call of Duty. And 2021 was no exception. It would seem that the failure of Battlefield V, which was also dedicated to the horrific events of 1941-1945, should permanently scare the developers of the WWII theme, but where DICE blatantly failed, Sledgehammer has done everything great. Of course, Sledgehammer studios didn’t do it without the support of third-party studios: for example, Treyarch did Zombie Mode, and Raven helped with the multiplayer. And maybe it’s because of this Vanguard managed to do what the fifth Battlefield failed to tell.

Single player campaign and other pleasantries

Let’s start with the single-player campaign. The events of Vanguard tell the story of a special group of allied forces, consisting of the best soldiers from Britain, Australia, the Soviet Union and the United States. The task of this group is to infiltrate German territory and steal secret documents that should shed light on “Project Phoenix,” the Nazis’ plan for defeat in the war.

The story itself consists of nine missions. So, at the very beginning we find ourselves on a train that brings us to a secret base of the Germans. Then our heroes are taken prisoner and interrogated one by one. Gestapo officers enter the scene here, and the script has elements of a thriller in the vein of Operation Valkyrie, except that all the Nazis in the game are villains.

Much of the game’s narrative is built around interrogations. To be more exact, one of the Gestapo officers (played by Dominic Monahan – the Merry hobbit from Lord of the Rings) interrogates the main characters, how exactly they got into the Allied strike team and what is their goal. And when the next prisoner is interrogated, a flashback with his backstory is included – the gameplay itself.

Beginning of the game

So, first we visit Normandy and prepare the way for the D-Day landing of Allied troops, then we complete a few sniper missions in Stalingrad, take part in the air battles over the Pacific and fight in the Battle of El Alamein. Here we should say at once that Vanguard does not claim to be historically accurate. Yes, the developers did take real facts as the basis – for example, the image of sniper Polina Petrova was inspired by the hero of the USSR Lyudmila Pavlichenko – but adapted them in their own way, primarily trying to make a memorable Hollywood action movie, which is as respectful to the heroes, their prototypes, and the real events.

Most interestingly, this structure of the story campaign reminded exactly of Battlefield 1 and Battlefield V with their war stories, each of which had its own hero and a different place of action. However, in Vanguard the authors managed to tie everything into a single story, even though it is sewn with white threads: the single game was completed pretty quickly, and the main emphasis is placed on the flashback missions, because of what the main story seems to be quite mediocre. Moreover, the flashback missions turn out to be many times more interesting. Especially in terms of gameplay, although in general Vanguard practices the classic Call of Duty formula: there is shooting waves of enemies, defending fortifications, escorting vehicles, destroying vehicles, and sniper missions. More or less unusual looks only one mission, in which we have to conduct air combat over the waters of the Pacific Ocean: it very much feels Sledgehammer’s attempt to play on the Battlefield’s field.

Characters and Gameplay

At the same time, the authors really tried to diversify the mechanics, giving each of the main characters some unique skill: for example, one can give orders, pointing at a particular target, another – carry more explosives, and the third – concentrate and illuminate enemies through walls. Most lucky, by the way, Polina Petrova: she can quickly slip into hard-to-reach places and climb up various objects – that’s how elements of parkour made their way into Call of Duty. Moreover, it was Polina who got the most impressive missions in the game: a run on the roofs of Stalingrad during the bombing of the city and a full-fledged winter stealth mission with the murder of a Nazi officer. So, it’s not a single loop of repeating sequences like in pokies at casino online, it’s actually fun to play.

Otherwise, we’re faced with the usual CoD storyline. Not the best in the series, but not the worst either – it is very far from Ghosts or Infinite Warfare (which considered as the worth games in the series). But in the format of not a bad shooter for a couple of evenings Vanguard with its 6-hour campaign works perfectly. Especially since the best is waiting for you ahead – in multiplayer.

Vanguard’s Multiplayer

Talking about the online of another Call of Duty is difficult. Partly because on the concept level it almost doesn’t change at all, similar to online roulette game in Australia. It’s same roulette with slightly different rules. We are greeted with the same set of game modes, the same system of progression, tied to the experience, and all the same mechanics as in previous games in the series. However, each time there are differences in detail.

So, last year’s Cold War experiment with a series of points, which piled up the entire match, which caused almost every player could cause a bombardment, is forgotten like a bad dream. Call of Duty returned to the classic kill-streak series system, where you have to kill enemies to activate the Streak, and if you die, the series progress is reset. This avoided the chaos when everyone starts using the “Ultimate” closer to the final match. It’s true that there is a perk in the game that allows you to save the progress of the kill series, but you still need to level it up.

Also, the game returned maps with clearly marked three lines of attack, making it a lot easier to navigate during the battle. By the way, the maps themselves at the start markedly increased in comparison with the last two Call of Duty – now there are 20 of them. At the same time two of them come here straight from the World at War.

Speaking of maps, it is impossible not to note the emergence of a small destructibility: boarded up areas, stained glass windows, crates, barrels, walls of rice paper – all can be broken. Sure, Vanguard is a long way from the Battlefield’s Levolution, but it’s a pretty big step forward for the series itself.

Another minor innovation is the tempo of combat, which you can set when choosing a mode. There are three of them: “Assault” offers standard gameplay, “Tactics” focuses on a slower style of combat, and “Blitz” simply throws in twice as many players, turning the battle into a light version of the same Battlefield.

Naturally, we did not do without the larger novelties – two new modes. First, “Patrol” – an analogue of “Reference Point”, only the zone in it is not transferred from one place to another, and slowly moves across the map. Second, “Battle of Champions”, in which several small teams engage in a series of battles against each other. Each team has a limited number of lives, and players receive currency for their success in battles, which can be spent on perks, weapons, and other bonuses. As soon as one team runs out of lives, it is eliminated from this mini-tournament.

Of course, taking apart Vanguard’s multiplayer, like any other CoD, you can talk at length about balance issues and guns being the current meth, but that’s the whole point of recent Call of Duty: with each season, the developers rework the meth so that every 2-3 months your usual gameplay changes. On the one hand, it’s not very good, because you have to constantly exist in a system of crooked balance, on the other hand – there are no outright bad guns in the game, you can always build “precision blaster” from another gun in the meta. So all in all, this approach just brings variety to the gameplay, which is extremely important for an arcade multiplayer shooter.

Also, the developers slightly improved the social element – the clan system. Now every clan member gets a 10% global experience bonus when playing with teammates and can participate in the clan progression to get special rewards – profile cards. A small thing, but nice.

Another pleasant surprise – the return to the game events. Since Black Ops 4, the series has moved to seasonal activities, but Vanguard has already held a free in-game event, in which you can get a variety of customization for the profile. I want to believe that Sledgehammer will take this as a practice, as they did in WWII multiplayer.

The bad about the Vanguard

If we talk about the outright failures of Vanguard, then first of all we should note the new Zombie mode, which is also slightly “transformed”. So, instead of a large map was replaced by a hub-location with portals, passing through which you find yourself on levels with challenges. Quite simple tasks: survive for a few minutes, kill as many zombies as possible, bring an artifact to the altar… After completing the mission you go back to the hub, where you can spend the collected resources on various improvements. In this case, rounds, buying weapons on the walls and pinned windows and doors disappeared. That is, the Zombies mode has turned into a fairly casual shooter, which should suit the mass audience, but it feels more like a step backward for Treyarch, than a development in the right direction.

Also, still a problematic game engine that Vanguard inherited from Modern Warfare 2019. No, in combat itself, the performance is fine. On a GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with 6GB, the game on medium settings produces 120 to 170 frames per second during gameplay. At high settings frame rate is kept around 60-100 FPS. Drawdowns also occur in the lobby or during the reels in the story campaign – there frame rate can sag to 15-20. For two years, the developers have not been able to solve this problem.

No less questions and the algorithm of the selection of players in the match, which at the start just does not work: the game evaluates your performance on the basis of the last 10 battles, but at the release it particularly nothing to focus on, so in the same match may well meet a veteran series and beginners. Yes, over time, this problem will be solved, but in the first week after the release it was not comfortable to play.

Otherwise, we are faced with a fairly standard “CoD” of recent years with a single-player campaign, PvP, PvE and seasonal support in the form of Battle Passes pumping. Of course, cross-progress with CoD: Warzone attached.

Conclusion

It is hardly worth advising to play Vanguard for the storyline – in this “CoD” it’s not bad, but it is just a bonus to the multiplayer, which this time turned out great, albeit quite arcade. Otherwise, it’s a classic Call of Duty with all its pros and cons.

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