Call of Duty doubling down on launching with a campaign this year is particularly interesting considering the competition.
As we know, EA have gone a completely different direction with Battlefield 2042, releasing as a multiplayer-only title, but I’m glad Sledgehammer stuck to their WWII themed guns.
These excursions are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine, and I really enjoyed last years’ Black Ops Cold War, even citing it as one of the best COD campaigns in years.
Vanguard, however, I often found myself tuning out, getting a bit restless during cutscenes, and genuinely feeling a bit thrown about all over the place with its story.
There’s a pretty incredible cast here, well acted and led by the amazing Laura Bailey. And some of the set pieces are truly spectacular, from an opening fire fight on a moving train to soaring through the skies in a Midway Torpedo Plane.
Some sequences do go on for far too long, however, the continual hop between protagonists is really disjointed, and while I understand the essence of what the teams were trying to achieve, I ended up just feeling disconnected from the overarching story. A shame considering its promise in the opening moments.
It feels like, this time, Call of Duty wants players to feel the different sides of war. There’s more variety here than in Cold War, for sure, and WW2 had so many initiatives and efforts happening, often at the same time, regularly in secret, but what Cold War did so well is keep everything well structured and within the lines of its story. Here, one minute you’re barking out orders to move barricades, next you’re playing an Assassin’s Creed game, clambering over rooftops.
It is still an absolute treat to watch in Dolby Vision, of course. Blazing fires often lit up my dark living room and clambering into cover to avoid the whizzing gunfire in 120FPS is a breath-holding moment. No doubt about it, Call of Duty’s budget makes it one of the most spectacular new-gen releases of the moment.
And the incredible attention to detail that’s gone into depicting bunkers, vehicles, even ornaments from WW2 is staggering. My favourite part of the game is actually a quiet moment in Stalingrad when Polina is at home with her father, played by the great Elya Baskin, and I spent ages looking around his home. From the framed photos on the wall to the bookcases, his kitchen, even the old armchair.
I cannot imagine the amount of time that was spent looking at old photos, digging through records, watching classic films, just trying to create an authentic experience for the player. Sure, Call of Duty is definitely renowned for its big explosions and powerful weapons, but the quiet moments are often the best in Vanguard.
This often links into the most surprising part of Vanguard’s narrative – its focus on diversity. Featuring a female sniper as a lead, alongside a black captain, Arthur Kingsley – Chiké Okonkwo – the story takes time to dive into these characters, but often falls short in giving these themes the care and attention they need and deserve.
It’s hard not to see through it, either, with the cast of character purposefully picked to the point of wondering how much is poetic license. The renewed focus for COD campaigns certainly comes at an interesting time with Activision Blizzard’s gross culture of sexual harassment being talked about openly. And just with all things the company touches of late, it seems they’ve tried to offer a more refreshing perspective with one hand, then been extremely offensive with another.
There are certainly times when I enjoyed Vanguard’s campaign. In fact, it often made me think of one of my favourite WWII campaigns – Medal of Honor: Frontline. That game had a great sense of the time it was set in, the weapons that would have been used, the sense of dread when entering these scenarios and some of the back-and-forth between allies.
The action is fast and furious, there’s some fun secret achievements to unlock and the mo-cap is still some of the best in class out there, though the game does suffer from quite a few frame rate dips, especially when moving between checkpoints and transitioning between cutscenes.
Call of Duty: Vanguard’s campaign, all told, is pretty much standard fare. It’s by no means the best nor worst, but while it strives to do something different, it inevitably continues to play things safe.
Call of Duty: Vanguard is now available on PC, PS4, PS5, and Xbox
Tested on XSX
Code provided by Activision