There’s a tendency, particularly in the video game hobbyist space, to try and take popular stuff down a peg. Fortnite? Minecraft? Roblox? Some of the most popular games in the world? Trash, apparently, and the people who like them just have no taste. Nah, sorry Reddit, I’m afraid that’s not it – these games do well because they do well, to put it one way. It’s all about capturing the essence of what makes video games fun and concentrating it.
Fortnite epitomizes the luck, skill and emergent silliness inherent in Battle Royale, while Minecraft and Roblox celebrate creativity. Call of Duty, meanwhile, is all about taking the adrenaline inherent in first-person shooting and making it an exciting and bombastic delight. We see that pretty prominently in Call of Duty: Vanguard.
At the height of World War II, the Nazis are doing Nazi stuff and need to be taken down yet again. This is Call of Duty, so you’d expect we’d do this via running at them, screaming, while waving a rifle around. Don’t get me wrong: you do that! But you’re also part of Vanguard, a spec ops force attempting to uncover behind a secret project codenamed Phoenix. The members of Vanguard need to go up against overwhelming odds to discover what the baddies are up to and stop them if at all possible.
The members of Vanguard – leader Kingsley, demo man Riggs, sniper Petrova and pilot Jackson – might have come out of any classic WWII buddy film you’ve seen. The plot as a whole is as cheesy as you might expect as characters seem to fight each other over who gets to spout the next one-liner. That’s not a bad thing, of course, as you probably didn’t come to Call of Duty expecting Shakespeare so you probably won’t be disappointed when you don’t get it.
One thing you do expect from a Call of Duty is exciting set pieces, and you certainly get that with Vanguard, including a fantastic opening where you clamber along a speeding train battling Nazis as you go, and some of the best gunplay in the industry. There’s no shortage of classic WWII weapons to use, and the way you use them is a bit more interesting as well thanks to a focus on using cover and blasting away while remaining protected. Call of Duty is popular because it nails the fundamentals and Vanguard continues along those lines.
Naturally, while you aren’t coming to Call of Duty for Shakespeare, you probably are coming for some white-knuckle multiplayer action. Vanguard does not disappoint, offering access to the usual array of modes that you’ve come to expect from the series for years now. Things aren’t shaken up in any huge way – you’re still gaining levels, completing challenges, prestiging and so on – but, again, the fundamentals are present and accounted for. Customize your dude and your guns and get to blasting.
There’s some new maps available and they’re great, the gunplay is as solid as it always is and that mute button still works great for keeping the plebs quiet. When it comes to strictly new stuff, though, we’re mostly looking at Champion Hill, a Counter-Strike-ish elimination mode where squads battle using a limited number of lives. It’s good, but it’s not going to replace standard deathmatch in my heart of hearts.
We also recognize this series because it’s got some of the best presentation in the industry, of course, and Vanguard doesn’t disappoint there either. If you’ve got a beefy PC, Vanguard’s happy to put that thing to work, and it looks pretty great on next-gen consoles as well. Naturally, if you have the choice, I’d suggest the PC version to put your horsepower to work or the PS5 version for that sweet, sweet haptic feedback. Either way you’re going to have a good time.
While it’s unlikely to revolutionize the genre – and I think Black Ops 3 might still be my favorite entry – but Call of Duty: Vanguard is a high point in the franchise regardless. As mentioned, these games are popular for a reason. The sheer joy of video games tends to comes out pretty prominently in Call of Duty’s campaign and multiplayer. The naysayers have been, and continue to be wrong, as usual; turn your brain off a little and click some heads. You won’t be disappointed.