Call of Duty: Vanguard review – fun filler that won’t live long in the memory

That’s about as sophisticated as stealth gets in Vanguard. It whizzes past at a blistering 60 frames per second. 1 And the final objective type tasks you with feeding special objects with a unique drop you occasionally get from a dead zombie. The new Patrol mode, which charges each team with capturing and holding a moving zone to earn points, is an early favourite, and I can see myself spending even more time with it in the months after launch. Vanguard occupies a space in-between Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War, a shooter searching for a sweet spot.

There is a smattering of destruction in multiplayer. As you complete these objectives, which are set in the likes of Merville, Paris, and Shi No Numa, more of the hub opens up, leading to new areas. There’s plenty here for Call of Duty 6v6 fans – hey, that’s me! Vanguard launches with an impressive 16 standard multiplayer maps, two of which are remakes of maps from Treyarch’s World at War, and most don’t get in the way of that classic COD run and gun action.

Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare, for all its launch flaws, certainly shook the foundations of Call of Duty multiplayer back in 2019. There are light battle royale elements here. And with that comes superb gun feel. I imagine some of the thinking here factored in feedback on Black Ops Cold War’s divisive Scorestreak system.

Wade’s, for example, is "focus".

Call of Duty: Vanguard review – fun filler that won’t live long in the memory


p>Vanguard won’t join the pantheon of Call of Duty games, but it’s a decent stop-gap for those waiting for Modern Warfare’s return. Developer Sledgehammer Games finds itself sandwiched in-between the mega sub-brands that are Modern Warfare and Black Ops, and has produced fun filler for fans to be getting on with. You can end up with extremely powerful abilities from the Altar of Covenants which, if used in the right build, can make you a zombie-killing machine. Yes, zombies.

Each campaign mission is gorgeous, with incredibly detailed environments, impressive visual effects and the roar of a World War bursting through the speakers. You have a set number of lives to rinse before you’re eliminated. Will you support Eurogamer? The campaign begins near the end of World War 2, with the Nazis defeated and in disarray.

Treyarch created Vanguard’s Zombies mode hot on the heels of leading development of last year’s Black Ops Cold War. Vanguard is built upon the wonderful technological leaps Infinity Ward achieved for 2019’s Modern Warfare, rather than the tech that powers Black Ops Cold War. The flashback mission for American ace Wade Jackson is the Battle of Midway.

So, mechanics from Modern Warfare and Warzone make it into Vanguard, such as weapon mounting, double sprinting and bursting through doors. But I struggle to get excited for another Call of Duty set in World War 2 – despite Sledgehammer’s best effort to put a spin on storytelling. Piloting a WW2 plane, shooting down enemies and bombing warships sounds like a blast, but the mission is too restrictive, too on-rails to give the player the freedom needed to express themselves in the sky. With each return to the hub, you’re presented with a different set of three abilities to pick from. I think Champion Hill is a neat idea, although the fun is directly tied, as you’d expect, to your teammates’ willingness to play ball.

There’s more than a whiff of the rogue-like to Vanguard’s Zombies mode. Vanguard is Call of Duty, at the end of the day. The play space is surprisingly small – you need to turn back if you hit an edge – and there’s not much more to the dogfighting than moving a bit and shooting. I enjoy playing it, but it rarely impresses me. Sometimes we include links to online retail stores.

He’s on a "crusade", another character says. And this ties into the big problem with Vanguard’s Zombies: unfortunately there is no main quest or traditional round-based Zombies mode at launch. One sees you escort a floating zombie head while fending off zombies.

But don’t go in expecting Battlefield-esque chaos. Portals lead to objectives, which, once completed, return you to Stalingrad. It moves and shoots more like Modern Warfare and Warzone, which is a good thing for the upcoming osmosis with the all-encompassing battle royale. Even Black Ops Cold War tried something new, with its Hitman-esque infiltration of the KGB headquarters in Moscow, hideout hub area, side missions and even intel gathering and puzzle solving.

The story, this time around, revolves around a handful of World War 2 heroes plucked from various allied nations that combine to form Task Force One – a fledgling spec ops team that acts as a precursor of the special forces we know today. The decision to buy or not to buy over all this is a personal one. But unlike the source material, Vanguard won’t live long in the memory. In-between rounds you can use buy stations to purchase weapons, equipment, perks and killstreaks. Activision promises more is coming, but the next main quest in the current Zombies storyline doesn’t arrive until after season one ends, which is a shame.

Vanguard’s campaign deserves praise, however, for tackling the racism and prejudice of the era head-on. We also get to visit the Numa Numa Trail, Tobruk and even the Battle of El Alamein. If you can get to the final three, things get quite tense. Kingsley’s is Operation Tonga, which saw paratroopers land in France ahead of the D-Day invasion. Pricey weapon skins will keep the money rolling in.

Killstreaks are all about getting kills, as you’d imagine, so there’s less incentive to play the objective. With more development time? Perhaps. But you have to work really hard to get your Killstreaks.

Occasionally – and it’s only occasionally – you can task your squadmates with directing their fire at a particular target. Another tasks you with using explosives to blow stuff up. 2 There are some concerns with Vanguard’s multiplayer, however. During my time with it I was reminded of Supergiant’s wonderful Hades, which is a comparison I never thought I’d make of a Call of Duty game.

3 That Call of Duty vortex – the gameplay loop that’s so hard to escape from – is present and correct here. But there are some additions. Expect plenty of stealth.

There’s a big bad demon who fuses with a Nazi, and four other demons who hate the big bad demon enough to work with the players to defeat it. Via the Gunsmith, you can equip each weapon with 10 attachments by default. You know Shipment from Modern Warfare?

Blitz Combat Pacing turns every map into Shipment. That return to World War 2 feels like a boring choice of setting. Zombies here ties into the ongoing Dark Aether storyline, set within the World War 2 era. It’s all a bit flat, isn’t it? That’s how I’d describe the majority of my time with Call of Duty: Vanguard.

It doesn’t take itself seriously. There’s nothing wrong or bad or off-putting in this return to World War 2, but Vanguard does nothing exceptionally. One even gives you a chance to turn enemies to your side.

Elsewhere, Champion Hill is a new mode that offers a natural next step for Modern Warfare’s popular Gunfight mode. But the gameplay is too by-the-numbers for it to make an impression. Here, eight squads of two (in duos) or three (in trios) go up against each other in head-to-head matches set on four dedicated maps, with the last team standing Mazda b 1995 in nigeria winning. You can carry three at a time, so you need to think about crafting your build as you play through your run. I know the goal here is to increase the potential customisation, and I like that there are ammo type, proficiency and kit slots, but I can see guns turning into super weapons sooner or later, with builds that are extremely powerful.

There are brand new characters, each of whom offers more of an insight into the demons that exist in the Hell dimension itself. It feels like a game that could have been much more. You can help! Become a supporter of Eurogamer and you can view the site completely ad-free, as well as gaining exclusive access to articles, podcasts and conversations that will bring you closer to the team, the stories, and the games we all love.

One set piece involves a frustrating sniper battle that descends into a pantomime boss fight. Vanguard, whose Killstreaks includes the likes of attack dogs, an emergency airdrop that chucks three care packages onto the battlefield, and the devastating Flamenaut protective suit and flamethrower (with unlimited fuel!), does not suffer from this. And I’m not thrilled by the return of Killstreaks after Black Ops Cold War’s Scorestreaks. What’s nice about this system is it makes it easier to get to the kind of experience you’re in the mood for, and makes all the maps potentially viable.

The meat of the campaign is told through flashbacks – each character in this special unit gets their turn. The audio sounds surprisingly flat, including for weapons fire (Modern Warfare’s guns really pack a punch!). Another makes you revive allies faster.

These flashbacks are missions set during prior World War 2 conflicts, and act as origin stories. There is a secret plot to see the Third Reich live on, and Task Force One is sent in to infiltrate Germany on the quiet in order to put a stop to it. One makes your melee attacks do more damage and heal. I enjoyed the mission that involved teaming up with the 93rd Infantry Division, the real-life "coloured" segregated unit of the United States Army that fought in the Pacific campaign. As a big Call of Duty 6v6 fan, I’ll move on from Black Ops Cold War to Vanguard, but it has yet to blow me away.

Subscriptions start at £3.99 / $4.99 per month. Polina Petrova, the Russian sniper inspired by real-life Soviet sniper Lyudmila "Lady Death" Pavlichenko, has a flashback to the Battle of Stalingrad. There is little to think about beyond pointing and shooting. In fact, it’s the demons who are the stars of the show.

Vanguard doesn’t have a ping system at launch, which is criminal (I’m told it’s coming). Bigger, more meaningful changes come via Vanguard’s Zombies mode, although I suspect some fans won’t be thrilled by them. Vanguard’s Zombies mode goes big on the demons of the Dark Aether, but there’s a Hammer Horror vibe to it all. Vanguard, I suspect, will do well – Call of Duty does well!

Its in-game store will sell silly outfits for its World War 2 operators. And, as you complete objectives, the rarity of the abilities made available to you improves. It feels like a stop-gap year for Call of Duty. As the Call of Duty menu screen swells, adding a new front to fight on even as we head into what’s sure to be a difficult winter, Vanguard will do its bit for the war effort. In truth, there’s nothing in the Vanguard campaign we haven’t seen in Call of Duty before.

It’s accessible, slick and fun. The mission is well-executed, and educated me. After you complete an objective and return to the hub area it’s changed slightly, which makes it fun to explore new, unlocked areas.

When that game launched last year, it suffered from Scorestreak spam at roughly the same points in time during a match. We want to make Eurogamer better, and that means better for our readers – not for algorithms. Read our policy. It plays fast and frantic.

All this upheaval, exacerbated by the pandemic, must have made Vanguard’s development particularly difficult for the people at the many studios now devoted to keeping the Call of Duty machine running. What this means for how Zombies works at launch is this: Der Anfang contains a hub area set on the corpse-littered streets of Stalingrad. There are loads of maps and plenty of modes and that’s great, but the obsession with content has come at the cost of innovation. Arthur Kingsley is a black man and the Nazis do not like that one bit. At launch – and there’s a lot of "at launch" about Vanguard’s Zombies mode – there are only three different types of objectives.

Vanguard feels great to play on a fundamental level. Ultimately, though, Vanguard’s campaign feels throwaway. The British mistreatment of Australian servicemen is also dealt with. The despicable company culture revealed by those brave enough to come forward to speak about it is a blot on Call of Duty’s service record – even though it is Blizzard that has come under the most intense fire.

Perhaps we’ll have to wait until next year for a similarly seismic shift. Via the new Altar of Covenants, you spend a resource to obtain one of three randomised abilities. Multiplayer is better. Sledgehammer’s excellent Call of Duty: WW2 opened the door to the long-running shooter series for me, and after walking through I’ve spent thousands of hours in this new Call of Duty metaverse (sorry).

Sledgehammer once co-led development of 2020’s Call of Duty game, but reported tension between it and Warzone custodian Raven Software meant Treyarch was drafted in to save the day. The thing to say about Vanguard’s multiplayer is it’s a lot of fun, but it doesn’t do anything particularly exciting with the Call of Duty formula. It’s all crushingly linear.

Vanguard’s campaign levels look the part. I suspect interest in it will focus on how it all ties in with the on-going Call of Duty cinematic universe, which now features a unified timeline that pulls in the worlds of Modern Warfare, Black Ops, Warzone and zombies. Another sees you survive until the end of the time limit. And Blitz shoots for extremely high action and chaotic combat, with loads of players crammed into maps.

I was excited to play the Battle of Midway mission but it’s a letdown. Some maps have boarded up windows and walls that can be smashed apart to create new gaps you can move and shoot through. Tactical increases time to engagement and is meant to create an "intimate and intense" combat feel – this is what you want for that classic 6v6 experience. It’s lethal – not quite as lethal as Modern Warfare but not far off – and movement is more lightweight than in Infinity Ward’s game.

The new Combat Pacing feature lets you define the number of players in a match. From what I can gather, the Vanguard campaign doesn’t have any collectibles. I quite like this new Zombies experience. There is this hub area and three objectives to play through over and over again and that’s it.

There are stealth sections that offer a change of pace, but these are rudimentary. There’s nothing here that comes close to the nerve-shredding Clean House mission from Infinity Ward’s 2019 Modern Warfare. What I will say is I have found it increasingly difficult to get pumped for Call of Duty in the way I once did.

There, you can spend resources leveling up your weapons and perks between rounds. Assault targets an average time of engagement, with "high action" combat for more players on maps big enough to house them. There are 11 unique Covenants, as they’re called, at launch.

And it’s impossible to forget the awful allegations that cast a long shadow over any game made by Activision Blizzard. Where Modern Warfare was a sort of war-torn sludge, Vanguard’s colour palette is a little more vibrant, offering decent visibility on all but the snow-drenched maps. The Eagle’s Nest map, based on Hitler’s famous alpine base, is the poster boy for this new destruction, with one outside lane passing by boarded up windows that, once blown to bits, provide new angles of attack on enemies inside. The leader of the unit is a British war hero called Sergeant Arthur Kingsley. Each character has a unique ability, but they’re medicore.

But with only three different objectives to play, and only three AI types (regular zombie, red exploder, and a heavy zombie with a machine gun) to fight, it gets repetitive after a while. Killstreak progress resets on death, too. The characters here – all inspired by real-life World War 2 heroes – are supported by decent dialogue and vociferous voice acting – but there’s no subtlety or deftness to proceedings.

If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. This super power lets him see enemies through the Bougainville jungle, making for easier silent takedowns.

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