The game’s awkward, modern dialogue doesn’t help, but the dropped opportunity to really tell stories of non-white and female characters in World War II feels like a wasted opportunity for genuine representation, a problem that has plagued the games industry. And the writers makes half-hearted stabs at history that only make its overall hollowness more apparent. The only real nod to history is when a character named Wade Jackson (Derek Phillips) meets up with the 93rd Division in Japan and gets most of the game’s conversations about race in combat, which basically boil down to the trope of “everyone was equal on the battlefield”. Yes, even games can decide to tell historic Black stories through the eyes of white characters.
Even if the storytelling is forgettable, “Vanguard” looks great. It’s a true PS5 campaign with stunning effects and that dangerous sense of chaos that makes for exciting action. I will say it feels a bit more constrained than the best recent campaigns—you’re typically following behind another soldier from point A to point B and killing anything in your way—but a few sequences involving an ace sniper stand out as must-plays for anyone who like war games.
Now a lot of gamers won’t even touch the campaign in “Call of Duty: Vanguard,” diving only into the deep multiplayer portion of the game. They will skip right to 20 maps on launch with more promised soon, spread out over traditional modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Hardpoint. There’s a new mode called Champion Hill, which is a variation on Gunfight, a “last man standing” kind of gameplay. The most interesting addition here is something called “Combat Pacing,” wherein the same map could have three different speeds—Tactical, Assault, and Blitz—distinguished by how many players are on it at one time. For example, 6×6 will give you a slower, tactical pace than the blitz of 24×24.
Other than that, the multiplayer in “Vanguard” feels pretty traditional although variations on the last game include a return to kill streaks instead of score streaks (so they reset after a death) and the ability to mount a gun. There are also more destructible environments than usual for “Call of Duty” as some levels will be reduced to rubble by the end of a match. Most of all, the multiplayer is smooth and addictive once again. And it really feels like it’s just getting off the ground with new maps, operators, weapons, etc. all promised once the first season kicks off in December.
What can one say about a game like “Call of Duty: Vanguard”? It is arguably more critic-proof than any other blockbuster series of games or even films. However, even fans would admit that these games haven’t really wowed players in some time. They get the job done, never pushing the envelope enough to disenfranchise the annual buyers or bring in new fans. Will that approach eventually run out of steam? Probably. But not this year.
Activision provided a review copy of this title.