Call of Duty: Vanguard Review - Same Stuff, Different Year

For the past 15 years or so, Call of Duty has been a staple of the holiday video game line-up. Come rain or shine, by every November there’s a new entry in the Call of Duty franchise. Even amid the global pandemic and rumors that this year’s entry, Vanguard, could miss the launch deadline, here it is. So, let’s see how 2021’s entry into video games’ biggest franchise fares in this Call of Duty: Vanguard review.

2021’s Call of Duty: Vanguard is available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles, with the review done on PlayStation5.

Call of Duty Vanguard Cross-Platform Play

A Story To Forget

The campaign in any Call of Duty game isn’t necessarily a big draw for most gamers, and it’s not the reason most people buy the game. However, over the years there have been a few standout campaigns and more than a few standout moments. All Ghillied Up and No Russian are Call of Duty campaign missions that can be compared with some of the best experiences in gaming. Unfortunately, Call of Duty: Vanguard, 2021’s title, fails to hold any of those memorable experiences

The campaign in Vanguard is lackluster at best. The story is utterly forgettable and despite some impressive set pieces, it doesn’t hit the heights of previous games. It’s unfortunate because what Sledgehammer Games has tried to do with the story is admirable. The story focuses on underrepresented aspects of World War 2, the areas that previous Call of Duty games haven’t touched. There’s the all-black 93rd Infantry Division that plays a significant role in a portion of the game. One of the main characters is Polina Petrova, a Soviet female sniper who is based on the real female Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko.

Call of Duty: Vanguard

There’s also the representation of Australian soldiers and what they did during the war, without the respect of the imperialist British commanders they served under. All in all, there was the opportunity for a really good World War 2 story told through the eyes of people whose stories haven’t been told before. Yet, it completely falls flat. The story never gets past the most basic stereotypes. There’s no depth to any of the characters or their experiences. Even the Nazis are just cartoonishly evil caricatures. Having said that, Dominic Monaghan’s (Lord of the Rings, Lost) performance as the Nazi interrogator, Richter, is truly great. It’s some of the best acting I’ve seen in a video game. It’s just a pity he wasn’t better utilized.

It’s safe to say that 2021’s Vanguard will not be held up as one of the must-play Call of Duty campaigns that have gotten great reviews before.

Gameplay

More than the story though, how does the game actually play? Well, it’s pretty much what you expect if you’ve played either of the last two Call of Duty games, or perhaps any Call of Duty game. The gameplay is solid, the shooting mechanics are still among the best in the business and the game does what it needs to do. Except for a few glitches in the single-player and one truly awful attempt at a flying mission, the gameplay is solid. In multiplayer, which is the most important area for gameplay in Vanguard, I think any fans of the franchise will be happy with how the game plays. Basically, from a gameplay perspective, it hasn’t changed much at all.

Multiplayer: The Bread and Butter

Multiplayer is why Call of Duty has been the biggest franchise on the planet for the past decade and a half and that’s why people buy the games each year. In my opinion, Vanguard’s multiplayer is a significant step-up from last year’s Black Ops Cold War. The maps in Vanguard are excellent, and I’d go as far as to say they are some of the best I’ve played in years. There’s a nice variety to them and they feel well balanced. There are also some really cool places used for the maps this year. As someone who lives in France, I particularly like Hotel Royal which has players fighting in and on top of a hotel in occupied Paris, complete with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

It’s also nice the see the return of kill streaks instead of scorestreaks. It does feel like there are changes made just for the sake of making these games feel different though. Black Ops Cold War had scorestreaks but the game before it, Modern Warfare, had kill streaks. Now we’re back on kill streaks again. It feels like Call of Duty developers are finding things to change just to say it is different. After all, it’s not really an improvement if the feature was removed from the previous game.

Call of Duty: Vanguard Lens Flare

Coming from PC, I’m very happy to see 120fps on next-gen consoles. Black Ops Cold War last year was the first Call of Duty game to have 120fps so this isn’t technically a new addition but it’s something that other games like Battlefield still haven’t managed on next-gen systems. It’s great to see the continued support of high refresh rate gaming on consoles. Playing on PS5, I can say that the multiplayer in 120fps mode is a dramatic improvement from any of the previous 60fps console versions.

The Pinnacle of Graphical Fidelity

2021’s Call of Duty: Vanguard has, I’m fairly sure, the best graphics I have ever seen in a review. The story in particular has jaw-dropping cutscenes that set this game apart from anything I’ve played before. I haven’t seen how the game is on last-gen consoles but this to me is finally showing off what next-gen consoles are capable of graphically.

Richter

As for the sound in the game, there are all of the expected audio settings options one expects to see in a competitive multiplayer game. I played multiplayer with both high-end headphones and high-end speakers and the results were impressive with both. It’s very easy to pinpoint where sounds are coming from across the map in multiplayer. The score by Bear McCreary is also outstanding. There are quite a few places in the campaign where the music elevates the game to a level far higher than it should be. The only issue I have with the music/audio is that it seems to be weirdly bugged in multiplayer. In multiplayer, the score will be utilized for dramatic effect only to come to a very sudden halt. It’s incredibly jarring. I assume it’s stopped so players can hear their surroundings but it would be much better if it was a smoother transition. Maybe it will change because with how suddenly it disappears, it doesn’t feel like a design choice. It feels like it’s broken.

Another Year, Another Call of Duty

For those who buy every Call of Duty, Vanguard is a decent entry into the franchise. The multiplayer is solid and for fans who play hundreds of hours of Call of Duty multiplayer, it does exactly what it needs to. For those who drop in and out of the franchise based on the quality of the game, Vanguard isn’t a must-buy. If you like the single-player campaigns in the Call of Duty franchise, it’s not a $60 purchase. I have a feeling that Activision knows exactly who Vanguard is for. It’s for the people who bought Call of Duty last year and every other year over the past decade. Overall, it’s a solid multiplayer game but the single-player campaign will not go down as anything special. It won’t be remembered a decade on like Call of Duty 4, Modern Warfare 2, or Black Ops. It is a serviceable yearly update to a franchise that probably shouldn’t be on a yearly cycle anymore.

The award-winning Call of Duty® series returns with Call of Duty®: Vanguard, in which players will experience influential battles of World War II as they fight for victory across the Eastern and Western Fronts of Europe, the Pacific, and North Africa. (via the official website)

Pros:

  • Solid multiplayer
  • Incredible graphics
  • Amazing musical score from Bear McCreary
  • 120 FPS on next-gen consoles

Cons:

  • Basically the same game we’ve been playing for the past decade
  • One of the worst campaigns in the franchise
  • Too many bugs and glitches