Developed By: Sledgehammer Games/Treyarch
Published By: Activision
Platforms: PlayStation 4 & 5 / Xbox One X, Series S & X / PC
Reviewed On: PS4
Call of Duty: Vanguard is the latest version of the yearly Call Of Duty releases and this time, it is Sledgehammer Games turn to be the lead developer for the game. Treyarch also gives a helping hand by handling the Zombies mode for this game with various other studios like Raven Software (Warzone), Beenox (PC Version) and many more. Being a veteran of the first-person genre for so many years lets us scope in (pun intended) to find out how Call Of Duty: Vanguard, stands out with the old and new generation consoles.
The Most Diluted Campaign Yet
Call of Duty campaigns has always been excellent great set pieces of action layered on top of a political-military backstory. Vanguard starts off with a very high note giving you an intense gunfight on a moving train as you try to get to the front to get control of it. This serves as the tutorial for the game and it is a great opening act by having you and your team jump from one coach to another taking out enemy turrets and trucks.
But after this sequence, the campaign starts giving you flashbacks of each member of the Vanguard team. I honestly think it is nothing wrong with showing flashbacks but how the game does it makes the whole campaign flow feels terrible. The game starts with a high action segment and then slows it damn drastically with flashbacks which usually consist of a “stealth” segment followed by a closing battle in the end. All flashback goes through at least these 2 segments and it just gets repetitive after the first few. There are a few standout movements like the fighter plane dog fights and the end duel for Lady Nightingale, but it does not even come close to some other iconic moments in Call Of Duty’s history. The plane dog fights are basically just on rail shooting and while on the ground you might think that you are on a big map, but you are actually limited by a surprising amount of invisible walls which block your path as you explore.
Once all the reminiscing is done, you are then put into another high action firefight as you chase down the main villain of the campaign. In the end, the campaign might take you around 8-10 hours to complete with quite an amount of them spend watching cutscenes mind you. The only redeeming part of the campaign is the voice acting and the characters in the pre-rendered cinematic which I would say they spend quite an effort on. As cool as this cinematics looked, it only made the gameplay segments look bad until I started to wonder why was I not allowed to play that action pack scene instead of just watching it. One more irritating this is that are into the 18th version of Call of Duty and we are still seeing things like enemy AI just moving along ignoring you, respawning enemies from the same spot, and allies just being there to be decorations. It just spoils the emergence of the game when you rush into the battle and watch enemy AI just ignoring you and letting you pass by while shooting at the sky for all I know as we are already behind him.
This brings me to back the worst part of all, the story, which feels like you are on a meaningless roller cost ride. Your team is sent in to investigate a secret Nazi plan called “Project Pheonix” which sounds cool but it actually just turned out to be a takeover of the Nazi army by some random antagonist which the game tries very hard to make you hate but fail. This does not even reach the impact of how General Shepherd instantly garnered hate by just doing one thing, which is killing Ghost in Modern Warfare 2. I was also waiting for any plot twist in the storyline but was sad when it just went as linear as predicted without a surprise. They could have done so much like having Novak survive and rescue the team, or Richter helping them out but none of that happen in the end. Vanguard does seem to be setting up a sequel in the end with the team flying off to another location to investigate another Nazi project. Having said all that, I feel like this might be the worst effort of a campaign Call Of Duty has ever had. It felt like a bunch of slow exposition sandwiched in between two high action sequences which really felt too short to even feel like the game had a story, to begin with. The cutscenes are great and all but it just ends up reducing the time you could have spent playing the game instead.
Cross Generation CGI
A quick talk about the sounds in Vanguard. As mentioned above, the voice acting is excellent and each plays well into the character’s persona in the game. Soundtracks are good and with adrenaline-pumping tracks playing to hype the action up but there is nothing much memorable in the audio department besides the voice acting.
Now moving on to the looks of the game. Playing on the PlayStation 4, the game does look nice but you can feel it is downgraded. Certain facial animations are excellent, especially on the main characters. To bridge the cross-generation gap, pre-rendered cutscenes were deployed to make sure the animation and cinematic look remains the same but after watching the pre-rendered scene, you will get a sense of how dated the game looks on the PlayStation 4. There is also some texture pop-ins on the PlayStation 4 during the campaign if you charge into enemy camps too fast with some popping in and out on screen.
On PlayStation 5, the game looks crispier and smoother thanks to the 120 fps settings. Honestly, both the Playstation 4 and PlayStation 5 looks great but you can really hear the game pushing the limits of the PlayStation 4 until the console sounds like a vacuum cleaner. Here are some comparison images between the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.
Chaos, Madness and Fun
The title is how I would describe Call of Duty: Vanguard’s multiplayer. First, let us talk about the multiplayer maps in this game. With a total of 20 different maps on launch, Vanguard is set the bring the largest amount of multiplayer maps to the franchise. There are a few maps like Castle and Dome which is brought back but most of the new maps have a great design to them with multiple attacks, sniping and camping spots. Hot spots on the maps are clearly located with sufficient flanking and defending points all around. Also with this great amount of maps on launch, I rarely had any maps repeated during my 1 hour or more of play which helps keep matching fresh.
Now to the chaos part where Blitz mode comes in. Having up to 40 players (20 per team) facing off on a small map can get chaotic with danger lurking around every corner. You can easily spray and get kills in this mode with the number of enemies stacking up to each other rushing through a choke point. This chaos is fun but having this mode also does amplify a flaw that has always plagued Call of Duty’s multiplayer mode which is the spawning. Be prepared to be either spawn camped or spawn in front of enemies at gunpoint, again, and again, and again. This will make you helpless at times because of the game and might either make or break the game in the future. I have also seen people driving a Goliath into a spawn point and rolling people as they spawn so this is really something that has to be improved.
With that said, there is a lot of fun to have in Vanguard’s multiplayer, and with a variety of game modes which a large pool of maps, there is sure a match that will suit almost every type of player. As good as this might seem, this can also cause some issues like dividing the player base on some game modes. Matchmaking takes quite some time currently even with all modes selected. What is even worst is they kept how the lobby disbands after a match which forces you to restart queuing for another time for a game which wastes a lot of time.
One of the new features in Vanguard is the ability to select the MVP of your match after the game. This is a good system as it helps the players get more involved in selecting the best player in your team to get more experience. There are some bugs like models not loading during the play of the game or PS1 texture load on models. There is also the inconsistency of who gets the play of the game or who is selected for MVP voting with random reasons like honourable mention. Sometimes it is just the final kill that gets POTG or a person just killing 1 enemy and dies which somehow undermines some other players achievements in the game. It is weird when I see a person just shooting one guy and dies, while I know I had a triple kill just a few seconds ago. Hope the algorithm gets fixed on who gets POTG or MVP soon to really reflect those who really perform in the match.
The game also lacks a lot of customization to your avatar by only giving you Operators which are basically the 4 characters from the main campaign plus extra characters which are made to look like it represents Operators from other countries. You can unlock skins for each Operator by completing challenges in-game but this pales in comparison with the customization previous Call of Duty games had by mixing and matching hats, shirts, shoes and many more. There is also a lack of uniqueness between Operators besides skins and their favourite weapons which just basically gives extra XP if you use the Operator’s favourite weapon.
Multiplayer for Vanguard also consist of cross-play with PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S all able to play with each other. You can’t select what specific platform you want to play with sadly but this does help expand the player base. Another good thing is that you are able to use your mouse and keyboard to play on consoles by just plugging it in. So this once and for all end the debate on which input is better since now everybody can either use mouse and keyboard or controller. A Cross-save feature is also available so you can jump into any platform as long as you link your account together and purchase the game again on other platforms.
On The Not So Guarded Front
The game is obviously without its flaws. The game is prone to crashing as I was playing on the PlayStation 4. I have crashed a total of 3 times on random occasions including once while just trying to quit the game. There are instances of the Spy Plane kill streak showing the enemy location wrongly for some reason also as I was standing on the spot for 2 scan cycles but no enemy was there even when it was indicated on the map.
Another thing that I find baffling is how those double XP tokens work. Those tokens last for 1 hour in real-time. This means that the clock will still run even if you are disconnected, in the menu, stuck in a long queue or when the game decides to just hard crash and forces you to unplug your console. I think using 1-hour in-game/match time would be more reasonable because right now, it just looks like they are purposely wasting some of the 1 hour time of the double XP tokens, which is a good segway into, the shop.
One thing that is super suspicious about Call of Duty games is the microtransactions. This series has a history of not putting any pay-to-win during launch but then adding them in once good review scores are out. So let’s get something straight, currently, as of the writing of this review, there is a way to purchase COD Points using real money but there is nothing in the shop to use these points for. I am not sure if something fishy is going on but we can only wait and find out in the future.
(Please Activision and Sledgehammer Games. Don’t make me come back and edit this review a few months later because of some pay-to-win microtransactions.)
Who You Gonna Call? Zombie-busters!!!
Not missing on the fun, Treyarch also lent a helping hand in developing the Zombie mode for Vanguard. The mode is very similar to the one in Cold War with some added new mechanics like the Alter of Covenants which allows players to purchase a random perk from it which resets every round. Vanguards Zombie mode is considered an expansion to the Dark Aether story, with the Black Ops Cold War’s story acting as the prologue.
Zombie’s new game mode “Der Anfang” is a combination of round-survival gameplay with the object-based gameplay of Outbreak and Onslaught. You can select your loadout at the beginning which is nice to help you choose the weapon you want since the only other way to earn a weapon in the game is by obtaining it from the weapon crate which spits out a random weapon. Right now the game mostly consists of you entering an arena to complete an objective while zombies are trying to kill you. There are plans to update the Zombie game mode with additional objectives and also a main quest for story progression but until then, this mode is just mostly used to upgrade your weapon level because it ties together with your multiplayer progression.
What We Liked
- Excellent Cinematics – The cinematics in this Call of Duty is one of the best.
- A Variety of Maps – Multiplayer has the largest pool of maps at launch.
- Multiple Modes and Pacing – There will always be a game type for each player
What We Thought Could Be Better
- The Campaign Is Underwhelming – From the pacing to the overall story, Vanguard fails to present any memorable moments.
- Online Shop – With the ability to purchase COD Points even without anything in the shop, makes me think something fishy is going on
- Zombie Seems Dead – With no proper story or progression, Zombie mode just feels like an arena shooter.
- Feels Too Buggy – Missing Models, crashing PlayStation 4, resetting progression to name a few.
Just Another Call for Duty
This year’s Call of Duty is a mix of good and bad in every aspect. Though the campaign has better characters and cinematics, it does not have an interesting story to go with it. Multiplayer is fun but there are long queue times. Zombie just does not feel complete without a story mode for me but it is a great place to level your weapons. It is obvious that more time was placed into the multiplayer player component of the game which is where most players spend their time.
In the end, it comes down to what you are looking for. If you are looking for a fun, high action multiplayer first-person shooter, then a big YES, Call of Duty: Vanguard has one of the best multiplayer in the series history. If you are here to enjoy the story and kill some zombies. I suggest skipping this game as it is just not worth it or waiting until maybe Zombie mode get more updates.