If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: I love shooting Nazis in the face from the first-person perspective. And with all the shit going on in the world — people shouting “Jews will not replace us”; people wearing sweatshirts with Nazi symbols to keep warm while committing treason — my trigger finger is especially itchy these days. Thankfully, shooting Nazis is exactly what you get, and more, from the World War II first-person shooter Call Of Duty: Vanguard (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC). But what makes this installment really satisfying is how, across the board, the good people at Sledgehammer Games have added interesting new mechanics while keeping, and bringing back, what made this shooter series so great in the first place.
Let’s start with the Call Of Duty: Vanguard’s story-driven campaign,
which opens in Hamburg, Germany, 1945, at the end of World War II. Your mission: Find the plans for Project Phoenix, a top secret, uh, plan…okay, look, no one knows what it is, not even most of the Nazis you kill trying to find these top secret documents. Doesn’t matter, it’s a plan, a Nazi plan, and your job is to stop it with help from a small team of elite soldiers pulled from the British, Russian, American, and Australian armed forces.
At its core, the campaign of Call Of Duty: Vanguard plays like every other installment since 2007’s Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Armed with smooth and intuitive controls, you take on a seemingly endless number of competent enemies, resulting in a series of harrowing and frantic firefights.
Well, mostly. Much like the recent Guardians Of The Galaxy game, Call Of Duty: Vanguard story mode is, well, story driven, and not just a series of fire fights loosely strung together with a flimsy narrative. Instead, it has a real story, and an interesting one at that. And while that does mean there are some long cutscenes — albeit ones that are more Call Of Duty: Black Ops-long than Metal Gear Solid V-long — they do give you good reasons to head for that next frantic firefight.
But the motivational story isn’t the only thing different about Call Of Duty: Vanguard. For the first time in what feels like a long time, this adds some new mechanics to its familiar formula. Many of which come when the campaign flashes back to earlier times in the war to provide some insight into the different members of the squad.
When playing as Kingsley, for instance,
you’re in command, and can order your soldiers to attack groups of enemies, breach a door, even to get themselves together, we’re at war, soldier. You also, during Wade’s flashback, take to the skies over the Pacific Ocean to dogfight with Zeros and drop bombs onto the decks of enemy aircraft carriers.
Granted, it’s nothing we haven’t done before, in this series and others. Petrova’s origin mission, for example, has her running, climbing, and jumping, as well as being sneaky and using a sniper rifle, like she’s in a hybrid of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst and Sniper Elite IV, with one adding some Metro Exodus-like atmosphere for good measure. But what these mechanics do is make this game’s campaign one of the more varied one in both this series and in the genre of World War II first-person shooters.
Petrova’s flashbacks aren’t the only time Call Of Duty: Vanguard gets sneaky, though. While this never feels like a stealth action game, there are other times when you have to stay low and keep quiet, far more than in previous installments.
Not all of the additions to Call Of Duty: Vanguard‘s story mode are so substantial, though. While some ammo is left lying around for you to automatically pick up, you can also now search dead bodies for ammo, while grab some from supply boxes may take a moment if you’re running low and need a bunch.
Call Of Duty: Vanguard also…
adds a second layer of speed to running, though I found myself wondering why they didn’t just make me run faster. And then I wanted to watch Spinal Tap.
But the most important thing they’ve added to Call Of Duty: Vanguard is not an addition but a restoration: It brings back the over the-top, action movie-style set pieces that have been missing in recent episodes. There’s massive explosions, near miss escapes — all the heart-pounding action we used to expect from this unapologically unrealistic series. Just ask the guy driving a truck next to the train I was hijacking. Oh, wait, you can’t, he just exploded.
In fact, the only somewhat bad thing I can say about Call Of Duty: Vanguard‘s campaign — and this is really more a matter of personal preference than a mistake — is that your guns take slightly longer than usual to reload.
The adding of new elements is thankfully not limited to Call Of Duty: Vanguard‘s campaign. Multiplayer gets some additions as well, though theirs are simultaneously more universal and less substantial.
you can open windows or doors, and break through walls and other structures. Which means you and your competitors have to be extra careful when ducking behind something to catch your breath and heal, since it could be gone in a second. And while it is pretty obvious what is and isn’t destructible if you stop to look around, stopping to look around in Call Of Duty‘s multiplayer modes will get you killed, so…
Call Of Duty: Vanguard‘s multiplayer options also includes two new modes. Well, two new variations on old modes, to be exact. First, there’s “Champion Hill,” a reworked version of “Gunfight” from Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War. In it, you play “Deathmatch” or “Team Deathmatch” against 7 teams of 1, 2, or 3, all of whom share a limited number of extra lives that are held in reserve, with the winner of this round robin tourney being the last one standing. All of which makes for a rather frantic and chaotic good time, though regular “Team Deathmatch” is still more fun.
Along with “Champion Hill,” Call Of Duty: Vanguard also boasts the semi-new “Patrol,” which is like the “Hardpoint” in that you have to capture and hold a point on the map that moves. Except unlike “Hardpoint,” in which the point alternates between the same couple of spots on the map, the one in “Patrol” slowly but steadily moves around like, well, someone on patrol. Which makes for some especially fun moments when the point goes through a building or down a path that no soldier on patrol would ever go because they know better than to enter an obvious kill zone.
Of course, Call Of Duty: Vanguard also has plenty of modes we’ve played before, including “Deathmatch” (“KILL ‘EM ALL!!”), “Team Deathmatch” (“KILL ‘EM ALL…IF THEY’RE ON THE OTHER TEAM!!”), and “Kill Confirmed (“KILL THE OTHER TEAM AND TAKE THEIR DOGTAGS SO YOU CAN PROVE YOU KILLED ‘EM ALL!!”). And yes, they’re all as shout-inducingly good as they’ve always been.
As for Call Of Duty: Vanguard’s requisite “Zombies” mode,
well, unfortunately, what they’re calling the “main campaign” has been delayed a few weeks. So it’s impossible to say whether it will have specific moments of newness or more underlying ones.
That said, what is included is rather interesting. Called “Der Anfang,” this “Zombies” mode has you trying to stop a demon and his Nazi BFF from raising an army of undead soldiers. Well, a larger army; clearly some have already been raised, since otherwise this mode would just be you, wandering around on your own, looking for something to do.
Instead, “Der Anfang” initially plays like normal “Zombies,” with you trying to survive waves upon waves of increasingly tougher zombies, aided only by the power-ups you find, the improved weapons you buy, and, if you play this co-op, the company you keep.
Except now there are portals, which you can use to go to other maps and play variations on “Zombies.” In “Transit,” for instance, you have to follow along with a floating head…while, of course, killing any undead Nazis you run into along the way.
Unfortunately, not all of these sub-modes are as interesting. In “Harvest,” for example, you have to put runestones into an obelisk. The problem being that you get runestones by killing zombies, and since zombies can smell human flesh, you kind of just have to next to an obelisk and wait for the zombies to come to you.
The thing is,
when the worst things you can say about a game like Call Of Duty: Vanguard is that you wish the guns would reload quicker, and that the submodes of a submode of a mode didn’t make it so easy to beat, you’re not really saying anything all that bad. For multiplayer, the newish new modes are interesting variations on old ones that are still fun, and the same can be said about the portal modes in the “Der Anfang” mode of “Zombies.” As for the campaign, well, its additions and restorations make it the best C.O.D. campaign since 2012’s Black Ops II, the best World War II first-person shooter since 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, and 2021’s best game since this week’s Forza Horizon 5 (or is it next week’s?). That it also lets me shoot Nazis in the face from the first-perspective — especially these days — is, well, you know.