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Call of Duty: Vanguard Review (PS5)

If Activision could choose when or not the Call of Duty series was hot, it would be the year all guns burn. As Battlefield 2042, the publisher sees itself exposed to more competition than usual and Halo infinite Go head to toe with its top notch FPS and fight for both your thoughts and your time. Consumers are spoiled for choice when looking elsewhere, and with Call of Duty: Vanguard setting the standard, this can very well happen. From Sledgehammer Games, this is another solid but safe episode that sticks to the status quo.

However, it’s at least better than Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, a bar Activision studios are always looking to clear out from now on. That’s in part because of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s returning engine from 2019, and those of you who have played Warzone in the past 18 months will know exactly what that means. It marks the homecoming of gun assembly, tactical sprinting, and easy destructibility, making multiplayer games finally feel like our daily trips to Verdansk again. Getting that maneuverability and gun feel back is great, even if it means turning the clock back to WWII.

Going back to period isn’t necessarily a bad choice – it just feels like a very safe one. Sledgehammer Games was there with Call of Duty: WWII and has done it before. So do we really have to storm the beaches of Normandy again on D-Day? Fortunately not. The story this time around focuses on four extraordinary soldiers who were recruited from different parts of the world to form a special task force called the Vanguard. In the last year of the war, Project Phoenix is ​​what they are looking for: a secret Nazi plan by Hermann Freisinger.

The narrative is very flashback heavy, introducing the four characters and describing the exploits that led to them being handpicked for the team. Their escapades stretch across the Pacific, the Western and Eastern Fronts as well as North Africa and make the approximately five-hour campaign a small globetrot. As always, however, it’s the kind of single-player fun we’ve been expecting from a Call of Duty title for generations.

Polina Petrova, played by Laura Bailey, is the standout figure. She is a Russian sniper fighting to free Stalingrad from the clutches of the Nazis. Based on the real soldier Lyudmila Pavlichenko, her plight for freedom is both emotional and intense. Call of Duty got us to really care about one of their personalities, which is not something that often can be said about the series.

Joining her on Team Vanguard are Arthur Kingsley as leader, Lucas Riggs, the demolition expert from Australia, and Wade Jackson, a pilot known for daring stunts. A few other faces are part of the secret squad, but the above four are who you will play as.

Again, much of the plot revolves around the backstories of these characters, which allows the campaign to visit the various theaters of war. Kingsley’s story tells the D-Day landing from a slightly different perspective, Riggs is all about defying his commander’s orders and blowing shit, and Jackson takes to the skies to bomb axial forces. All of these levels play out exactly as you’d expect: there’s a lot of running and shooting mixed in with elements of stealth and vehicle sections. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but Sledgehammer Games takes it one step further with unique skills tied to each character.

Polina is very light-footed, which means she can move around the area quickly and even play a bit of Nathan Drake-style parkour. Arthur can issue basic commands to the AI, Lucas can wear many different types of equipment at once to fuel his lust for explosion, and Wade can temporarily tag nearby enemies. While not exactly groundbreaking, the nice little features help make every scenario feel at least a little unique.

But other than that, this is a thoroughly traditional Call of Duty campaign. You will visit different parts of the world and take out Nazis in the process. As fun as it is, the only really memorable things are the characters. While it might mean revisiting the 1940s, we wouldn’t say no to seeing them again in the future.

What also remains conventional and in the spirit of the book is multiplayer. When we reviewed Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, we said, “Activision needs to ramp up its ideas for next year.” Guess what: it didn’t. Vanguard sticks to the tried and true that made Call of Duty a pop culture event a generation ago and stifles any innovation. This means that the biggest step forward Call of Duty: Vanguard is taking online – funnily enough – is a menu option.

In previous titles, you could filter matchmaking to only look for specific modes, but Sledgehammer Games has now gone a step further with a new feature called Combat Pacing. In this way you can determine the number of players in a game and influence how chaotic it gets. There are three options: Tactic, Attack, and Blitz. If you choose one of the first two, online battles will be fought, as in the past, with 6 to 12 players on each team, depending on the map. Blitz, however, increases the stakes by flooding matches with players, turning engagements into something reminiscent of Shipment from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare or Nuketown of Call of Duty: Black Ops. It’s a complete mess and it’s fantastic.

The feature includes a pretty meaty multiplayer pack with 20 maps available at launch. Four of these are exclusive to the new Champion Hill mode, but it still means you can get through an entire session with no repetitive locations. Whether that actually happens is another question, but regardless, there is a lot to learn and master here. With a long list of weapons and challenges to master, it’s easy to see how you could fight for the title over the next few months. Throw on free post-launch support and Call of Duty: Vanguard will have a ton of content when all is said and done.

All of the fan-favorite modes return along with new modes like Patrol, which features an ever-changing objective that two teams must fight for. While Sledgehammer Games certainly didn’t reinvent the formula, it does have a ton of content upfront for what is still solid multiplayer offering. It may be unoriginal at this point, but you can’t fault the effort the developer has put into its player base this time around.

The same cannot be said for this year’s Zombies mode, which is in a very awkward position. Originally developed by Treyarch, the traditional turn-based mode for goals has been abandoned. A single hub area at launch teleports you to various locations for tasks like escorting a bullet across a multiplayer map or surviving an undead onslaught for a set amount of time. The Pack-a-Punch weapons upgrade system returns along with an altar that rewards perks, but that’s literally all there is. There is no Easter Egg to solve, no main quest to follow.

We actually appreciate the simplicity, as previous entries have proven way too complicated for us to roll our heads over a few laps. That means this is the most fun we have had with zombies in years. However, it is impossible to ignore how easy the mode is at startup compared to previous efforts. There is still fun to be had here, but it all feels free.

At least PlayStation 5 players can look forward to this being some kind of system introduction, with some really standout graphics throughout the cutscenes. You will only spot them during the campaign, but if Call of Duty: Vanguard does, it is goes Therefore. Some sequences can really compete for the best graphics yet on PS5. If you’re not playing the single player for its characters, you’ll at least be amazed at what Sledgehammer Games got out of the console just a year after the generation. It’s incredibly impressive.

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