In the normal turn of events, a new Call of Duty game comes to claim its holiday tithe. A mass manufactured shooter with a following of millions, Call of Duty is a series that usually captures its core audience. What I’ve taken from playing Call of Duty: Vanguard is that Activision is giving their audience more of the same, with some minor improvements for next-gen consoles. Some strange changes to long beloved modes might be a bit jarring to wrap your head around, but generally you’re getting what you’re expecting: Call of Duty.
While I’m no expert on first person shooters or a modern Call of Duty player, I had played quite a bit back in the heyday of the original Black Ops. I understand that the main focus on the minds of most players is on the multiplayer, but I’m not necessarily able to speak for game balance on this front. On the subject of multiplayer and online play, it’s inaccessible without an Activision account. Without an Activision account and with no desire to make one, I opted to play none of the multiplayer and stick to the bread and butter of what’s available: the main campaign and Zombies. I was actually surprised with how well developed the first campaign mission felt, and how the intensity was maintained even through non-sequential storytelling having you switch characters and environments in between missions. The first mission was classic historical action movie: fighting aboard a train you’re trying to hijack while there are bombs flying and rain pouring down on the tracks. This mission was meant to be a stealthy infiltration, of course gone wrong. While passively introducing game mechanics, the mission kept you on your toes; the player is made to change environments quite often and make use of even makeshift cover. A lot of what is taught is utilized in normal gameplay of course, but the emphasis on keeping an eye on your environment shows when you’re getting shot from multiple angles and only have a precious few spots of cover. The set pieces for these missions were quite well done, but every cutscene had some sort of stutter or lag to it in my experience.
The brunt of my time playing was in my favorite mode: Zombies. I absolutely adored the Zombies mode in older Call of Duty games, and it was the one feature that kept me playing with friends for a few years. The mode is now almost completely unrecognizable from what it used to be, and is far more arcade-y (as hard as that is to believe). The new Zombies has a myriad of different characters to pick from, each with their own guns and preferential abilities. There are also different customizable item slots for baked in abilities, for which absolutely no explanation was given. You’re able to customize a loadout before you head in as well, which is a godsend for some but in my experience takes away from the early fight to get your preferred weapons. Then there’s the subject of rounds, which are actually varied with different objectives now. Each round has a portal that leads to a different objective type in order to progress. I found “Purge” to be the most familiar, as it is just capturing points while holding off zombies, then killing all the remaining ones to complete the round. Each round has the player return to the home zone, then you’re made to pick another portal to progress. I’m unsure when this change was made to the Zombies mode in general, but it seems the general gameplay focus and progression have shifted towards a focus on customized progression rather than the standard zombie killing. While I understand how the shift can be beneficial to people looking to tailor their own experience, it’s a bit jarring to experience it for the first time with no explanation for any of it.
Call of Duty: Vanguard is very much a game that understands its core audience. It does what Call of Duty consistently does best: provide a current generation experience for players looking to pick up a new shooter for the holidays. Aside from maybe some of the haptics, the game doesn’t necessarily innovate in any area. The changes to modes like Zombies look to help players create an experience that better fits their style of play, and do so relatively well. The gunplay feels fine, especially with PS5 haptics adding a distinctive feel to every gun. Overall, save for some cinematic lagging and texture glitches early, this is a perfectly serviceable FPS to pick up and play.
Score: 7 out of 10
Reviewed on PlayStation 5