When a new Call of Duty arrives, the hardcore online players seem to immediately manage to sink hundreds of hours into the multiplayer modes. Before I join them I prefer to take my time to play through the single player campaign first. Only once I’ve exhausted the campaign will I head online to join the masses.
I’m sure I’m not the only player who approaches the game this way but I imagine I’m now in the minority. The campaign used to be the main event but in recent years it’s become secondary and I expect many players never even bother. With the huge install size of games these days it is nice to see the option to choose which components to install. Maybe eventually we could go a step further and buy only the parts we want to play?
The Call of Duty: Vanguard campaign attempts to take a fresh shot at World War II. It opens up in 1945, near the end of the war, with your team on a secret operation to find intelligence on the Nazi’s Operation Phoenix. The mission begins with you attempting to hijack a train that is heading to a submarine base in Hamburg. It’s a rather thrilling sequence that gets you straight into the action.
Your small team is known as Task Force One, a precursor to the Special Forces. Interestingly the team is comprised of soldiers from across the allied nations. These are all actually inspired by actual WWII heroes and include Australian Lucas Riggs (Martin Copping), US Navy pilot Wade Jackson (Derek Phillips) and Russian sniper Polina Petrova (Laura Bailey). The team is led by British Paratrooper Arthur Kingsley (Chiké Okonkwo).
After the initial mission the game makes heavy use of flashbacks to give an insight into the background of the main team members. These play out alongside the main story and allow players to step into the shoes of each soldier. During the war they all found themselves in very different circumstances and we get to experience many different parts of the conflict. These include Operation Tonga and the Battles of Midway, Stalingrad and El Alamein.
In total there are nine missions on offer and they took me around 6 hours to beat on the second difficulty – Fair. Ramping the difficulty up to Hardened or Veteran is sure to extend this a bit. The wildly different settings allows the game a lot of variety but I flew through most of them and was left wanting more.
The best mission for me was when you get to play the flashback of Polina Petrova. I liked how it started off quiet with her family and then turned chaotic. Her story is the most emotional part of the game and the writing and acting is excellent. You really get to understand her motivations and why she’s absolutely ruthless on the battlefield.
I really wasn’t keen on one mission that puts you in the cockpit during the Battle of Midway. The mission puts you in the skies, dog-fighting enemy aircraft and carrying out bombing runs on battleships. It sounds thrilling but I found the plane controls clumsy and got through it more by luck and perseverance than skill. Flying should give freedom but instead it felt restrictive. I failed this particular mission countless times for leaving the mission area while trying to turn to follow an enemy. Very frustrating.
This kind of thing happens often in the game, there’s just no freedom. When trying to avoid an enemy patrol you often end up having to go Rambo because you didn’t realise you couldn’t walk past a certain tree, climb a small ledge or step over a fence. The developers obviously weren’t trying to create some kind of open world game in order to focus on the stories they wanted to tell. However, I think it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more ambitious at times.
I was also frustrated by some of the game mechanics. Some of the stealth portions of the game have a decent amount of tension but it’s all too easy to see enemies and they often just ignore you. Other times troops seem to have a sixth sense to spot you and their aim can be perfect. It’s also impossible to know what you can and can’t destroy. It’s possible to place an explosive charge to destroy a tank but stick that same charge on other types of objects and nothing happens. It also seems that many lights in World War II were completely bulletproof.
When playing as Arthur, the game allows you to use the D-Pad to give orders. This could have been fantastic but often there are only one or two targets to choose and your only option is to tell your team to attack. The missions are all so linear so there’s no chance to come up with your own strategy to tackle a situation. It all feels a bit pointless and a wasted opportunity.
Graphically the game is absolutely stunning and it really does look incredible on the latest consoles or a top-end PC. The detail of the environments is jaw-dropping and I wonder how much better things can get once games leave the older console generations behind. Combined with the audio you do really get a feeling of how horrific it must have been to take part in these battles.
Vanguard does also attempt to tackle some lesser known things from the war such as racism toward black troops. It also highlights how events impacted the entire world. It was good to see some different viewpoints and be given the opportunity to learn from them.
Overall I enjoyed my time with the Call of Duty: Vanguard campaign. It’s cinematic and technically very impressive but all over too quickly. There’s also little reason to come back to it as it’s so linear and the biggest choice you get to make it what gun to pick up next. This year’s instalment doesn’t have branching missions or even any collectibles to hunt down. If you buy Call of Duty for the multiplayer then the short campaign probably isn’t going to put you off and will likely be seen as more of a bonus when you eventually get around to playing it. Look out for our thoughts on multiplayer and zombies later this month.
Call Of Duty: Vanguard was reviewed using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Publisher: Activision Developer: Sledgehammer Games Release Date: 5th November 2021 Reviewed On: Xbox Series X Also Available On: Xbox One, Xbox Series S, PS4, PS5 & PC