Over the last four years, Call of Duty has dragged us into the gruesome underbelly of World War Two, the tense heights of the Cold War, the brutal politics of modern day warfare and now full-circle back to the four fronts of Second World War in Call of Duty Vanguard, coming November 5th 2021.
The Call of Duty gaming series has been a staple in many of our childhoods; playing Zombies until the early hours of the morning with a Red Bull to hand, ignoring our Mum when she is calling us down for dinner so we can maintain a k/d ration of 3. In life, you see, some things simply have to take priority. In recent years, we have been able to get stuck into Black Ops: Cold War, Modern Warfare, various Warzone updates and even Call of Duty WWII. Activision have published a game virtually every single year – an undeniably prolific trend which is now continued into 2021 with Call Of Duty Vanguard, a Sledgehammer, Raven, Activision and Treyarch collaboration set again in the Second World War. The myriad trailers for Vanguard look phenomenal, let's dive further into that rabbit hole.
What is the game's context?
To call Vanguard’s reveal trailer cinematic would be selling it short – it was 3 minutes of pure goosebump-triggering bliss. If Vanguard plays as well as its trailers watch, we are in for a real treat here. Peripatetically moving from four theatres of war, Vanguard entices us to take command of Lucas, a dogfighting US Fighter Pilot in the Pacific, Wade, Australian Tank Operator in the deserts of North Africa, as well as Richard, a British Paratrooper on the Western front and Polina, Red Army Sniper on the Eastern line. Though we play each characters story individually, their lives coincide with one another to pull off a classified operation at the tip of the spear, at the Vanguard. A game meant to span the entire globe, Vanguard holistically covers the narrative of the Second World War by homing in on the livelihood of four different fighting men, allowing us to delve into the tableau of each arena of battle, reflecting historically accurate skirmishes. Granted, Vanguard doesn’t yet seem like an original concept as such, yet it is the first WWII Call of Duty title immediately tuned to play on the ninth-generation consoles, and my word does it look extraordinary for it.
'Vanguard holistically covers the narrative of the Second World War by homing in on the livelihood of four different fighting men.'
How good are the graphics in game?
Running at a respectable 60FPS (and potentially at points achieving 120FPS) on both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X|S, Vanguard’s 4K textures are complimented by a myriad of game-amplifying graphical features resulting from hardware enhancements, like that involved in Xbox Velocity Architecture. Numerous weather conditions, like presaging cloud cover and viscous ground fog, are endorsed by the ninth-generation consoles, proving to supercharge the gravitas of the gaming experience. We could see these graphical mechanisms in action when admiring the melancholy plumes of smoke saturating the city skyline in the Stalingrad Play-through. In the same vein, it looks as though Vanguard’s character graphics follow in the suit of Black Ops: Cold War, perhaps looking to extend the meticulous attention given to Ronald Reagan to our four allied horsemen of war-time. Vanguard was built on the Infinity Ward 8 gaming engine, the same software that produced 2019’s Modern Warfare title, which gives the game technological freedom which it uses in part to take inspiration from other warfare gaming series, like Battlefield. The most obvious example of this reverent mimicking is in Vanguard’s ‘reactive environments’, a feature similar to Levelution map mechanics used in recent Battlefield titles. Vanguard is rumoured to respond to destruction in a way the Call of Duty titles have not yet seen, the map reflecting intense gunfighting and explosions with the map-altering demolition of walls and other structural elements. It is these touches that nuance gameplay, nudging it further towards reality, contributing to the moribund milieu of war and making the game that much more enjoyable.
Does Vanguard have a Zombies mode?
The Call of Duty series we know and love is just not the same without a Zombies mode, Activision know that – hence why they have had Treyarch deliver to us a fresh iteration in the Zombies story. Call of Duty Vanguard will work as part of a quadrant of gaming titles, including Cold War, Modern Warfare and Warzone, with Vanguard’s Zombies mode acting as precursor fuel to the Dark Aether narrative of Black Ops Cold War’s undead hordes. Players will travel through portals to visit gloomy and wretched versions of maps both from Vanguard, like Eagle's Nest, and from past games, as they survive against the hordes. The completion of objectives is a central tenet to Zombies' gameplay this time around, operatives will be tasked with capturing zones, assassinating specific zombies and even protecting members of the undead to some end. With the achievement of each objective comes the earning of Sacrificial Hearts which can be exchanged at the Altar of Covenants (sounds pretty grim) for a number of completely new perks that enhance your build or make life in the zombie dimension somewhat easier. On top of that, each operative working against Kortifex and Von List can work with dissenting Dark Aether entities and are henceforth granted powers that players can choose from: cloaking abilities, frost and fire explosions and team-applied damage boosts all look to feature. The zombie plague in Call of Duty Vanguard is sure a far cry from the simplicity of training hordes in Kino Der Toten, but all things need Der Enfang, new beginnings, at some point.
What can we learn from the Stalingrad Demo-playthrough?
Watching attentively over a sniper named Polina, a character designed to convey the fact that women played an integral role within the Red Army, we were nervously ushered through the wreckage of Stalingrad. The demo exhibited some merciless melee-attack stealth sequences, the mounted weapons system in action and even a feature allowing players to climb and scale walls. As Polina crawled so as to avoid detection, we could hear the cringeworthy echo of debris moving behind her, sounding as though her surroundings were anything but stationary, being shuffled around in the wake of movement; as promised, it seems, each setting can be interacted with in Vanguard. I was pleased to see that Vanguard's shooting mechanics looked clean and polished, with obvious hit markers, realistic recoil and silky hip-to-sight transitions. Perhaps, though, what was most obvious to me about how far this gaming series has come is its learned ability to create such ambient, cerebral atmospheres; as Polina explores her derelict abode, a moving symphony of sorrowful violins can be heard trying to prevail over the barking of Nazi Officers in the courtyard. More, a few minutes later, as the sun shines naively, that Stuka dive-bomber scene occurred, as the blood-curdling wail of the plane preceded a formation of dark objects as they eerily emerged from cloud cover, eventually wreaking havoc on the city. Man, that trailer was a hair-raising experience. Vanguard in this way looks as though it will be worth more than the sum of its parts; generation nine technology united with a harking back to what many call 'the prime days of Call of Duty', with a campaign feeling similar to the likes of the original Black Ops and Modern Warfare titles. If the demo trailer was anything to go by, Vanguard looks to be among the most raw campaign modes to date.
Will Multiplayer look and play the same?
Donning the signature Killstreak oriented and rapid-style pace Call of Duty games have deployed as of late, Vanguard's online multiplayer modes are much along the lines as what you would expect. You'll invariably run into the odd camper or player paying no heed to the objective, but on the whole I found the Beta ran well. I might be alone here, but I particularly liked the hearing loss and movement deficit encountered when under fire - it's punishing, but it slows down the pace of play. Shooter mechanics feel fluid and smooth, availing itself fully of new gameplay mechanics, like mountable sliding guns, that slightly modifies and nuances the traditional COD formula. Fans are voicing their troubles surrounding Anti-Cheat systems after the recent patch conferred to Warzone was broken in under 24 hours - we can only hope that Sledgehammer have an ace up their IW8 sleeve here. Hint: they might, it's called Ricochet, and it comes out in just a few weeks. Though the Champion Hill gaming mode looked polished within the game's beta, Patrol, a zone-defensive mode, seemed less convincing in function; I became quickly frustrated by random spawn points that had my team flanked through no fault of their own. That said, this was a Beta experience - Sledgehammer have had several weeks to resolve said issues since. Vanguard as just mentioned introduces a new battle mode in the form of Champion Hill, a round-on-round hybrid between Warzone, Gunfight Mode and Apex Legends where players will be able to form up to 3 versus 3 teams, earn cash and equip gun upgrades armour as you do in Warzone all whilst stealing the lives from other teams and battling to be the last team standing. I have to say, Champion Hill was by far my preferred gaming mode from the Beta, especially when all my team-mates were the same competency level.
How many maps are there?
Vanguard emerges from the chaos of the Second World War with 20 maps which we can safely assume will reflect the four fronts the game is set in, of which 16 are core multiplayer settings and the other 4 being designed for 2 vs 2 modes exclusively. Call of Duty Vanguard looks to inaugurate a new era of tactical multiplayer gameplay, transfiguring mounted guns into slidable killing machines, allowing too for blind fire from crouch and corner covers. In conjunction with the leaps and bounds made in SSD and CPU technology, it is likely that we will be able to play large, all-out warfare modes, perhaps reaching as Battlefield can up to 128-player matches.
As is often the case within the Call of Duty series, a panoply of slippery-slope post-launch content will rain down like V2 Rockets onto users of Vanguard, allowing for new weapons, characters and load-outs - I can only hope that the game this time stays true to history, maintaining an air of quasi-realism. News came out recently stating that Activision's 10 Core Studios are working on Call of Duty Vanguard, an effort reportedly said to involve 2,000 members of staff - leaving personal feelings aside, you have to admit that Vanguard has a lot of potential. As was the case with the Battlefield 2042 Beta, things were not all sunshine and rainbows in the Vanguard demo, but there were plenty of things to revel in and even as much reason to be optimistic too. Call of Duty Vanguard sees release on November the 5th (remember, remember), be that as it may we will still see footage of rudimentary features in the game via inevitable leaks and whatnot. I'll be waiting for release day myself; all part of the fun!
Image sourced in part from Stalingrad Demo.