Call of Duty: Vanguard’s multiplayer offering feels like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but with World War 2 weaponry. It’s still distinctly Call of Duty in the bizarre slapstick humour of a man wielding a Thompson submachine gun with an angled foregrip leaping into a window, chased by savage attack dogs.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is Call of Duty as you’ve always known it: run and gun shootouts, the constant pinging of upgrades and a series of godawful killstreaks. But, this does seem closer to the lightning in a bottle excellence of Modern Warfare than the unsatisfying carnage that Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War’s title devolved into after a few months.
We had a few hours with Vanguard’s multiplayer – a tiny amount of time to try and dive into the depths of a game that’s going to live and die on how satisfying it feels to play in 500 hours, but initial impressions are pretty good. We even got a real Call of Duty experience, courtesy of a few people.
It’s bizarre, because even though it plays well, there’s a real tonal dissonance with how smooth everything feels. The lightning-fast pace and high speed, low drag feeling that worked so nicely for Modern Warfare’s tale of black ops badasses is still present and correct here, which helps for silky gunfights but doesn’t feel very World War 2.
This is fine, but anyone hoping for a return to the bolt-action brilliance of Call of Duty 2 will be disappointed, as automatics are the terrifying norm here. I used the STG 44 (a German WW22 assault rifle, the first of its kind) and DP27 (big Russian machine gun with a magazine like a dinner plate on top for carrying all of the bullets) quite a lot, but found myself settling for the Thompson, as the default 50-round drum was good for all of the digital murder I found myself doing. I didn’t really feel the sort of difference in heft I was hoping for, but I was thinking about the game all wrong – Vanguard is a game about empowering every single player, meaning every weapon feels overly lethal and while you’re all respawning constantly, no one’s feelings are ever hurt.
Similarly this “have it your way” approach extends to the methods of play – the tactical mode will allow you to play a tense six on six match, which will have you desperately listening out for footsteps and using the new environmental destruction to make tiny murderholes in any walls you’re hiding near. I enjoyed this, and it felt like moments of tense movement were punctuated with sudden, horrific, violence.
Then there’s the blitz mode – which isn’t my cup of tea, but has 12v12 matches in the same maps. This feels more akin to a 24/7 Shipment experience, with angry enemies surging out of every position, maps full to bursting with things trying to murder you.
Both Vanguard modes have this same really low TTK, meaning most engagements are over in seconds. I adore this, and it feels more like the hardcore experience I gravitated towards in Modern Warfare, where you can easily take out two to three people if you have the mechanical skill and a bit of luck on your side. It feels awesome to pull off, but obviously feeling awesome is a core part of the game’s DNA.
And it mostly works, but it does fall down in a couple of areas, primarily when you’re playing in the chaos of Blitz mode. Respawns are pretty grim, exacerbated when you’re playing in the player-heavy Blitz mode, making it entirely possible to get into the wrong “flow” and just get shot again and again and again. It’s a classic Call Of Duty problem, and one that hindered my enjoyment somewhat here, too.
The second part is the bloody killstreaks, which can still cause a real headache, especially when you’re hiding on top of a chimney trying to avoid getting eaten by attack dogs, which if we’re honest also sucked
But outside of these annoyances that, well, I’ve been banging my drum about for several years, Vanguard is a fairly solid Call of Duty offering. It has clearly been influenced by the success of Modern Warfare, and in the two years since that game reinvigorated the entire franchise, Vanguard has been cribbing some of its best bits.
Like the Gunsmith system. With it, you can bolt any old crap onto your Thompson, from fancy sights, silencers and a variety of foregrips. It’s impossible to say how deep this goes – Cold War’s efforts were somewhat limited and also hard to understand how say, a rubber band on the pistol grip of your rifle would increase your melee speed – but it looks easy to understand at the moment with clear numbers stating what this will improve on your weapon, and also what looks like a substantial heft of things to do to your new toy.
It doesn’t have the “newness” of the contemporary setting, that saw you shooting it out in rundown dockyards, and getting sniped, constantly, by a man crouched in a shop window in Piccadilly Circus while you tried to work out which thermal sight or laser combo was best for you, but that could work in its favour here. Vanguard captures that same magic and feels every inch a modern “put all of your hours into me” shooter, but also delivers something unique.
Hell, if nothing else at least they won’t add yet another bloody MP5 to Warzone, so what’s not to love?
Call of Duty: Vanguard is out on November 5