Call of Duty: Vanguard’s campaign shows just how far behind the series is in narrative and gameplay

Call of Duty: Vanguard’s campaign is an improvement on what the series has been doing, but it very much still falls behind other shooters like Battlefield or Overwatch. The game feels like a step in the right direction for Call of Duty, but it needs to keep up with its competitors if Activision wants this new franchise to be successful.

The “vanguard campaign levels” is a game that shows just how far behind the series is in narrative and gameplay.

Editor’s note: It’s crucial to remember that Call of Duty: Vanguard is coming out at a time when Activision Blizzard’s work culture, procedures, and parent company’s answers are being questioned, resulting in a number of lawsuits. Despite the fact that the Vanguard team has not been involved in these events, the backdrop is still important. In the end, it’s up to the customer to decide whether or not they’re still willing to buy this thing after all of this.

A Call of Duty single player campaign, no matter how good it is, is virtually never the reason why a player continues to play the game. In any case, the idea, characters, and settings of any Call of Duty game are pushed to the center of marketing in the lead-up to its release. The elevator pitch for Call of Duty: Vanguard features a global squad of four in a prototype “Special Ops” unit, with a plot promised to be “truly engrossing and gritty” by developer Sledgehammer Games.

The creators behind these campaigns usually show a lot of passion and energy, yet practically every Call of Duty story ultimately falls into the same pitfalls, due to the game’ structural restrictions. Despite some of Call of Duty: Vanguard’s technological and cinematic accomplishments, the single player campaign is a “also-ran” among the other forgettable Call of Duty campaigns. Vanguard can’t help but seem derivative of previous triple-A games, despite notable departures from the norm.

Activision provided this image.

Still, the cast of Call of Duty: Vanguard deserves recognition — this could have easily been a band of walking caricatures or a G.I. Joe-style cartoon, but the Vanguard team members’ characterisation is good. The battalion is led by Arthur Kingsley, a black British sergeant, and it was refreshing and enlightening to see his ethnicity enter into language and interpersonal interaction. Polina Petrova, a Soviet sharpshooter who becomes known as “Lady Nightingale” in her hometown, is in a similar situation. While no one will win an award for this novel, the communication between characters seems natural and different.

Vanguard takes a new approach to narrative structure than previous Call of Duty games, switching between current day and flashbacks to provide each of the four major characters with their own past and growth, as well as to draw similarities between then and now. However, since Call of Duty campaigns are designed to be brief, there isn’t much time to fill out the core narrative. 

We spend a lot of time learning about how American pilot Wade Jackson rose above the clouds and evolved into a true team member on the battlefield, or how Australian demoman Lucas Riggs developed and hardened despite his short temper. The Vanguard unit’s exact purpose remains a mystery throughout the film – something about obtaining certain files, we’re informed on occasion.

Call of Duty: Vanguard campaignActivision provided this image.

Related: Call of Duty: Vanguard Zombies and Der Anfang are practically identical to Black Ops Cold War in nearly every regard – Hands-on impressions

Even while the many chapters look to give variation at first, the flaws start to surface when you notice that all four characters have the same outline. Each of these tales has a main character who is facing great difficulties in an uphill battle, introduces a distinctive gameplay gimmick (such as Polina attracting sniper fire or Lucas carrying a variety of explosives), has a covert mission, and finally loses a close friend or comrade in arms. Because we spend so much time with these individuals individually, there isn’t much opportunity to learn about their relationship as a group – as a consequence, the final goal seems hurried and manufactured.

While many video games use some type of programming trickery and deception, Call of Duty has always been a simple franchise to crack. Even when certain gimmicks deviate from the Call of Duty standard, the franchise’s broad guardrails are often visible. You may issue orders to your soldiers as Kingsley, but don’t anticipate subtlety or flexibility in strategy – you can only choose instructions when the situation prompts you to. You’ll direct troops to concentrate their fire on a turret so you may flee to safety, and when you turn around, you’ll witness bullets materializing and flying from thin air towards whichever predefined target you choose.

Call of Duty: Vanguard campaignActivision provided this image.

Similar to the Hitman series, Wade has a “Focus” ability that freezes time and depicts close foes as white outlines. This ability only lasts a few seconds, and his excessively linear stealth courses pale in comparison to Black Ops Cold War’s KGB level’s effort to emulate the Hitman pace. Polina’s stealth sequences are more open, allowing her to move around more freely and sneak into tight corners. But when I circled in circles in a final boss battle with nothing but a knife, I remembered a near-identical moment in the Modern Warfare campaign from 2019. Even that seemed like a rip-off of previous asymmetrical “stalking” boss battles in games like The Last of Us.

Even when Call of Duty: Vanguard attempts to add something new to the standard CoD formula, the end product falls short of anything you’ve seen before. That’s not to say that previous Call of Duty games haven’t tried to disrupt the mold – consider Black Ops 2 from 2010, which had many narrative pathways and RTS elements, making for an utterly insane experience. Or the underappreciated Infinite Warfare from 2016, which genuinely immersed players in the role of a commander. That tale offered a variety of extra objectives as well as a feeling of overall momentum, making the whole campaign seem like a continuous action scenario set in a surprisingly real and believable future world.

Call of Duty: Vanguard campaignActivision provided this image.

Related: Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer is a fun, albeit uninspired, experience | First impressions

All plot aspects with promise — Kingsley’s race and stature as a leader, Polina’s gender and pseudo-celebrity, the unsettling friction between England and Australia — are all downplayed by the final campaign goals, allowing these four people to descend into dumb action heroes. Not to add that the story spends much too much time on a Nazi commander played by Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings and Lost), who attempts to wheedle his way out of problems with his superiors. The plot ends unusually open-ended and very suddenly, similar to Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War, to support the narrative’s “continuation” in multiplayer and the live service in Warzone. I was expecting an iris out and a Looney Tunes-style “That’s All, Folks!” at the conclusion of this “engaging and honest” narrative.

Even as I commend Infinite Warfare for seeming genuine and substantial, I still guffaw at Kit Harrington’s villain uttering “Mars Eternum” with a straight face in a Call of Duty scenario. But no matter how intricate and gorgeous the cinematics are in Call of Duty: Vanguard, or how good the language and characters are, none of it matters in a tale that can’t compete with today’s triple-A blockbusters, or even Calls of Duty from the past.

The “vanguard campaign mission list” is a game that shows just how far behind the series is in narrative and gameplay. The game has been out for over a year, but it still feels like a beta.

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