Review: ‘Call of Duty: Vanguard’ beta revives the first-person shooter
Although the “Vanguard” beta had its problems, it shows promise for the series as long as the developer makes some necessary changes.
October 18, 2021
It’s mind-blowing that developers have churned out a new “Call of Duty” game almost every year since 2003. As November approaches, fans are dutifully preparing for the latest addition to the franchise, but this year’s release is anything but traditional.
“Call of Duty: Vanguard,” developed by Sledgehammer Games and published by Activision, will be released on Nov. 5 as the newest installment in the long-running “Call of Duty” franchise. The multiplayer beta — a prerelease opportunity for the public to try the game’s multiplayer mode — was available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC at different time intervals until Sept. 22. Though the beta contained some gameplay mechanic issues, it felt exciting and novel, with potential for the upcoming release if Sledgehammer Games takes community feedback seriously.
“Vanguard” shines in its deviations from rigid historical accuracy. The ability for players to use up to 10 attachments that alter a weapon’s characteristics was certainly not possible during World War II, and this is promising — it shows that Sledgehammer Games is willing to experiment. As long as they maintain the bleakness consistent with WWII, the developers should further push the game’s historical boundaries by adding more extreme elements to the final game, such as laser weapons and interstellar locations. There are also realistic ideas that the developer could include that players have not seen before, such as the Japanese experimental Model 2 submachine gun and U.S. Vultee XP-54 aircraft. Hopefully, the full game brings novel additions that differentiate the game from its predecessors.
Although numerous weapons in the beta, such as the BAR assault rifle, have featured in past “Call of Duty” installments, the gameplay mechanics make everything feel fresh. Features like being able to slide across the ground or sprint quickly by sacrificing weapon use make the game feel fast-paced. Meanwhile, the weapons themselves require skillful control and flexible positioning, which keeps the battles intense and stimulating. While playing, content did not feel recycled — rather, it truly felt like a reimagining of the weapons with a modern twist.
However, the beta displayed substandard power balancing between weapons. The StG44 assault rifle and MP40 submachine gun are so dominant that they flooded nearly every match, dissuading the use of other weapons. This is an issue in numerous first-person shooter games and it is exactly the type of problem that a beta is meant to identify. The revolving shotgun outputs inconsistent damage, even at the close ranges where it should excel, and the STEN submachine gun is simply too weak in comparison with other options. With only a few viable weapons, games quickly began to feel repetitive and stagnant, even though the beta technically offered plenty of guns for players to choose from. Sledgehammer Games must bring all the weapons in the game to a midpoint power-wise by improving the beta’s weaker options and tuning down the overbearingly powerful ones. By doing this, the final game will contain the maximum amount of content for players to use, which will keep the game exciting and varied.
It is worth noting that the snipers are extremely slow. “Call of Duty” is known for its quickscoping — when a player rapidly zooms in with a sniper and eliminates an enemy immediately when the crosshairs appear. It feels like “Vanguard” is now trying to push snipers to be more traditional long-range entities. Some attachments can decrease scope-in time on snipers, but not by much. In fact, some players removed the scope from their sniper rifles altogether in order to regain the ability to zoom in quickly. Given that the mechanic is such a vital and fun part of “Call of Duty” history, Sledgehammer Games should slightly increase the zoom-in speed for snipers to make them more viable for quickscoping.
For the most part, the maps are well-paced and lend themselves to varied gameplay options: Players can rush through buildings and take part in close-quarters battles or stay back and pick enemies off from long ranges. Even on a small map like Hotel Royal, which is set on a French rooftop at night and lends itself to high-intensity gameplay, there are longer sightlines that allow players to slow down if they wish. Map designs are well thought-out and give players numerous route options — on Eagle’s Nest, set in a hideaway, there is always a different path to take if one contains too many enemies to deal with.
Playing a six-versus-six game on the Red Star map, set in a destroyed Russian city, is excruciatingly slow. It is a struggle to find even one enemy per minute, which dampens the exhilaration that usually came with other smaller maps or modes with more players in the beta. Frankly put, Red Star should only support 10-versus-10 game modes in the final game — it flows well with that many players.
The spawns — areas to which players return when they are eliminated — are a weak spot in “Vanguard.” During the beta, players constantly spawned directly in front of enemies and spawns often did not change when enemies were bombarding them. After running away from the map’s center and reaching a seemingly safe area, an enemy would appear out of nowhere and take players by surprise due to these issues. This was a pervasive problem in the beta and the developers must make spawns consistent and safe in order to promote fairer and less frustrating gameplay.
The “Vanguard” beta certainly had some issues, but they are fixable. Sledgehammer Games has shown their ability to make something traditional — a WWII first-person shooter game — feel brand-new and exciting. If they are able to incorporate player feedback, the final version of “Vanguard” has the potential to be one of the most memorable games in the franchise.
A version of this story appeared in the Oct. 18, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Brian Savino at [email protected]