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'Call of Duty: Vanguard' heads back to the World War II well for campaign, multiplayer thrills

"Call of Duty: Vanguard" is an effort at a forward-march into the future bolstered by a tactical retreat to the past. Photo courtesy Activision Blizzard.
Posted at 11:36 AM, Nov 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-08 13:36:18-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — "Call of Duty: Vanguard" is an effort at a forward-march into the future bolstered by a tactical retreat to the past.

Completing its second decade of steady releases, the theme returns to the original World War II setting. The historical fiction-minded writers build the single-player campaign around Task Force One, dubbed the original special forces squad.

Taking on a post-Hitler effort to consolidate Nazi power, you hop across four theaters of war, including Africa, Midway, Stalingrad and the run-up to D-Day.

The exploits of an uneasy alliance among a British paratrooper, a female Soviet sniper, an American Navy captain and an Aussie soldier are filled with resounding twists and summer blockbuster-worthy set pieces, sending you dashing through an armored train, parachuting into the water and slinking through jungle and urban environments.

Oddly, some of the most formidable enemies are attack dogs that can take you out with a single chomp.

While few people play "Call of Duty" through the campaign, it's a symbol of single-player goodwill for "Call of Duty" to include it. The mode makes for a fine appetizer for the real draw here — multiplayer.

Whereas past few editions of the annual series have been focused on e-sports, this year the theme shifts to a game-as-service model. It's a somewhat counterintuitive approach, since the franchise is geared to marginalize the previous year's release with a new game each November. The promise from Sledgehammer Games is that seasonal content, mutliplayer maps and item drops will spruce things up throughout the year, with the overall intent being to keep "Call of Duty" at the top of players' minds.

At the core of the scheme is the free-to-play battle royale mode, Warzone, which lives on from year to year, incorporating each release with it. Pulsing with cosmetic microtransactions, the mode hasn't quite sliced into the genre dominance of "Fortnite," but offers a robust and polished war of attrition for those who thrive on the exhilaration and frustrations inherent to the mode.

For a sizable chunk of "Call of Duty" devotees, the main draw of the entire package is Zombies. With a hefty focus on cooperative action and narrative intrigue, the mode should sate gamers' thirst for undead carnage.

Standard multiplayer modes include 20 maps, spanning locations that highlight some of the high points in the campaign, as well as the franchise's World War II history. The array of weapons and combat flow slows down to accommodate the period setting, providing a welcome break from the frenetic thrills of recent-past and near-future-focused entries. The devs promise that a suite of analytical tools are in place to amp up security and ferret out cheaters. Since cheating — particularly on older "Call of Duty" multiplayer suites — runs as rampant as zombies, any advancements will be welcome to the rule-abiding side of the community.

"Call of Duty: Vanguard" may lack the flash and pizzazz of the "Modern Warfare" and "Black Ops" subset, but its penetrating look into World War II is a refreshing change of pace, and — as always, absolutely gorgeous and packed with action. Like its zombies, this franchise snaps back quickly from its falls and relentlessly seeks its spot in gamers' rotations.

Publisher provided review codes.

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