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    Call of Duty: Vanguard review

    Need to know

    What is it? Activision’s annual FPS, this time with a World War 2 theme.
    Expect to pay $60/£50
    Developer Sledgehammer Games
    Publisher Activision
    Reviewed on AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super, 32GB RAM
    Multiplayer? Competitive online and cooperative Zombies mode.
    Link Official site (opens in new tab)

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    Once again, Call of Duty spins its wheel of war, and for the sixth time in the series’ history, the needle has landed on ‘World War the Second’. Call of Duty has always been most comfortable booting Hitler right in the Panzerschrecks, nestled cosily in the history of the victors, safe in the knowledge that the baddies really were bad. But it’s also the most difficult setting from which to build something new. There are only so many World War II battles, after all, and Call of Duty has covered them exhaustively over the years.

    It’s a problem that Vanguard fails to resolve, which is a shame because there are hints of more interesting ideas amid the game’s familiar sights and sounds. But in the end Vanguard submits to expectation. There are certain things a Call of Duty game must be, and Sledgehammer ticks those boxes in dependable but unadventurous fashion.

    The campaign is most indicative of the gulf between Vanguard’s ideas and execution. The story revolves around a group of special forces agents plucked from different theatres of the war, who are dispatched on a secret mission to Berlin in the final days of the Reich. The action commences with a raid on a German train while fires from the Russian advance rage in the distance. This rolls seamlessly into an assault on a submarine dock, where the group learns about a secret Nazi operation known as ‘Project Phoenix.’

    (Image credit: Activision)

    There is one last issue relating to this year’s Call of Duty that must be addressed – the shadow beneath which it has launched. Sledgehammer’s game releases off the back of truly horrific allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard, facilitated by a broader ‘frat-boy’ culture that has led to the state of California suing the company. Sledgehammer, for its part, addressed the allegations against its parent company in the runup to release, and there are ongoing efforts by the ABK Workers’ Alliance to improve the culture of the company.

    It’s difficult to address this topic in a sufficiently nuanced fashion within the scope of a review. PC Gamer has covered the story extensively as it has unfolded and will continue to do so. Nonetheless, during the process of playing the allegations were never far from my mind, and although I wouldn’t want to punish the work of Sledgehammer for actions taken by people elsewhere in Activision Blizzard, I also find it hard not to be frustrated at the prospect of who might profit from the positive things I’ve said about Vanguard, and how that feeds, however slightly or indirectly, into facilitating a culture of harassment and abuse. 

    I hope there is no need to make such clarifications in the future, because there are glimpses of ingenuity within Vanguard, and perhaps Sledgehammer can take those ideas and run further with them on its next outing with the series. This time around though, my feelings are largely indifferent. The singleplayer has a couple of great missions, and the multiplayer has a couple of decent modes. But on the whole, Call of Duty: Vanguard is a war we’ve seen before.

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