Inverse Game Reviews

Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer makes a compelling case for video game delays

Inverse Score: 6/10

I’m on a lengthy killstreak in Call of Duty: Vanguard and nothing can stop me — except for the game itself.

Enemies pour in from either side of the cramped Das Haus map. With my back to the corner of the southwesternmost room, I aim down the sights and shuffle between three lanes: A long hallway full of American Flags, one littered with mannequins, and another with huge piles of tires. I pull the trigger on my BAR assault rifle as soon as I catch movement from any direction. One, two, three, four kills stack up.

Then a friendly bomber drops a bunch of explosives around me. My screen flashes brown and black as my targeting reticle bounces in random directions. The smoke and debris obscure my vision just long enough for an enemy to hit me from a distance with an STG44 assault rifle.

My streak is over, but I’m left feeling cheated by the game itself instead of outmatched by my opponent.

Call of Duty: Vanguard was not ready to ship on November 5. But it did anyway. For everything it gets right, there are just as many flaws, making this game tough to recommend in its current state. Online multiplayer is Call of Duty’s bread and butter, but Vanguard’s centerpiece mode is severely lacking in several major ways.

For more on the single-player campaign, be sure to read our dedicated analysis here.

Customization at its finest

There is an overwhelming amount of customization in Vanguard.Activision

Call of Duty: Vanguard sends players back to World War II, the era that kicked off the franchise in 2003. The period has never looked better thanks to developer Sledgehammer Games: Vanguard has gorgeous 4K visuals, fluid animations, and realistic character models.

Sledgehammer emphasizes the series’ recent investment in customization, giving players more options than ever to play exactly how they want in Vanguard. It makes for the game’s single greatest strength.

New this year is the revamped Gunsmith system, which allows for up to 10 weapon attachments that substantially alter how a firearm performs. While a handful of the attachments aren’t useful, most are worth trying out.

There’s a lot to unlock — new muzzles, barrels, and stocks — which means you always have something to work towards, and progression feels meaningful and satisfying. In total, many of the primary weapons have up to 70 attachments, each of which must be unlocked. For the die-hard Call of Duty fans, that flexibility is a definite plus. Vanguard is arguably the best example of unlockables and progression done right in the history of the series.

Mountain of missteps

A lengthy list of bugs hold this game back.Activision

The moment-to-moment gameplay is as fluid and responsive as you’d expect. It’s hard to beat this formula, even if it’s starting to feel a little safe. Nevertheless, the Vanguard multiplayer experience buckles under the weight of numerous middling annoyances.

A botched spawning system means enemies to spawn directly behind you in Vanguard, giving them an unfair advantage. These sneak attacks throw off the pacing of a match, leaving you helpless as an opponent gets a free elimination. This can turn the tide in an objective-based mode, which is frustrating and often unfair.

Killstreaks are also in dire need of a visual nerf. Some of them cause your screen to shake, with debris and particles that make it nearly impossible to see at all. The flinch mechanic could also use some softening. Getting shot will force your crosshairs to fly upward, leaving you with no chance to react. Some may consider this a bold commitment to realism. It sure isn’t fun.

It can also be far too difficult to spot opponents. Due to the bland color palette, nametags are easier to spot than whole character models. This issue fluctuates from map to map, but overall, the visuals need a major tweak to make it easier to distinguish opponents from the monotone backgrounds.

Not ready for primetime

It’s clear Vanguard was rushed out the door.Activision

Many of the game’s challenges are bugged and won’t track progress. Some perks — such as Forward Intel — simply do not work at all. Other problems, like consistent packet loss on certain maps, bugged animations during the final “Play of the Match” segments, and cheaters need to be addressed urgently. Even a tweet from Sledgehammer acknowledging some of these issues would go a long way.

Vanguard does have its high points, notably its environmental design. Hotel Royal offers an exhilarating sense of verticality and plenty of routes, while Demyansk sets the stage for a grudge match for control over the sniper tower. Of its 16 main maps, almost all are worth playing, with only a small handful of duds like Numa Numa. While none reach the highs of iconic stages such as Overgrown from Call of Duty 4, most are well-designed and likely to grow on you over time.

Ultimately, the multiplayer is fun, but we advise waiting to play it at launch. Casual players might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to do, and diehards will likely end most matches frustrated by the aforementioned problems.

One thing is clear: This game should have spent more time in the oven before launching. A 15-year-old series tradition has mandated that a new Call of Duty game debut every fall, but maybe it’s time to let the past die. Vanguard might feel more complete after a few months of updates, but the current state is an unfortunate reminder that needlessly tight deadlines don’t benefit the people who make games or the people who play them.

6/10

Call of Duty: Vanguard is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Inverse reviewed it on PS5.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)
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