Sledgehammer Games released the Call of Duty: Vanguard beta this weekend to allow early adopters a chance to dive in and get a sneak preview of the game. This release seeks a return to form of the Call of Duty games that gave the franchise its blockbuster status, and turns the clock back to World War II - a period we last visited in 2017’s release Call of Duty: WWII.
It’s an interesting choice for the developer, but not surprising; starting in 2012, every game in the franchise took us further and further forward into the future until 2019’s Modern Warfare (save for the aforementioned WWII release in 2017) brought us back to the present. But the series was built upon WWII, so now we’re back to WWII - albeit with some cunningly anachronistic technology. In my own research into the time period, I don’t recall ever finding out that the allies had remote-controlled tanks, healing-assisting stim shots (unless you count field-injections of morphine), semi-automatic grenade launchers, or holographic scopes…but that’s the trouble with making a video game that takes place in the past, being played by people who have come to expect laser-sights on their guns and getting a killstreak reward that turns you into a walking tank.
As someone who pre-ordered the game, I was granted Beta access and played it Friday night (Sept. 17th) and Saturday morning (Sept. 18th). What caused me to stop playing, you may ask? When they arbitrarily, and without warning, turned off my weapons’ XP, effectively crippling me in a state where I couldn’t use the pre-built weapon loadouts (because I’d reached level 4 and had unlocked custom loadouts), but I also couldn’t use any beneficial equipment on the guns I was unlocking through play.
Upon reflection, I’m not sure it would have helped anyway, as Sledgehammer seems to have based their physics engine off of The Muppet Show - the bobbing of your head (the camera) while walking is at a maximum, and when sprinting it feels more like you’re riding in the backpack of the sprinter, instead of running, yourself. They then overcorrect this problem when you crouch - applying what I have come to call the Cotton Hill Movement Engine; you move like you had your shins blown off (which is only appropriate, as this is a WWII game).
When it comes to the weapons themselves, they maintain their historical accuracy in capturing the fear and terror felt by all of the men and women attempting to liberate Europe by making it feel like you’ve never held a weapon before in your life. Recoil rates are jacked up to the point where the only thing you’ll hit with any consistency is the sky itself. Their “marksman” rifle must have been ironically named, as no two bullets will hit the same target unless you follow the prescribed method of fire-wait-crouch-breathe-wait-aim-fire, a process which takes approximately five seconds in real-time, and is guaranteed to get you shot and killed by the third step.
A fun new feature that they’ve hidden in the beta is what I call “Nerf Mode,” where I have shot at an enemy and counted the hit-marker sounds as high as eight before that person turns and kills me with a single shot (sometimes two). Having a gun that doesn’t actually hurt your enemies definitely adds a challenge to the game, but it would have been nice for the developers to notify the players of this ahead of time.
In previous Call of Duty games, they included a perk wherein you could mark your respawn point (Tactical Insertion). While I haven’t seen that perk yet (we’re only in the beta, after all), they have included a feature where you spawn directly in an enemy’s crosshairs. I remember playing one game where I spawned in a room and was shot in the back of the head, immediately, and then respawned on the other side of that same room just in time to watch my own corpse fall dead — and then get shot in the face by the same enemy who just killed my previous self. Then I respawned at another point in the same room, where I was then shot by another enemy, who was no doubt alerted by his teammate “Hey, this is the enemy spawn point and I just shot the same guy twice - get over here and let’s just fire randomly into space so they’ll pop up in a hail of bullets.”
To be fair, there are some new features and controls in this game - the ability to blind-fire from cover, for example - and I would love to comment on them, but I was killed immediately any time I tried to do it, so I cannot speak to their effect on gameplay. Fans of the Call of Duty series are no doubt aware of the franchise’s long-standing history of programming the game where you can hide in a corner, surrounded on three sides by concrete walls, and enemies can see you anyway, and shoot you dead while you have no idea what’s happening because, from your perspective, you’re hidden and cannot see anybody else.
If you’re a hardcore CoD player, nothing I say will change your mind about buying this game — hell, you’re probably already playing the beta as well (and undoubtedly doing better than I am at it). If you’re a casual fan of the series, please take the opportunity to think long and hard about whether you want to shell out $60 for a game that offers nothing new, and genuinely feels like a step backwards for the franchise as a whole; not just in the timeline, but in playability. I sincerely hope Sledgehammer uses the data collected during this beta release to fix the MANY MANY PROBLEMS it has, because if this is in any way indicative of the game to come, I’m going to cancel my pre-order and stick to either of the previous two games.
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