Since 2003 there has been a new Call of Duty gamehitting consoles every year and transporting gamers into heated wars of the past, present or future.
The 18th game in the series, Call of Duty Vanguard, once again heads back to the lines during World War II. But this time you could say this first-person shooter takes its story cues from something closer to a broad Expendables movie rather that a more realistic Saving Private Ryan.
Vanguard focuses in on a team of gritty heroes gathered from the Allied ranks for a special secret mission near the end of WWII. This nearly unkillable and diverse special forces team has in its ranks an American hot-shot pilot; an Aussie desert tank explosives expert; a Russian female sniper who became a national hero in the Battle of Stalingrad; and a Black British paratrooper who takes point as the group’s leader. Gamers alternate between these central characters—each with their own slightly tweaked skillsets—and battle through the current mission as well as flashback to their past defining solo moments in other stages of the war.
The present mission involves slipping unseen behind the lines and digging into Germany’s mysteriously super-secret Project Phoenix—a nefarious plot that Allied intel has dug up. They need to find out as much as they can about this clandestine endeavor, and if possible, put an end to it.
In the course of the game, players have the opportunity to battle in the trenches, engaging in trigger-pulling shootouts and up-close stealth kills in famous conflicts such as D-Day and the Battle of Stalingrad; snipe from building tops; parachute from a burning aircraft in a fiery hail of anti-aircraft fire; man a tank gun; and fly both an American and Japanese attack plane.
This being an Allied forces event, players are cast as the heroes who want to not only save as many people as possible, but hopefully help bring the war to a close. Though the team is made up of rough-edged, and in some cases downright unlikeable people, they do rally together and put their lives on the line for each other.
The German soldiers in the mix are painted as intrinsically evil. And their defeat through heroic, self-sacrificial efforts is portrayed as a distinct positive.
This is, however, a war game. And it involves soldiers being wounded, killed, captured and tortured.
Players look down a first-person gun barrel most of the time, using a variety of pistols, rifles, machine guns and grenades to blow their enemies away in the midst of sometimes very frenetic battles filled with constant explosions and enemy fire. Characters cry out in pain as they fall with spurts of blood. We see bloody head shots (sometimes in a zoomed-in focus), restrained prisoners bloodied and burned, and stacked gore-covered bodies. Airstrikes blow up scenery and send burning soldiers flying.
Players also use knives and other sharp objects to sneak up on foes and lance open a jugular or repeatedly impale torsos. Someone torturously drives a knife into someone else’s shoulder in a slow, deliberate fashion. A woman has her head repeatedly slammed to a tabletop during an interrogation. Etc.
As with other Call of Duty games, there’s also a “zombie” mode that can be accessed. It showcases a demon and his Nazi cohort who are determined to raise an army of undead. Players break out their arsenal to defeat more and more deadly crowds of the undead in gory, head-lopping, dismembering ways.
Through the addition of the Black Lieutenant Arthur Kingsley, this game also wades into the intensely sneering and racist attitudes of the German officers in the mix. “Negro” and “colored” are the worst of the verbal labels, but players will still need to be a part of a number of purposely ugly conversations.
And that all plays into this game’s broad action-movie feel and opens a door to the Allied group members almost bombastic flesh-rending sprees. It makes this game feel a bit more purposely flamboyant in its kills. And the language—replete with f- and s-words, misuses of Jesus’ name and various other crudities—can ring a bit larger than life, too.
We don’t encounter a lot of sexuality, but we can see images of lingerie-clad, cleavage-baring women.
Call of Duty: Vanguard comes packing many of the action-focused gunplay plusses that fans of the series will expect. And this time it opens its WWII setting and dives more deeply into the story’s characters. That deep dive, however, can be both interesting and at times disturbing. It not only numbs trigger-pulling younger players to the unrestrained bloodiness on hand but plunges them into a bog of nasty language and hateful story interactions, too.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.