This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Call of Duty: Vanguard.
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"Well, go on then, Yahtz! Tell us World War II shooters are overdone! And while you're at it, be sure to inform us that water is wet and modern political discourse is fucked." Ironically, pointing out World War II shooters are overdone is itself overdone; we're stuck in the fucking ouroboros of tedium, the snake eating its own tail while complaining that the seasoning is bland. Actually, I wasn't going to rag on Call of Duty for going Nazi-fartsy on us again, because I've come to accept that while shooters can't seem to get away from World War II, it definitely hasn't been for want of trying;the modern warfare trend was about as valiant an attempt as one could expect, and we all know where that ended up.
So fuck it; let shooters have their fucking comfort zone. It's the only uncomplicatedly good setting for a, quote, "realistic" shooter; get too close to the present, and war is mainly decided not by the ground-level machine gun exchanges that FPSes bank on, but by whose tech can make the biggest explosion happen the furthest away. Also, it's still the war with the best narrative, where the writers weren't trying to frame the side with aircraft carriers and predator drones as the plucky underdogs struggling valiantly against an opponent armed mainly with harsh language and angry livestock.
Besides, the lesson, "Don't be like the Nazis, you STUPID FUCKS!", is one that certain audiences still haven't properly internalized in this modern age, apparently. So fuck it; all is forgiven, World War II shooters. I mean, there were so many different people and places and levels of technology involved, it's basically just as versatile as setting a shooter in space, not that I think you should set them in space. Hey! Call of Duty! I said don'tdo that! No! Stop- Oh fuck, they set one in space. Fetch the mop.
Of course, having said it's a versatile setting, it would be nice if more World War II shooters made the most of that and not come back to D-Day all the fucking time. How many times now have I played a World War II game where we have to do something to ensure the success of D-Day? I feel like lone wolf allied commandos could've held a fucking convention behind the German firing lines at this point. Yes, Call of Duty: Vanguard does D-Day, as well as Stalingrad and the Fall of Berlin and all the other classic hits, with the framing device being the interrogation by evil, sneering Nazis of an allied commando unit more heartwarmingly diverse than a Great British Bake Off semifinal.
There's Black British Soldier, Grim Russian Lady - who's a sniper, because aren't they fucking always? - a mouthy Australian who peppers his dialogue with words from The Hack Screenwriter's Little Book of International Slang, and a cocky American pilot to occasionally tank a much-deserved biff to the chops. And yes, obviously, the Nazis are racist as all bollocks towards them, but people were racist across the board in the 40’s, and the most racism that allied NPCs ever display is directed at the Australian. Oh, and the American pilot's chapter features him teaming up with a colored regiment in the Pacific Theater, and they complain about their systematic oppression at the hands of their own government with the eye-rolling tolerance of high schoolers complaining about the mean girls' clique.
I'd say make up your own war if you're going to revise history, but we've established this is the only setting shooter audiences are interested in. "Oh no! Historical inaccuracy in a war shooter, Yahtzee?! Don't forget to also point out that, in real life, you can't heal gunshot wounds just by sucking on a floor tile for four seconds, and that most Allied soldiers didn't have cameras grafted to their noggins!" Okay, but before you run to the comments and start bayonetting those strawmen, let me clarify that it's not inaccuracy that bothers me. Because you know what else isn't historically accurate? Wolfenstein: The New Order. And you know what kicks arse? A disgruntled mule in a crowded bathhouse, and Wolfenstein: The New Order.
Because, in between fighting space Nazis on the Moon and cyborg Rottweilers with cheese graters for faces, the story actually addressed things like racial tensions within Allied nations and the emotional toll that war has upon those who fight it. It also featured characters who fuck, and that's Call of Duty's problem: you don't get a sense that any of its characters fuck, or want to go home, or play snooker, or do anything other than fight the war, because they're so bloody patriotic, even their genital warts are red, white and blue. When they lock horns with their superiors, it's not because they're being forced to kill their fellow man; it's only ever because they disagree on how to kill their fellow man with maximum efficiency. It's all so bloody lacking in introspection; the Germans are all sneers and mustache-twirling evil, and the Allies are good, and therefore, must have been progressive and diverse, because those things are also good. And incidentally, we have always been at war with Eurasia!
Throughout the arc story, our heroes are interrogated and tortured one by one as the Nazis attempt to turn them against each other, which might've been harrowing, if all the tension wasn't constantly being flushed straight down the toilet by the narration. "Little did those silly Nazis know, we were putting on an act and just pretending to betray each other to gather information! Ha ha, stupid Krauts! Let's all laugh at their little, snivelly noses and overly tight uniforms and little goose-stepping, adorable buttocks-- Fuck, where'd that come from?!" Could've been effective if they'd saved that reveal for a final act twist just when we think all is lost, but we have zero introspection, remember? So our characters can't, even for a moment, not be waddling under the weight of the biggest fucking bollocks in the room.
"You going to talk about the gameplay at all, Yahtz?" Oh, must we, viewer? It's Call of Fucking Duty: you point at everything vaguely head-shaped that's poking out from cover like nipples at the touch of a questing hand, then move up when the game says to, and not before, because if you do anything other than what the predetermined plot says to do, then it will usually just explode your fucking head like you're in the fucking Suicide Squad. The "final boss fight" - finger quotes the size of bratwurst - entails chasing a Nazi across an airfield and tackling them. I had to repeat it three times: the first time because the game never mentioned I was supposed to tackle him, so when I shot his prone, defenseless form, he insta-killed my nigh-invulnerable ass with a single pistol shot; the second time, I tried to shortcut my way through a spot that apparently wasn't part of the designated chase path, and the game exploded my head. Yeah, just yank on my fucking strings, game, for I am ever thy errant marionette.
Alright, fine, the gameplay has some highlights; the Russian lady's final boss was an intense Condemned-style close-quarters sneaky stab-a-thon that was a nice break from the usual shootout conveyor belt. But none of the other characters have unique abilities that fundamentally alter the gameplay; one of them can carry more grenades. Ooh, break out the min-maxing algorithm! Oh, and the leader dude has leader powers; sometimes, you can direct your NPC helpers to shoot a specific target if you feel like it'd help. Everyone's shooting everyone else already, of course, so it feels like trying to direct a primary school swimming class to piss in one specific part of the pool. Good analogy for the whole game, actually: a great big splashy arse-about in a kiddie pool version of history, without the introspection to notice when the water's getting suspiciously warm.
- More like World Snore Two: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- They should make Call of Duty: Dad's Army where Captain Mainwaring has to go around slitting the throats of Nazi double agents
- I guess the American Civil War had a decent narrative but there weren't any nukes