Latest entry to ‘Call of Duty’ takes place in World War II while ‘Riders Republic’ brings a ‘Forza Horizon’ vibe to extreme sports
It’s a weird year when a “Call of Duty“ game feels like an afterthought. Activision’s flagship franchise will still be a blockbuster regardless, but the series doesn’t have the hype it once did.
Perhaps that’s due to the setting of the latest entry “Call of Duty: Vanguard.” It’s set during World War II as players take on the role of a special forces unit investigating a secret Nazi program called Project Phoenix. The Germans capture the squad early on and they interview them to uncover their secrets.
Those interrogations are essentially flashbacks that take players to different theaters of the war as players discover the history of the diverse unit. Right up until the final mission, it’s one of the better campaigns of the franchise. Each team member has a special ability or talent, and the campaigns are built around these abilities.
The leader, Arthur Kingsley, can command his squad to attack machine gun nests or strong enemies in order to distract or flank them. The pilot Wade Jackson has heightened senses that lets him spot enemies hiding behind a cover or during an ambush. The Russian Polina Petrova is the sniper of the squad and has the agility to quickly sneak through vents and clamber up walls.
Although it’s far from historically accurate, the “Vanguard” campaign is compelling enough to hold players’ attention before moving on to the multiplayer. The final mission is disappointing because it doesn’t feel like the payoff that the rest of the game was building to. Instead, the finale acts as an introduction to the more popular competitive modes and zombie co-op campaign.
That’s where the meat of “Vanguard” lies and where the developers focus most of their energy. The teams further polish the multiplayer to make it more in line with games such as “Overwatch.” Compared to other entries, it’s easier to jump into the multiplayer and have fun by setting up filters to cater to specific tastes among the seven available modes.
Players can even pick the combat pacing, which is a catch-all term for the number of competitors in a match. The smaller the number the more tactical and intense the combat. The higher numbers produce chaotic gunfights with more opportunities for kills. Along with that, customization is easier as players choose among perks, kill streak rewards and gunsmith weapon options. Players can also unlock operators, which are mostly cosmetic but give “Vanguard” more personality.
That emphasis on streamlining continues in the Zombie mode, where a squad of up to four players fights Kortifex, lord of the Dark Aether, and the Oberführer Wolfram Von List. Unlike previous chapters, the map is simpler with a hub world and portals that transport the squad to locales filled with different scenarios. Instead of wandering around unlocking new places in a complex maze, it’s a more straightforward approach so that players can focus on the cooperative play and progression that are hallmarks of the mode.
The big addition to multiplayer is Champion Hill, which acts as a fast-paced tournament mode. Teams of up to three engage rival squads in small arenas. Cash is important to buy power-ups and gear, increasing the odds for survival. Squads have a limited number of spawns as they battle others to be the last ones standing. It’s a mode that requires teamwork and rewards those who amass cash and spend it wisely to outfit their teams with the best gear possible before facing off.
Although “Vanguard” may not have been as hyped as other “Call of Duty” entries, it does a serviceable job at giving players an experience that’s more engaging and easier to get into.
A TRIP TO THE ‘RIDERS REPUBLIC’
Ubisoft Annecy showed promise with its open-world winter sports game “Steep.” It was a huge project that spanned the Alps and other famous mountain ranges. It was a concept that kept expanding as the developer added more sports through downloadable content.
“Riders Republic” is the natural evolution of that vision as Ubisoft Annecy moves beyond the wintry slopes. In this extreme sports title, players visit an open world that blends iconic U.S. parks such as Bryce Canyon, Yosemite, Zion, Canyonlands, Sequoia Park and Mammoth Mountain.
With such a diverse landscape, the developers add even more activities such as biking and rocket-powered flying on top of its familiar repertoire of snowboarding, skiing and wingsuit flying. The added sports demanded a new perspective and Ubisoft Annecy found it by creating the frame of an extreme sports festival, one in which the player is a promising up-and-comer.
It’s a notion that’s echoed in other franchises, most notably the “Forza Horizon” series. In fact, “Riders Republic” borrows heavily from the format that Playground Games pioneered. Players will find secret items called relics scattered throughout the world. They’re similar to Barn Finds. Taking a podium spot earns a player new gear in a manner similar to how cars are doled out in some “Forza” competitions. Although the festival idea is a good starting point, I wish the game had a more distinct tone with events that showed off more originality, though the Shack Daddy challenges are enjoyable if flawed events.
THE FUN IN THE EXTREME
Part of the fun in “Riders Republic” is winning contests and picking up better gear to be more competitive. Players also earn credits to customize the look of their character so that they can stand out among the competition. Tied into this gameplay loop is a burgeoning sense of mastery as players learn the ins and outs of each sport and its respective disciplines.
Not everyone will be great at everything, and there were some activities I didn’t care for. The ones involving tricks and running up high scores annoyed me because performing flips, spins and grabs didn’t come naturally as racing the downhill on a snowboard or bike. Whatever the case, “Riders Republic” is big and welcoming enough that players can find their own niche among the dozens of events scattered throughout the world.
Even if players don’t like racing or tricks competitions, there’s always the option to explore the huge world and take pictures, though the Photo Mode needs work. On the opposite end, Ubisoft Annecy amps up the competitive play with Mass Races, where 64 rivals run through a race that incorporates different sports chained together. Players can be riding downhill before switching over a wingsuit and then finishing the event snowboarding. It’s chaotic but also incredibly fun. If a giant online race isn’t to a player’s liking, they can compete in team tricks competition.
Not everything clicked with me in “Riders Republic,” but the developers offer enough that players will find something they’ll like.
‘CALL OF DUTY: VANGUARD’
2½ stars out of 4
Platform: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Platform: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna
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