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(Pocket-lint) - Come rain or come shine, there'll be a new Call of Duty to help you ignore the weather - and 2021 is no exception to that rule. Vanguard is on its way, and a series of Alpha and Beta tests have permitted us extended hands-on time with the next COD's multiplayer. Here's what we make of it so far

A breath of fresh air?

Look, there's no getting around it - we've done World War II before, in multiple Call of Duty games, so there's only a certain degree to which Vanguard's multiplayer offering can look and feel truly "new". While the maps are refreshed, the locations aren't exactly mind-blowingly newfangled.

Still, though, we think Sledgehammer Games deserves credit for the visual side of the maps we've played on. Whether you're tearing up a gorgeous hotel's upper floor and roof, sneaking around a Pacific military facility, or sprinting through a frozen town square in Stalingrad.

Everything looks gorgeous, with great detail and, most noticeable of all, engaging weather effects. In the Pacific, you'll see palm trees blowing in the wind and rain rushing across the sand; in Stalingrad it's a more frosty scene to be found, looking just as superb in its own way - although sometimes causing slightly iffy visibility at times, which will be something the competitive community will keep its eye on.

This is also enhanced further by the impressive damage effects on the maps, with plenty of destruction leaving them looking ruined by the end of a round.

The situation with sound is also solid - not quite as punchingly powerful as 2019's Modern Warfare, but with relatively reliable footstep audio and a pleasing range of variety when it comes to the many iconic weapons on offer.

Evolution not revolution

We were disappointed by the way Black Ops Cold War rolled back on Modern Warfare's additions to the COD formula, largely because of running a different game engine, so it's great to see the opposite is at play with Vanguard.

Tactical sprint is back with a flourish, since it lets you burst through some flimsier walls; meanwhile the weapon-mounting system from Modern Warfare is more in-depth now, letting you strafe a little along surfaces and really rewarding those who can use it on the fly.

Vanguard's time-to-kill, key to a COD's game-feel, is also a little quicker than in Cold War, which is a good thing - even despite it feeling brutal when you're caught cold. Similarly, perhaps because of the vintage arsenal on offer, recoil control is more of a challenge until you can really trick a gun out, and that'll hopefully be a good thing for the game's staying power.

Gunsmith is also now a 10-attachment system instead of five, which actually is closer to Cold War's approach, but with limited time to play and a level cap imposed, it'll take a while before we can work out whether or not the attachments are robust enough not to mess up the overall balance of the game.

A chance to reflect

Of course, these tests are just that - tests. There will be absolutely reams of takeaways from these pre-release testings for Sledgehammer, and the amount of change between the Alpha and Beta versions make it clear that the developers are keen to learn from community feedback.

For one thing, the flagship new mode, Champion Hill, didn't keep our attention that well. It's a randomised round-robin tourney in teams of twos or threes - and while it can be good fun, suspect spawns and slight weapon imbalances mean it's not quite perfect at the moment.

If Sledgehammer can finesse things right, and marry the impressive visuals it's cooking up with clear visibility and balance, though, then there's every reason to see this as an entirely decent COD-in-waiting.

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First Impressions

Judging by its Alpha and Beta tests, Vanguard looks like it could be a fairly safe bet for Call of Duty. It's not rewriting the playbook, but a solid showing is all that's really needed, and it looks like it'll deliver.

Can its full roster of maps stand up to the test of time, and will its multiplayer modes keep people's attention? Well, we'll have to wait and see whether Venguard can stick the landing.

Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 14 September 2021.