The new mode, Champion Hill, adds some complexity to a format that feels rooted in the 2v2 Gunfight Tournament mode introduced with 2019′s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.” Billed by developer Sledgehammer Games as a mix between Gunfight and battle royale modes, players compete as either solos, duos or trios against seven other teams in a round-robin-style tournament. (Only duos were playable when we demoed the mode Friday.) Teams start the tournament with 12 lives. Every time a player dies, that total decreases. Run out of lives and the team is eliminated from the tournament. The competition continues until there is just one team still standing.
Each one-minute-long round pits two teams against each other, and the team that records the most kills wins the round and earns an in-game cash bonus. However, the overarching strategy hinges on preserving your own lives more than taking the other team’s, which can create a few oddities that diminish the fun and fairness a little bit. (We’ll explain more later.)
Rounds are played on four firing-range-style maps with wooden structures and vehicles providing cover and offering different vantage points from which to fight your foes. Loot, such as money, armor plates and extra-life tokens, dot the ground — usually in exposed areas where players must risk taking fire to nab them. Much like in “Call of Duty: Warzone,” players can acquire items from fallen players when a team is eliminated and spend money at designated stations during a buy phase. The buy phase precedes the start of the tournament, returns as a break in the action every few rounds and also precedes the final round. There, players can purchase and upgrade weapons, perks, scorestreaks, armor, equipment and additional life tickets. The latter are a particularly valuable commodity given that the mode’s overall format hinges on having enough lives to continue participating in the competition.
In certain instances, the preservation of lives led to some less than enjoyable experiences. Occasionally, teams with only a few remaining lives tended to run and hide rather than engage with their opponents. This also creates a balance issue when there are an odd number of teams remaining. For example, while two other teams battled and drained lives from each other during one round, my team had a “bye” round (fittingly spent in the area for a “buy” phase) where we couldn’t be killed. It was a huge advantage for us as one team eliminated the other and had just two lives remaining compared to my team’s five. It made for quick work in the next round.
On the whole, the mode is a nice change of pace from standard Call of Duty multiplayer and “Warzone’s” battle royale mode. It didn’t feel quite as gripping as winning a Gunfight Tournament, where adrenaline is coursing through my eyeballs by the end of it, but it was a fun, new way to play Call of Duty. It will be interesting to see how players evolve the mode’s meta, as the importance of preserving lives may lead to a lot of “camping,” a dirty word for Call of Duty die-hards.
The maps on which the mode is played also showcase “Vanguard’s” evolving environments. Bullets and grenades can blow holes through certain surfaces (like boarded-up windows or doorways), and the damage done to objects in the map remains for the full duration of the tournament. The new dynamic didn’t look or feel quite as good as it does in the Battlefield series (where explosions can blow through cement walls and bring down entire buildings). For whatever reason, it seemed like bullets shot through boards too precisely, cleanly piercing the wood instead of shredding and splintering it under the impact of the rounds. It’s probably instructive here to remember that this is just an Alpha version of the game and not the final product — meaning there is time, and room, for improvement.
The destroyable portions of the map do add some interesting tactical wrinkles, though. In one round, a player shot out a fairly small hole in some wooden planks and then fired through the gap with a sniper rifle while almost fully covered from enemy fire.
These environmental elements are likely to have more of an impact in modes populated by more players (and could be a very intriguing addition if they’re present in the new “Warzone” map that “Vanguard” is bringing with it). In Champion Hill, however, there is so much emphasis on not giving away your location and such limited ammo and equipment that taking the time and ammo to alter the environment doesn’t make much sense.
Overall, it’s a neat new wrinkle to the franchise, but no one should expect “Vanguard’s” environments to play and react like those in “Battlefield.” It’s a good new feature, but it doesn’t feel like it will be a reason that anyone buys the game.
The game’s movement and gunplay felt very similar to that of “Modern Warfare” and “Warzone,” which isn’t surprising since “Vanguard” uses a newer version of the same game engine that powers those two games. The tempo of the action definitely skews to a more deliberate pace than last year’s installment, “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War,” which leaned more into a frenetic, run-and-gun rhythm.
It could have been because you start the mode with base-level weapons, but the recoil on these World War II weapons was distinctly more severe than the fully loaded guns found in “Warzone.” Be prepared to make some adjustments and utilize burst fire.
Though this is a very small slice of the upcoming game, the Alpha showed off elements that ought to prove enticing to fans of “Modern Warfare.” PlayStation owners can see them in action for themselves, with the Alpha remaining live until 1 p.m. Eastern time on Aug. 29.