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Lady Nightingale could have saved Call of Duty: Vanguard from mediocrity

OPINION: Polina Petrova is what Vanguard should have been about, as the Russian sniper is the most interesting character Call of Duty has offered in years.

As the 19th game in the main Call of Duty series, it’s safe to say that we’re all very familiar with the franchise at this point. A vast majority of the Call of Duty games follow the same formula and use the same gameplay mechanics, with the main difference each year usually focusing around the advancements in graphics.

This time around, Call of Duty: Vanguard tried to mix it up a little; you play as four allied heroes, including an American pilot, a black British Sergeant, an Australian demolitions expert and a female Russian sniper. The game tries to put us in the shoes of these outcasts throughout the game, with most of the focus going towards the racism that Sergeant Kingsley has to deal with.

But I would argue that the more interesting – and better handled – character in this roster is actually the sniper Polina Petrova. She is one of the very few playable female characters in the CoD franchise, and her wasted potential is particularly noticeable.

Petrova is based on a real-life female sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Pavlichenko was a Soviet sniper for the Red Army during the second world war and she is credited with 309 official kills, which makes her the most successful and deadly female sniper in world history.

Lady Nightingale is also a clear reference to Pavlichenko, whose own nickname was Lady Death. In my opinion, that is already interesting enough to warrant a bigger storyline. Combined with the storyline that Petrova is given regarding her family and Steiner, she easily could have taken centre stage in Vanguard.

Not only would this be a very appreciated moment for all the female fans of the franchise, but if Sledgehammer kept her original gameplay mechanics from this game, it would be one of the most refreshing revamps for the Call of Duty franchise yet.

Since playing Vanguard, I can safely say that her missions were the most memorable. Her first mission opens up with her talking to her father and brother, as you’re given the chance to wander through Stalingrad and chat to neighbours.

While I wasn’t too thrilled with the comparatively slow and modest start to her story, if built up over a whole campaign instead of two levels, it would be one of the more emotional Call of Duty stories, as we would have time to actually understand why Petrova wants to save Russia and her family.

Call of Duty: Vanguard

Not only was her story a lot more impactful than the others – Australian demolition expert Lucas Riggs’ entire storyline was essentially based on him hating all of his superiors – but her gameplay mechanics offered a lot more variety to missions. Petrova can climb up walls and can move swiftly while crouching, meaning that all of her missions offer the player freedom for how you could attack. Will you snipe your enemy from the rooftops, or will you creep through the grates and takedown your enemy without anyone noticing?

And while Vanguard attempted to develop deeper themes around race regarding Sergeant Kingsley, the lack of resolution and confusing tone made it feel like Sledgehammer wasn’t ready to commit to this type of storyline, and instead just wanted to allude to it so it could say it tried. The theming around Kingsley fell flat considering everyone’s overly racist attitudes no matter which side they were on.

With Petrova, however, her storyline regarding gender reaches a much more satisfying conclusion. Her first mission starts with everyone reminding her that she is in fact a woman, and thus won’t be fighting alongside her brother, even if she is a more talented marksman. But as the mission progresses she comes into her own, with her and other characters acknowledging that she was the only person who could have saved everyone.

Again, if done over a full-length campaign, this storyline could have been fleshed out even more, and it feels like Sledgehammer was just more comfortable talking about gender rather than race, which calls into question why her character wasn’t pushed more into the spotlight.

If Call of Duty wants to use the well-worn backdrop of real-life wars like WW2, I don’t see why it can’t utilise the most interesting historical figures, and to half-use such a fascinating woman like Pavlichenko is such a waste.

If Activision wants to reinvigorate a series that is arguably becoming stale, it needs to mix things up and take some risks, and it will never do that if it keeps pushing some of history’s deadliest female heroes into the background.

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