On the surface Vanquish looks like just another humdrum space shooter featuring a nameless protagonist that will get lost somewhere between the latest military shooter and party game compilation. However, when you peel it back what you get is an expertly-crafted action game that focuses more on skill and improvisation than in-your-face cinematic moments. Vanquish may look like any other sci-fi shooter, but underneath the game has massive amounts of fine-tuning and class. Being the latest project from Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami and the talented group of devs at Platinum Games it was hard to expect anything less.
The story focuses on Sam Gideon, a DARPA researcher sent on a mission with the military to test out the performance of their new suit. This cigarette smoking hardass also has an underlying motive to rescue a kidnapped professor. Of course nothing goes as planned as the team boards the Russian run space station to stop them from detonating weapons of mass destruction, thus escalating the war between the two superpowers US and Russia. While familiar in context to almost any other sci-fi futuristic tale Vanquish doesn’t lack for effort. The game weaves a competent plot that is mostly only hindered by the borderline hilarious voice acting. The two main characters sound like screaming muscle-bound idiots, but thankfully you can opt to switch the dialogue over to Japanese if that is more to your liking.
Cut scenes are abundant within the game and are very well constructed. The game does not disappoint when it comes to overall presentation. Some of these cut scenes fall into the Metal Gear style as far as length, and the ending and interactive credits due well to wrap up the entire package. As annoying as I found some of the characters I still cared about what they had to say all the way up to the conclusion, and that is saying a lot.
At first glance Vanquish looks and feels like just about every other cover-based shooter. You can attach yourself to walls and fire at enemies from behind just about any object in the environment. What separates this title from what we have become accustomed to is style. Sam’s ARS suit is equipped with some pretty fancy features that allow him to navigate around the environment in style. The rocket boost allows you to skid around the environment at breakneck speeds making moving from cover to cover more convenient. Cover is a vital part of the game when playing on normal and above, as this is one challenging game. Bullets spray at you from all directions constantly and staying out in the open is a quick way to find one of the many game over screens you will be faced with.
Your ARS suit also has the ability to slow down time in a few different ways. While gliding across the level you can pull the left trigger to enter aiming mode which will activate the slow down. Your suit will also enter it automatically when your health depletes to near-death levels. This gives you a chance to bounce back in a fight and save yourself from loading another checkpoint. No matter how many times you die you never feel cheated outside of the occasional one-hit kills the bosses can land on you. In my opinion these are never fun in a game and I believe they are included simply to punish the player. Granted being hit by them is still your fault, that doesn’t make them any less frustrating.
The entire package rounds out nicely and lasts just as long as it should. Your game clock will likely display a number that may cause you to feel cheated for the price tag, but take into account that it only includes your actual act playing time and nothing else. Besides this is the kind of game that was meant to be played over and over again. Vanquish is the epitome of a speed-run title that gamers will likely be mastering for years to come posting some truly spectacular score and speed runs online. The included leaderboards allow you to compare your stats with the world, and upgrading weapons and earning better times and scores will keep you coming back if that is your thing.
My entire experience through the game was visceral. Every level felt like it was designed to keep me holding down the trigger, which is perhaps why it seems to fly by so fast. The game is a constant breed of motion and action that comes together so perfectly you really can’t help but have a good time once you get the mechanics down. Vanquish is the kind of game that becomes more fun the better you get at it. When you finally nail the slow down mechanic or manage to take down a massive mechanical baddie with a swift kick to the face, you begin to appreciate the flawless execution of how the game works.
Even more impressive is how well the game handles considering the plethora of action onscreen at one time. The game hurls massive bosses, hordes of enemies and tons of explosions all without ever missing a beat in the frame rate department. Sometimes it was awe-inspiring to see how much could be going on without the game missing a beat. My once complaint visually is that some of the environments tend to blend together. The forest and spotlight missions stand out, but the rest feel like sci-fi areas 1,2 and 3. The sound as I mentioned can be annoying at times with the less-than-stellar voice acting, but the pumping music and awesome sound effects more than make up for it. Plus you can switch it to Japanese for those purists out there.
Vanquish is the kind of game that harkens back to the glory days of arcade action. When scores still mattered and learning the mechanics were more important that a robust online mode and cinematic gameplay moments. This is action at its most raw and fans of the golden days of arcade games will definitely be in for a treat. Still it is hard not to mention that gamers looking for a one-time experience will likely be a bit disappointed with how quickly the game comes to a close. Nothing to collect and no online will definitely deter some of today’s gamers, but I still recommend giving the demo a whirl. The sheer execution and visceral action make this one of the sleeper hits of the year.
Review copy provided by publisher.