Published on November 5th, 2010 | by Cameron Woolsey
Reviewer’s Note: This Game was Reviewed on the Xbox 360.
It’s a shame that Shinji Mikami will stop directing games (for a while, at least). Because he and Platinum Games have discovered the very essence of videogame shooter fun and neatly packaged it for all to enjoy. And it called it Vanquish.
I’d like to cut to the chase: Despite a couple slow moments such as a stealth sniping level and a short anti-gravity scene, Vanquish is a shooter completely unchained with fast, frenetic action and with more bullets and rockets flying through the air than you have ever experienced before in any shooter to date. I realize it’s saying quite a lot, but Vanquish is hands down one of the most exciting shooters in years.
It might intrigue you to when I say that Vanquish is a game that uses many modern shooter clichés mainly borrowed from games like Gears of War. The camera is set to a third-person view and gameplay mainly consists of moving from—and firing from—cover to cover in a battlefield covered in chest high walls and conveniently placed boxes. So why is this game so fun? Simple, if you can imagine playing Gears of War and having a bloody good time as usual, when suddenly the Locust turn into robots and start charging you, giant robots a hundred feet tall land in the playing field firing dozens of missiles and laser beams as thick as a damn bus, and a tank covered in rotating saw blades bursts through a wall firing even more bullets at you, and the best way for you to dodge all this new madness is to move from cover to cover utilizing rocket packs attached to your legs, then you now have a pretty good idea how it feels to play Vanquished.
If you have played cover-based shooters before you shouldn’t have any difficulty getting into the groove of Vanquish. Pressing a button will cause you to slide into nearby cover and you can aim over to fire or press another button to leave or leap over or around your cover. If the above scenario didn’t convince you, unless you have a spot pretty well locked down, it’s almost imperative that you don’t stop moving; flying bullets and missiles permeate the air in many of the large-scale battles. And let’s not forget about the instant-kill giant laser beams that some of the boss enemies fire. If you see something charging up what looks to be the biggest freaking laser you have ever seen, you can probably bet that four foot tall wall won’t be enough to save your sorry metal ass. Luckily, moving from cover to cover is a breeze thanks to smooth, responsive, controls and the power of the A.R.S. (Augmented Reaction Suit), which has rockets attached to the arms and legs and allows you to move across an area or to cover in high speed.
Amazingly, even with all the action on-screen I never noticed a single moment of slowdown. The game runs at a blistering pace and never lags for even a second even as I boosted around a map dodging gun fire, missiles, and lasers flying in nearly every direction. Platinum Games should be applauded for building such a solid game engine.
Damage can come from all directions and it won’t take much to take you down. You don’t have a health bar in Vanquish; if you take enough damage the suit will activate AR Mode which is just a fancy name for bullet time. AR Mode can be activated manually by firing while boosting or by pressing the dodge button and then aiming down the sights. But be careful, using AR Mode for too long will cause the suit to overheat. Overheating is something that will happen a lot over the course of the game. Boosting for too long will cause you to overheat, as will activating AR Mode manually for too long, using a melee attack, and, as I’ve said above, taking too much damage. When the suit overheats it requires around five seconds of time to cool off. Now that doesn’t seem like a long time, but in this game five seconds feels like an eternity. A green clock displayed on the HUD shows how long until the suit overheats, so be sure to watch it; taking too much damage after overheating will eventually turn you into a moldering pile of metal.
Boss fights happen a lot in Vanquish and usually consist of fighting gigantic death machines with the power to utterly destroy you in an instant. Sounds fun, right? Every boss enemy has specific weak points–which are mostly the joints—and after taking enough damage will cause the metal monsters to temporarily shut down and expose their power core which can be shot to chip away at their health bar. After they take enough damage, you can destroy one of their limbs by activating a QTE event which, despite the overuse of QTEs today, is actually pretty fun and about as impressive as you expect from Platinum, a team that brought fast-paced QTEs to a whole new level with Bayonetta.
The environments and backgrounds in Vanquish completely took me by surprise. Vanquish isn’t just a game with a sequence of small skirmishes in small to medium sized arenas. Several times during the game I felt my jaw drop when something happened that I never would have expected from a game of this genre. A good example is a scene right at the beginning where a large battleship was flying in the direction of the battlefield while taking enemy fire. Normally this would be nothing more than a fancy-shmancy background to make the game seem more impressive, and I actually dismissed it as such and focused more on the fight at hand. But as the ship drew closer it began to list in my direction while bursting into flames. Surprised, I watched as it quickly flew over the buildings and then over the battlefield, passing only yards away from where I was taking cover, casting a dark shadow across the field as it went before crashing into a wall behind me creating a breach that allowed myself and my accompanying soldiers to pass through. These moments happen often in the game and impressed me every time. The better ones included a high-speed train chase and a ride over the city in a stolen enemy transport vehicle.
It’s Platinum’s expert dedication to production value and epic moments that keep Vanquish from the realm of a standard shooter and turns it into something really unique and special.
There are quite a few weapons to choose from in Vanquish. From the standard assault rifle to sniper rifles and rocket launchers, and to futuristic weapons such as a blade launcher and a targeting laser gun. Upgrading these weapons is essential and you can occasionally find upgrade power-ups floating on the battlefield. At first enemies are fairly weak and they can be taken out in a few short bursts from the assault rifle. But later, enemies get far tougher to take down and some of them can shrug off damage like if you were firing peanuts instead of bullets, so upgrade, upgrade, upgrade!
So with all this good stuff happening, there can’t possibly be anything bad, right? Unfortunately, not everything about Vanquish is good. The first thing that needs to be mentioned is the length of the campaign. It’s probably the side-effect of having the game dialed up to eleven most of the time, but I was able to run through the entire game in just under five hours on normal difficulty. You can go through a level again to try and earn a better score, but not everyone will do this and it can’t be used as an option to increase play time for a game that can be finished in one sitting. The game includes no multiplayer of any kind, but there is a Challenge mode which pits the player and a group of NPC marines against ever-increasing waves of enemies.
The second bad point lies with the story. I know I was never able to review Bayonetta for the site, but if I did I would have given high marks as it happened to be one of the best action games I’ve played in years. However, the one point I would mark it down for would have been the pointless and direction-less storyline. Apparently, Platinum still has yet to learn the elusive art of storytelling.
The story is placed in the near future where a group of Russians (what’s up with Russians these days?) take over an American space colony and use it to microwave the entire city of San Francisco—because every space colony in the future will also be a gigantic gun. The hero, Sam Gideon, an agent of the U.S. agency, DARPA, using the newly developed A.R.S. battle suit, is sent with an army to bring the colony back under U.S. control. What follows is a confusing mess of terrorism, obvious betrayals, baffling plot development, and little to no character development whatsoever.
The only real saving grace lies with some of the characters themselves. While none of them are particularly good, per se, especially since the voice actors felt that sounding manly meant making the person sound like they’ve smoked two packs a day since they were eight, I found Sam to be a character that I disliked at first but slowly began to get used to as the game progressed. I almost immediately liked LC Burns who began the charge against the robotic Russian horde with a line taken directly from Starship Troopers. Another moment that stuck in my mind was during a charge toward the enemy, I watched as Burns slammed his girth into a wall for cover, reached into hit vest and pulled out a silver flask, and then take a few swigs before turning out and ripping apart three robots with the biggest mini-gun a single man should be able to carry (whiskey a-go-go, baby!).
I won’t go too much further into the storyline; just know that it really isn’t something you need to take very seriously. Near the end they try to sneak in a hackneyed morality lesson about war not being the answer which is a clear wag of the finger at the U.S. over the current war in the Middle East. They really don’t try very hard to hide it. There is even a scene where blood gets splattered across the American flag. Yes, it’s that bad.
Vanquish is not a perfect game, but the fast-paced combat and rich, impressive details and amazing scenes all come together so nicely that it completely refreshes the shooter genre. Regardless of its shortcomings, Vanquish is a success and is easily a must-have game. Fresh, adrenaline-fueled and over-the-top, Vanquish is one of the funnest shooters to come out in years. You owe it to yourself as a shooter fan to pick it up.
+ Great visuals
+ The action almost never lets up
+ No slowdown
+ Impressive environments and backgrounds
+ Taking down giant enemies is immensely satisfying
– Storyline is just…bad
– On the short side