Date Released: October 19, 2010
Date Reviewed: December 28, 2010
Players: 1 Player
Length: 4-10 Hours
Replayability: Entirely dependent on how much the player enjoys improving their score
Vanquish is the second 2010 HD action game by developer PlatinumGames, right after the universally acclaimed Bayonetta and the first game Shinji Mikami directed since God Hand and Resident Evil 4 under the publisher Capcom. Unlike any of their prior releases however, Vanquish is a third-person shooting game that takes place in a futuristic setting. Inspired by many concepts from popular franchises such as Transformers, Gears of War and Call of Duty, the end result leads to a very unique and very challenging game.
Vanquish is a very fast paced 3D action game that mainly focuses on third-person shooting but features some light elements from the “Beat Em’ Up” and role playing genres. There is a huge emphasis on the player always moving even with all of the cover they are allowed to take. There are a handfull of abilities that are very simple to understand and can accomplish a great range of effects, but are very hard to truly master, such as sliding across the ground at the speed of a rocket.
The game is designed similarly to arcade releases from the constant use of leaderboards and not much else. It is made with creating a very unique and fast paced single player experience in mind only. Anyone interested in the title for potential multiplayer have the wrong view point on the game entirely.
Set in the future where the world is greatly overpopulated and resources are dying out, the United States of America create a space station that generates solar power from space. However, it is overthrown by a set of fictional Russian ultra-nastionalists who then use it as a weapon to destroy San Francisco. The leader, Victor Zaitsev declares that he will launch an attack on New York City if the American Government does not completely surrender to them.
The President refuses to however, and sends Burns, a hugely decorated solider and many of America’s top special agents to stop Zaitsev. With this comes Sam Gideon, the main character from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and their most advanced armor known as the ARS (Augmented Reaction Suit) along with the personal assistant Elena to give him information through the mission and with the ability to hack some of the objects found throughout the game. Sam is given specific classified orders to locate and save a doctor that was working on-site when the space station was overthrown. Burns realizes you are more important to the mission than him, and right away strongly dislikes everything about you.
While the characters are not particularly interesting, they have a lot of personality, but even with this the story of Vanquish is easily the worst feature of the title. The majority of the game has no overall plot direction and is basically just used as an excuse to take the player to different locations and fight interesting new enemies every now and then. The cutscenes are brilliantly designed from an action perspective, but not in any other way, especially near the end where basic logic is lost through the storytelling and the game ends abruptly – So abruptly in fact that it seems as if a whole extra level in the game is missing entirely. All of these can be skipped and thus are incredibly easy to ignore if the player so chooses.
Vanquish shares many design elements from other third-person and first-person shooters, mainly from the cover and rolling mechanics. Where the title first distinguishes itself from is the ARS mode more commonly known as “Bullet time” in videogames where all of the action slows down to a crawl. When this is initiated the player is able to do many things that are nearly impossible in the normal state, such as shooting bullets and missiles out of the sky, hitting enemies up higher and higher in the air and a few other neat tricks.
What is especially unique about this is that the player must be aiming their weapon while doing a sudden movement, like rolling or boost dashing, you cannot stand and shoot. With this the player will also realize that the bar that tracks how much life, boost power and the amount you have left for slowing down time are all the same, planning ahead is crucial and that can be very hard to do when so much is happening all at the same time. The game usually remains enjoyable because there is usually no “Correct” way to complete any mission with great level design that is open enough to give the player the ability to try just about anything they could imagine, but not too much that they could ever get lost.
There is a very disappointing amount of weapons available in the game. There are only two grenade types (one of which only disables enemies for a small time) and only eight guns overall, most of which are very standard to the genre. There is a very unique spin on all of this though, with the BLADE system that morphs your weapons into the ones you need on the fly. The best part of this is how you can “Level up” your weapons by collecting more of the one you have, it is the single most enjoyable part about replaying the game outside of improving your score as it takes awhile to level up weapons all of the way, so you can make each playthrough work completely differently if you would prefer. What is even more unique about this is that each level has boxes littered all around that contain a randomized weapon meaning every time the player starts up the game they will experience a new way to play every time, and because the weapons you carry throughout the game are never swapped in between levels it is possible to have your favorite weapon for the entirety of the game.
As mentioned before, the game is very challenging. This usually comes from overwhelming odds against the player, but most of the time this could have been avoided if the health system was more forgiving. Even on many of the easier settings it is possible to die within seconds of starting up some of the levels. The five difficulty settings attempt to fix this to make the game accessible to most, but it does not succeed anywhere near as much as Bayonetta did. The unlockable challenge levels do not allow a choice of difficulty and last for up to half an hour with no checkpoints. While obviously possible, almost everyone who plays Vanquish will not be able to finish them, or even want to as the only thing unlocked from playing them is having your score on a leaderboard, and one achievement/trophy for your game console profile.
Based on the developer’s history it is surprising to see such little focus on close quarters fighting. Most of the enemies have close range attacks that can instantly kill you and if Sam throws just one punch at all, your shield disappears entirely, meaning just one bullet is able to kill you right after. The checkpoints are usually common enough in the game, but if the player dies at all on Normal all of their weapons level down, on harder difficulties it goes much further than before even. This is generally bad design and can be avoided by exiting to the title screen when you die and then retry the same mission.
Most titles of similar genres this generation feature context sensitive control layouts, with Gears of War for instance the player can use the A button (Xbox 360 controller) to jump out of the way, sprint and take cover, but in this game all of those abilities are through three different buttons. Initially this may take some getting used to and the game expects the player to learn fast, which may turn off some people, but once the basic concept of the layout is understood Vanquish will start to feel smoother than many of the other most popular third-person shooters out there.
There are a few instances when something might go wrong though. While rare, sometimes the aim might twitch too far to one angle and not every wall can be used for cover, so because there is no way to duck or hide in any way from enemy fire from all different angles if the player is unaware of their surroundings the game can get very frustrating very fast.
The game features a lot of explosions and gun shots going off at all times, but all of them feature unique sounds and work wonderfully in surround sound, especially when time slows down. The only complaint that can come from the overall sound direction is that the voice acting is poor and overly cheesy, but even that is hard to argue with when six voice options are available.
Vanquish features a very fast paced soundtrack, but it is hard to pay attention to because something is almost always happening in the game. With this, the music succeeds in helping with the action, but it is unlikely that the player will remember a few, if any after the game is finished.
Vanquish takes place in a Russian space colony with a purposely sterile design where most of the surfaces are covered with metallic textures. The art is in no way bland however, as almost all of the enemies are contrasting colors to help the player to differentiate them from the rest of the incredibly detailed world around them. A clever idea is that each weapon has their own color of text, so the player can instantly identify which weapon is next to them, even if they cannot look away from whatever else is on the screen or want to pick it up just as they pass by.
Just like with Bayonetta, Vanquish does not have the highest amount of polygons or the highest quality textures from this generation, but it runs smoothly throughout the entire experience. It never skips a single frame even when dozens of enemies are on screen, buildings are falling everywhere and when thousands of spark particles and missiles cloud the entire sky.
Also similar to Bayonetta is that the cutscenes are expertly animated and are easily compared to some of the best in the entire industry, but this can sometimes make the flaws with the graphics even easier to point out as some of the models of the characters the story does not focus on can be very blocky. Even stranger though not an actual problem is how Sam himself has no in-game walking animation, meaning you can only jog or boost. This is not an issue, but it can look very strange and it stands out when Bayonetta had multiple movement animations for each weapon.
The art style of Vanquish was originally inspired by the reboot of the Casshern animation series, known as Casshern Sins. Many of the concepts that were going to be in the title early on were scrapped during development and would have altered the play style of the product entirely. These include a robot dog companion that you could combine with and one where the ARS suit was controlled remotely from three different characters within the story.
Developer Shinji Mikami has gone on to admit that many of these concepts may return if they ever make a sequel. However, as he has gone on to make his own studio that has been purchased by Bethesda and as SEGA owns the Vanquish IP, it is unlikely that he will be able to direct a sequel, if one happens at all.
Vanquish may look like any other third-person shooter from a distance, but the actual product is very unique and will challenge even the most dedicated score attack oriented players. For anyone looking for a quick and enjoyable game to run through, the title succeeds with the Casual and Casual Auto settings, but many others will most likely be disappointed with the small amount of content and frustrated with the extreme challenge of the later difficulties. Vanquish is only recommended for older players due to the gore and swearing, but the amount of people who will enjoy the game may be limited due to the very poor story and how strangely the difficulty can spike. It is not for everyone, but anyone who can really appreciates the gameplay in Vanquish will truly love it. Have some juice!
Formats: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Both versions have demos of this game in their respective marketplace for free.