It's hard to know whether the makers of Vanquish take their game, a brash, testosterone-gushing space fight against hundreds of mindless Russian robots, seriously. Straight-faced or not, Platinum Games' Vanquish is seriously entertaining.
Players step into the jet-powered Augmented Reaction Suit worn by chain-smoking hero Sam Gideon to take down a Russian terrorist group. The Order of the Russian Star has just launched an attack on the United States from space, to which a team of beefy space Marines and one super soldier named Sam must respond. What follows is a series of flashy gun battles set at hyper speed on board a massive space station, with players pushing the experimental ARS suit to its limits. Third-person shooters have never been this blisteringly fast.
The shooter fan looking for something a little different in their library of gun-heavy games, perhaps with a touch of quirky Japanese design. The hardcore play who judges a game not by the length of its campaign, but how much complexity lies beneath the surface. People who are still sore about God Hand review scores.
Why You Should Care
The director of Vanquish is Shinji Mikami, the same man responsible for action greats like God Hand and the Resident Evil series.
OK. So it's fast. Is Vanquish any fun? Definitely. Sliding around the battlefield at ludicrous speed, then popping from cover to cover and gracefully dodging torrents of bullets while engaging in rock solid gun-play feels fantastic. Vanquish controls splendidly, featuring a cover system that boasts the ideal amount of "stickiness". You'll face many of the same enemy types again and again, but Vanquish's speed and smoothness help alleviate any tedium that may set in.
What's the deal with the ARS armour? Sam Gideon's super-suit does more than just look snazzy. It's rocket powered, letting players slide at screen-blurring speeds. It can also dissipate the damage Sam takes during battles, features its own built-in transforming gun (changing from shotgun to sniper rifle to machine gun in a blink), and can slow-down Sam's perception of time. That "bullet time" effect has been used in games like Bayonetta and Viewtiful Joe, close relatives of Vanquish, and it works well here. The rub? All of the suit's super-powered features draw from the same energy meter. Tax it too much and the ARS armour will overheat, leaving Sam vulnerable. The suit also lets Sam punch.
Right: Casshern and Friender, the inspiration behind Vanquish, appeared in Tatsunoko vs Capcom for the Wii.
Punch? Sam can perform melee attacks, but it's a source of frustration in Vanquish. While gun-play is clearly the focus, Sam can duke it out with foes. It's dynamic and pleasurable, but also the quickest way to sap that energy meter. Vanquish makes the player want to engage in fisticuffs, but at the expense of further enjoyment.
So stick to the guns then. Fortunately, the weapons in Vanquish are varied, interesting and upgradeable in a clever, thoughtful way. Your standard rocket launcher, sniper rifle and machine gun are here, but Vanquish also tosses in a weapon that spits out razor sharp discs and one that emits huge orbs of energy. Players can "rank up" their guns by picking up duplicate versions of what they already have equipped. With Vanquish's limited armoury - three guns at a time only, please - it makes for some interesting tactical considerations.
Gameplay's good. Got it. How's the rest? The graphics are amazing, generally moving at a good clip, even when huge robot bosses, infantry, missiles and bullets frantically fill the screen. Story-wise, Vanquish feels as smart as, say, the movie Predator. The game's lead protagonists are both gruffly voiced dudes fuelled by a steady diet of whiskey and cigarettes and testosterone. They quip with great or corny one-liners, cracking wise with references to Roombas and eBay. The whole thing is a bit lunkheaded, but never got in the way of enjoying Vanquish's stronger suits.
Yes, but is it short? Vanquish won't take you long to burn through, if that's how you play your video games. The play clock on my first run through was about six hours. Actual play time was about nine. Vanquish's content is on the thin side, as many of us are used to multiplayer and co-op and more, not a five act campaign and Tactical Challenge mode that delivers wave after wave of Russian robot attacks. For those players looking to see an ending, Vanquish is disposable entertainment. For the action enthusiast looking for combat depth and self-improvement through repeat play, Vanquish offers much more.
So are they serious? Hard to tell. Vanquish, at times, implies both mockery of and homage to games that have come before it - Gears of War, Metal Gear Solid - while also making allusions to classic sci-fi fantasy - Predator, The Empire Strikes Back, Casshern. Is Vanquish a spoof of these staples that appeal to boys and men, or is it simply a goofy tale of evil robots and the hulking soldiers who live to deliver cheesy dialogue? I don't know, but it adds to Vanquish's appeal.
Vanquish In Action
The original Vanquish teaser featured no gameplay, but it did result in a cool outfit being made.
More Vanquish gameplay, courtesy of Sega.
The opening to anime "Neo Human Casshern". Shinji Mikami says Vanquish is heavily inspired by the Tatsunoko cartoon.
Some of Vanquish's greatest action moments happen while leaping over cover and kicking in "Augmented Reality Mode".
Video game characters don't get more gruff than these two, Sam Gideon and Lt Col Robert Burns.
Sam's not the only one with super armour, y'know. You'll face some stiff flesh and blood and carbon nanotube competition in Vanquish.
Platinum Games knows how to design a robot.
Sam Gideon's ARS armour in detail.
The Bottom Line
Vanquish is a stylish, speedy spin on the third-person shooter, full of fast, furious action; big, memorable boss fights; and fun but familiar blockbuster set pieces. Unfortunately, it's also distressingly barebones in content compared to many of its peers. But if you're looking for a quick burst of rocket-fuelled fun, with plenty of challenge to boot, particularly on "God Hard" mode, Vanquish delivers a full clip.
Vanquish was developed by Platinum Games and published by SEGA for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, released on October 19. Retails for $99.95. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the story campaign on Normal difficulty on Xbox 360. Test Tactical Challenge modes.