Vanquish is a fast-paced third person shooter with second-by-second intensity that doesn’t let up, throwing out a constant stream of voracious, laser-totting enemies out at unmitigated pace for the ultimate arcade experience. Unlike most other action titles that get the same generic summation, this title truly deserves it.
This ultramodern voyage into a world of angst-ridden, aggressive soldiers donning combat-ready, quasi-futuristic exoskeletons sets players in the titanium shoes of Sam Gideon – an American soldier outfitted in a DARPA-manufactured super-suit that he takes up against a Cold War-reminiscent Russian enemy. Instead of nukes, Russian militant revivalists take up arms in space-stations equipped with microwave weapons against the US.
The story is visually told in the highly stylised format of many similar Sega titles, also mirroring the anime style (and some of the art design) of other Japanese creations like Neon Genesis: Evangeleon and Gundam Wing. It makes cutscenes gorgeous and captivating to behold rather than just intermittent and pace-halting. The story itself isn’t too deep (it’s almost like a highly abbreviated version of Metal Gear Solid), but it goes the extra mile for an arcade-style shooter, with some confronting, unexpectedly graphic scenes.
|The cutscenes are impressive, and some are interactive as a welcome gameplay bonus.|
It’s also told from a distinctly Japanese perspective, taking a comfortable seat on the fence between Soviet-era Russia and the USA. The anti-US sentiment is strong here in many regards, but it still manages to create a likeable (if paper-thin) main character that is American. There’s also what looks like borderline illegal smoking advertising, which gives that ‘only in Japan…’ vibe.
Vanquish is the brainchild of the guy behind the Resident Evil series, Shinji Mikami. He’s directed leading titles like Resident Evil 4 which brought the over-the-shoulder, precision aiming mechanic to the fore of third person view games (and sold like hotcakes) and has done similar game-changing work with Vanquish.
Since last year’s release of the title, numerous high-profile shooters have featured the same speed-sliding action control as Vanquish (albeit adapted in different ways) including the recent Bulletstorm. It’s this rocket-fuelled sliding mechanic and a time-slowing ‘bullet-time’ (to steal the phrase from Max Payne) alongside the frenetic pace of every other facet of the game that create such a captivating experience.
|Rocket-propelled sliding: the only way to get around for the smart traveller.|
Your suit is fitted with a generator that has a few seconds of juice for either time-slowing or rocket sliding (or both at the same time). If you’re keen to get to one side of an area quickly, you can shoot off, or if you’re bombarded with twenty tiny enemies or need to get to the backside weak spot of a sky-high giant, this does the trick.
|Slow-mo ‘bullet-time’ lets you line them up with high precision hits.|
If you’re taking too much fire and are on the verge of death, time-slowing ‘bullet time’ automatically turns on, slowing the pace of everything around you (to the point that you can see individual bullets streaming past your head) so you can either pick off a few strategic head shots or get the hell out of there. Otherwise, you can turn it on yourself to that distinct mid-battle edge.
In any case, use up the few seconds you have and your suit’s reactor will overheat, leaving you vulnerable until it recharges. Unlike other shooters that rely on their central novelty, Vanquish doesn’t let you breeze through on its bullet-time.
There’s a high attention to detail that extends from the accentuated colour-palette to the minute effects stemming out of Gideon’s suit’s reactor. Environments are pretty standard future/space station fare with a general wash of silvers, blues and greys, but it is diversified along a multitude of more diverse settings.
|Diverse settings include a multi-directional train that mixes up the game dynamic.|
The detailed added effects like motion blur take all the attention though, with streams of electricity, ricocheting explosives and sprays of bullets gripping most of the screen space at any given time. The way I see it, a game has to be great if even dying looks good enough to not warrant excessive swearing at the TV.
|Whether it be the motion blur, deep colour, crisp edges or fluid game mechanics, the graphics are continuously amazing.|
And you’ll do a fair bit of this in Vanquish, with a ‘strict but fair’ take on difficulty that will force you to strategise with your choice of weapons, upgrades and tactics without letting you milk the time-slowing novelty or rocket-sliding to shoot through with ease.
|You’ll need your precious slow-mo and sliding for some of the gargantuan bosses.|
On the same token, you’ve had games like Bulletstorm come out with similar gaming gimmicks but watered-down difficulty to facilitate them – that’s not the case with Vanquish. It’s the same principle that has come with other titles touched by Shinji Mikami, like Devil May Cry, which have had distinctive gaming styles and original controls but with the difficulty to make it worthy of investing time and effort.
The main game won’t take too long to beat though, with around six to seven hours of gameplay. It’s short, but not too much unlike other shooters of a similar ilk. Plus, being the timed, arcade-style shooter that it is, it is encouraged that you steam through the game as fast as you can.
|Shoot-’em-up action, refined.|
The game isn’t too story-heavy, but for the style of game, it doesn’t have to be. Add the five ridiculously hard but incessantly addictive challenges, and you’ve got a game that lasts well over the first play. Even the credits are part of a fun mini-game.
It may not exactly be the definitive best game to have surfaced over the last year, but it sure deserves a whole lot more noise than most of the blockbusters that have come out and grabbed headlines. For an arcade-style shooter that fits into the Sega/Capcom vein of frenetic gaming style, this is a perfect piece though, and it’s hard to find any flaws in the overall picture – the gameplay, pace, visuals and replay value are all up there, easily up against the big names.