It seems unusual to expect a Japanese developer to make a very good and intensive third person shooter when some are few and far in between and also not as impressive in comparison to Western juggernauts like the Gears of War and Uncharted series. My interest was initially low when Bayonetta developer Platinum Games were to make one for the West but until encountering that Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami was the lead director on the project, I began to hope for the best. The final product includes all the necessary elements for a third person cover-based shooter but Mikami and Platinum took Vanquish to a whole new level resulting in one of the most exhilarating and energetic games I have played.
The futuristic world in Vanquish is filled with metal and what best represents the shiny color palette is the battlefield in the space colony of “Providence”. Seized by neo Russian ultranationalists, they hope to take advantage of the colony’s solar energy benefits to initiate a war against the United States. After the Russians use the fuel to attack the city of San Francisco, the US responds by sending Marines into the colony’s fray to stop future conflicts.
Enter Sam Gideon, a researcher at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA, who participates in the siege with the organization’s latest gizmo called the Augmented Reaction Suit. The mission will provide information on the suit’s performance but Sam is primarily tasked to rescue the engineer behind the ARS and the Providence.
The plot follows traditional sci-fi clichés along with some elements from anime and even some over the top action films. What makes the plot interesting though is how an American-like storyline is interpreted by the Japanese resulting in a more frenetic progression. If taken seriously, it’s pretty average and sometimes uninteresting to really care about the details or characters except for the gruff Sam Gideon who provides cheesy but bad ass voice acting. Everyone else sounds like they just came out of an anime. If you get annoyed with English dubbing, Vanquish also has different languages available including Japanese. All in all, the storyline isn’t something to extremely love and is a weak part of Vanquish but thanks to the extremely entertaining gameplay, it’s forgiven.
In Vanquish, the high intensity gunplay moves the game forward, not the plot. First glances of Vanquish might look like any other modern third person shooter including taking cover, precision aiming, evadsive jumps, and regenerating health. When the ARS kicks in though, it feels like new territory. The suit allows Sam to blaze at super fast speeds to dodge the massive amounts of enemy bullets. He is also equipped to slow down time to precisely shoot down enemy machines, limbs of bosses that seem to come out of giant robot anime, and even individual ballistics. When death nearly comes, the ARS automatically activates slow down mode to allow some time for players to escape trouble at the expense of a gauge that drains when any form of the ARS is used extensively but would soon recharge. There is also a melee feature but if used on one single enemy, it instantly drains the ARS meter causing to be best used in dire situations instead of casual encounters.
The ARS’ mechanics might not be original but Vanquish takes the popular elements to the next level giving it new life: like putting Gears of War’s roadie run to near Mach 1 speed and makes bullet time more cinematic than it previously was. All of the pieces work together to make the unique mix very cohesive which in execution looks like a well done gun ballet. And with fun quick time events, it increases the euphoric quality of Vanquish. If they were conflicting each other, it would have resulted in a more challenging game than it is now.
On Normal, Vanquish is not a cakewalk and only gets harder by each chapter and act. New enemies appear replacing weaker ones and might require players to upgrade their guns or else death will be a common event. A downside to death is retrograding updated weapons so it’s best to avoid enemy fire at any cost. Great thing is that Vanquish encourages players to be at the top of their game all the time and making 110% use of the ARS. Knowing the right ARS combinations is key when fighting especially against the bigger foes making the very tense situations much more than it was. For the more casual audience interested in playing Vanquish but fears defeat, they can engage in one of the two novice modes with the easiest featuring a targeting assist option. Vanquish accommodates every skill level while not alienating its hardcore audience.
First glances of Vanquish is that it’s absolutely beautiful to witness. With some very brief frame rate drops during the most dangerous of situations, the graphical technology overall can capture the action very smoothly while looking consistently detailed. Add the motion blur and it makes the ARS boosting look extremely fast. No doubt that Platinum Games aimed for excellence in this field and it definitely succeeded.
On average, completion time can be around six to eight hours which is calculated by a score board after every chapter completed. For longevity, Vanquish demands to be replayed at the expense of multiplayer; which is a not needed for this type of high speed gaming. Using a score system, it’s all about pushing high into the leaderboards. There is also challenge maps and the super challenging “God Hard” difficulty upon initial completion but unfortunately it might not be enough for some people who want more. The content can either make or break a buying decision; some people will be acceptable of the modes while others rather wait a couple of months when the game will discount to a lower price.
Nonetheless, Vanquish is definitely a game that should be played not just for its visual flair but also for evolving and polishing common third person shooter mechanics. To sum it up, it’s one hell of a ride that’s almost entirely euphoric. The overall game can either be the shape of third person shooters to come or a cult classic nobody wants to derive, but definitely Vanquish is a game to personally experience.