Insane. Amazing. Sensational. Explosive. These are all words that could be used to describe Platinum Games’ Vanquish, but honestly, the one that keeps coming to mind throughout the games 6 hour long campaign has to be - cool. Yep, Vanquish might just be the coolest game you ever play – from the absurdly slick audio visual design, through to the pitch perfect gameplay and truly outlandish enemies, Vanquish is everything you love about videogames turned up to 11.
Platinum Games have taken the fundamentals from many of today’s most popular videogames, thrown them into a mixing pot and added their own brand of high speed, super powered awesomeness. The result is a game that will feel instantly familiar yet completely fresh all at the same time. Master Chief’s armour, Gears of War’s cover mechanics, F.E.A.R’s time manipulation – they’re all here; they’ve just been given the Japanese mod treatment. The result? Well, that something very special indeed.
While nothing about Vanquish is incredibly new, it’s the way that it’s delivered that makes it the first real progression in the third-person-shooter genre since the release of Gears of War back in 2006. Using a combination of supremely implemented cover mechanics and the games AR Mode which allows you to slow down time, Vanquish can be treated and played like a traditional cover shooter. Sure there are more enemies and everything is really shiny, but yeah, if that’s the way you want to go about your business, then Vanquish can play in a surprisingly similar manner to genre leader Gears of War. To do that though would be to totally miss the point.
Vanquish is about speed…..greasy, fast speed! Playing as super gruff, nicotine addicted Sam Gideon against an army of Russian robots amidst a story you won’t care about, you’re given the power of an experimental battle suit (or Augmented Reaction Suit to give it its full name) that, besides looking all kinds of awesome, just happens to be fitted with a bunch of rockets that can propel Sam from one piece of cover to the next in mere seconds.
Of course, just getting around fast isn’t enough for Platinum Games. Sam, being as cool as he is, glides from one cover to the next via the kind of epic knee sliding that would make Marty McFly blush. With flames spewing out the back, the ability to enter AR Mode mid-slide and all manner of bullets, lasers and rockets whizzing past your ears, simply getting from A to B in Vanquish is a treat that never gets stale.
While the basic mechanics never change for the entirety of the 6 hour long campaign, the game manages to stay fresh and exciting throughout thanks to some of the most imaginative art design I have seen in any videogame this year and a collection of enemies secretly mined from Hideo Kojima’s subconscious.
Set on an orbital ring world (think Halo crossed with an iPod store), Vanquish delivers one amazing location after another. Sure, it may not be overly varied, but technically, artistically and for sheer wow factor, Vanquish’s locations are pretty hard to fault. To be honest though, as great as the environments are, it’s not like you’re going to spend much time looking around anyway – besides the constant commitment to speed, Vanquish’s enemies, which are both vast and numerous, come dangerously close to stealing the spotlight. From bi-peddled monstrosities to turtle shaped super tanks, the robotic Ruskie army rarely ceases to amaze.
From the smallest mechanical menace right through to the largest of the games motorized monsters, Vanquish delivers high quality enemy design from beginning to end. Some enemies are inevitably recycled, but given the quality of the animations, their surprisingly high levels of AI, hypnotic levels of fire power and the very pretty way they all tend to go boom, the occasional case of déjà vu is easily forgiven.
With missiles raining down from the sky in unfathomable numbers, an army of enemies standing in the way of your goal and jet-pack powered baddies circling your every move, it’s often hard to take in and appreciate just how much work has gone into every facet of Vanquish’s design. But believe me, for all the talk of Japanese game developers being years behind their western counterparts, there is absolutely no way a product as wild, skillful and polished as Vanquish would have ever been developed anywhere outside of Japan. The industry might be going through a bit of a rough patch in the East, but with companies such as Platinum Games flying the flag, Japan will continue to deliver that special brand of cool you just can’t find anywhere else.
No matter what your opinion on the recent output from Japanese game developers, one thing they have always done well is boss battles. Vanquish continues this trend with the kind of confidence and overblown, epic design usually reserved for the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Although at a base level they account to little more than finding the glowing weak point and pumping it full of lead, thanks to some extremely imaginative design combined with Vanquish’s flair infused core gameplay, each encounter proves exciting and tense.
Of course, all the great design and boss battles in the world would count for naught if Vanquish’s mechanics weren’t up to scratch. Luckily, and somewhat expectedly for a game created by Shinji ‘Resident Evil 4’ Mikami, Vanquish plays like an absolute dream. You slide in and out of cover smoothly, movement is a high speed joy without ever being disorientating and the actual shooting mechanics, well, they’re tight, responsive and like the majority of the game, just plain awesome.
I appreciate that I may be going a little crazy with the superlatives, but honestly, I find it hard to describe Vanquish in anyway but – there is no way you can unleash one of the games powerful melee strikes or fall into AR Mode as you back flip into the air before delivering a hail of bullets into your enemies unsuspecting face without thinking…..yeah, that was the balls! It just won’t happen.
Although you are encouraged to play the majority of Vanquish at full speed, there are a few quieter moments that let you take a breather and observe the spectacular surroundings that the game has to offer. There is a vehicle convoy mission that is still high on action but inevitably slower in pace and a sniper mission that tasks you with taking out a collection of searchlights. While neither do anything especially new or noteworthy, they are both welcome breaks from the otherwise unrelenting pace.
Vanquish offers up numerous difficulty settings, but unless it’s set to Easy Mode (which has simplified controls and assisted aiming), it’s going to provide a serious challenge to the majority of gamers out there. While general play and boss battles both provide a consistent test of your skills, the rock solid mechanics mean that failure in Vanquish never feels unfair – which is especially important considering the unforgiving weapon upgrade system.
Upgrades are applied automatically as you pick up ammo on the field. Thing is, die with that weapon in hand and an upgrade level is lost. It at times feels a little harsh but it does encourage experimentation with other weapons and adds an extra incentive to stay alive.
Speaking of weapons, beyond the majority delivering extremely solid feedback, both in the audio and visual departments, the fact that you never actually pick up a gun, but essentially just the information required for your current weapon to metamorphose into one of 3 weapons stored at any given time, is (and here I go again) just plain awesome – it looks ace and, like so much of Vanquish, puts a unique spin on the most basic of mechanics.
Some will inevitably berate Vanquish for its relatively short 6 hour campaign and complete lack of multiplayer, but with an array of addictive Challenge Rooms unlocked upon completion and a very addictive scoring mechanic akin to that found in Geometry Wars, Vanquish provides longevity for those wanting a real challenge. And if challenge is your thing, once completed, you could always try your hand at the God Hard difficulty setting……good luck with that.
Potential issues with longevity aside, Vanquish is a masterpiece of pure videogame design. It’s a title almost completely devoid of filler, delivering nothing but thrills for the entirety of its campaign. Sure the story is cheesy and poorly delivered, but Vanquish is all about the gameplay and in that respect, there’s nothing that can touch it. As if taking up the challenge of the gaming community to prove that Japanese studios can still deliver the goods, Platinum Games have produced a truly unbelievable game – built on a Western template but covered in Eastern design, Vanquish brings East and West together for one of 2010’s finest games.
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