Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vanquish Review

This review was originally published on

Platinum Games has made a name for itself offering unapologetically hardcore games like the monochromatic blood-feast Mad World, the hyper-sexual beat ‘em up Bayonetta, and the methodically paced RPG Infinite Space. Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil and founding member of Platinum Games, has directed the company’s latest creation.

Set in the not-too-distant but typically dismal future, Vanquish pits the game’s chain-smoking, cybernetic suit-wearing protagonist, Sam Gideon, against an army of robotic soldiers on an Earth-orbiting space station. Gideon is sent to the colony after Russian terrorists have seized control and used the station’s power to destroy San Francisco. That’s right. Those robots are evil and they’re dirty commies! For most of my time with Vanquish I didn’t have a clue what was going on story-wise but I kept my mouth shut, followed orders, and left a trail of sizzling robots in my wake. The story-telling needs work, to say the least. But Vanquish isn’t here to be the next 2001. Its goal is to put you in the high-tech boots of a kick-ass robot slayer, delight your retinas with its insane sense of speed, and blow you away like an old Maxell ad.

Mechanically, Vanquish takes influence from games like Gears of War but, stylistically, it is a beast all its own. Its chaotic and kinetic nature combined with Eastern design sensibilities give the game its own identity. Sam’s Augmented Reaction Suit comes equipped with all manner of boosters, rockets, and jet propulsion doodads that allow him to knee-slide around enemies, slow down time, and glide toward cover. It’s a mechanic that simply never gets old and is a joy to use. Such a heightened sense of speed can be difficult to achieve outside of a racing game but Vanquish pulls it off spectacularly. Despite any of its short-comings, Sam’s frenetic agility is the game’s crowning achievement.

Along the way, players will find an arsenal of weapons, some of which are more fun to use than others. Upgrading their effectiveness and capacity is a must for any player wishing to bump up their scores, especially on higher difficulties. While some enemies are more susceptible to certain weapons, casual players will be able to get through with the trusty default assault rifle.

For the most part, the Red Army robots are a cinch to dispatch but in higher numbers they can quickly flank a position and take you down. The game manages to introduce a few unique enemies along the way but generally there isn’t much variety. Boss battles are epic set-piece moments which manage to turn up the already-intense action even higher. Unfortunately, several bosses make repeat appearances giving a frustrated feeling of déjà vu while their multiple forms and phases are a carryover of Japanese game design I’d hoped had been left behind long ago. Still, from a moment-to-moment perspective, the action is incredibly well done, making Vanquish one of the most satisfying shooters to come around in a long time.

The game is a bit on the shorter side. Most players will be able to blast through to the credit sequence in about six hours. However, a twenty-hour campaign isn’t necessarily the goal as levels are meant to be replayed. A score is tallied as you go, encouraging players to revisit stages again and again, reaching for a higher number. This arcade-style approach works for the most point-earning obsessives out there but the game fails to give players enough incentive for retreading old ground.

Vanquish suffers from a plot that not only makes characters’ motives unclear but the story gets muddled and bogged down with unnecessary melodrama. What the game lacks in charm it more than makes up for with incredibly tight gameplay. Vanquish is fast. Mind-numbingly fast. Sam moves at speeds so fast the visuals swirl in your brain and push your eyes back into their sockets. It’s kinetic motion at its very best and that’s really kind of the point. The shooting is satisfying and the action is downright jaw-dropping. It’s not meant to reinvent storytelling in games as we know it. Vanquish wants you to hold on for dear life and enjoy the ride. It’s just a shame the gameplay didn’t exist in a story that, at the very least, didn’t cause you to roll your eyes every few minutes.


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