The fourth title from developer PlatinumGames is an electrifying and susceptible third-person shooter that introduces gamers to hero Sam Gideon, a highly likable character that moves with as much grace and precision as the daunting techno music that plays throughout the experience. In the same way Bayonetta executed style and substance through simplicity, Vanquish excels by over-emphasizing the very things that made that game so much fun.
Vanquish takes place on a space station called Providence, which is under siege by a group of Russian extremists called the Order of the Russian Star. Using microwave energy, San Francisco is burned to the ground using the station. In retaliation, the good ol’ US of A sends in a group to take over the station and stop the extremists from destroying New York City. Our hero Sam joins the group as a member of the DARPA research team, who thankfully come well equipped in the form of ARS battle suits. While Sam’s official mission is to test out the new suit in the heat of battle, his hidden agenda lays with captive Professor Candite, the creator of the energy source that powers the suit.
As complex and intriguing as the plot sounds, the execution is ultimately what makes it rather lackluster. It does a wonderful job of stringing together particular elements, but fails miserably in the character development department. It’s as if the developer came up with a story and then left it at that, building the characters around the action and set pieces, as opposed to writing something coherent and with a bit of passion. There’s plenty of frantic and awesome action in Vanquish, and it would have been ten times better if it had a plot with a little more energy (no pun intended).
Thankfully, what Vanquish lacks in coherent storytelling it more than makes up with in good ol’ fashioned third-person action. Sam will have a number of different weapons at his disposal, including the basic assault rifles and shotguns, but it’s the more unique weapons that jam things up a bit. For example, one weapon fires energy through a wall, making for an effective method of combat when you can’t break out past some enemy cover.
The cover system plays an important part in the gameplay, because Vanquish is very, very hard. This is not the sort of game that eases you into things either, as the first few hours, especially on Normal or Hard, will test even the most hardcore of gamers. Breaking into cover is as easy as tapping a button, but it’s knowing when to use it and when to break out that will be integral to your success. If you do manage to get yourself in a bit of trouble, Sam’s ARS suit can slow down time, allowing you to dodge bullets and move into cover without taking much damage. You won’t die often if you use both the ARS suit and cover to your full advantage, but it’s important to acknowledge the aggressiveness of the enemy AI.
The boss battles go even higher on the difficulty stakes, some even incorporating an instant hit kill that can stop you right in your tracks. There’s a pretty good balance here so that Sam is never fully disadvantaged during a battle, with the game warning you by ways of an audio or visual cue when a boss is preparing to perform an instant kill move. Some of the bosses are quite frustrating though, especially if you’re going particularly well before you’re suddenly knocked dead by a single attack. However, it ups the ante quite considerably and forces you to constantly be on your toes and aware of what is surrounding Sam.
There’s a very accessible weapon upgrade system that allows you to manage your weapons. Sam can hold up to three weapons at once, as well as two grenade types. Enemies will occasionally drop an upgrade cube when you kill them, and these upgrade whatever weapon Sam has equipped at the time. Each weapon has ten upgrade levels, allowing you to increase the power and ammo storage capabilities. In a rather intuitive way, grabbing three of the same weapon while you have full ammo will also upgrade the weapon by a level, meaning you have two rather seamless ways to improve your weapon hoard.
While Vanquish might seem a little too familiar to fans of Gears of War, there is one differentiating aspect that sets Vanquish a part from older third-person shooters. Sam’s ARS suit is equipped with a number of very powerful boosters that allow him to speed across areas at blistering speeds. This allows you to move from cover to cover with little effort and without receiving too much damage. It will also surely make things a little more competitive on the leaderboards as gamers around the world compete for the fastest mission times.
As you move through a level and kill enemies you’ll be rewarded with a score bonus. Your score updates automatically as you take down random enemies, and while the only reward here is through a sense of achievement, having a score is a great indication of how you did through a particular area. It also offers great incentive for multiple playthroughs to try and best your own scores, as well as your friends online.
While Vanquish is only going to take you six or seven hours to complete, there’s a bunch of special challenge levels to sink your teeth into, where you take on a never-ending flow of enemies to achieve the top score. It’s a very simple but highly addictive mode that will keep you coming back for a while.
As fun as Vanquish can be, one of its best aspects has to be in its visual presentation. While the space station in Providence is dark, some of the technologically inspired backgrounds are absolutely stunning. It really feels like Sam is moving through a real live space station at times, driven by a number of wonderfully designed areas that will blow your mind.
The Final Verdict
While lacking in the story department, Vanquish is cool to the bone, driven by a number of great gameplay mechanics that make it an absolute treat to play. The cover system works well, as does the seamless weapon upgrade system. This is a game that’s going to challenge you right from the start, and while it won’t take you long to get through, chances are you’ll love every single minute of it.