Vanquish is not the game you play for a deep, thought-provoking, socially-relevant story. Vanquish is the game you play for knock-your-socks-off, blow-your-mind, tear-a-hole-in-the-space-time-continuum entertainment that’s so good it will make you want to slap your mama. Don’t get me wrong, a great story is always welcome; but to me, it is always secondary to gameplay. Where was the story in Metal Slug? How about Contra? Final Fantasy? Super Mario Bros? Sonic the Hedgehog? These games became icons not because of their nuanced storytelling, but because they were incredibly fun to play. That is Vanquish.
Lindsey and I played the demo for Vanquish well over a month ago and immediately knew that this was a game to look forward to. The story is simple; it only exists to set a framework for the game to progress within. The graphics are beautiful; the menu background is simply stunning. The gameplay is fast and intuitive; playing Vanquish felt like the first time I played Sonic the Hedgehog. The dialogue is inspiringly uninspired; the characters throw out more cheesy one-liners than Spider-Man, and it works beautifully. Even on the easier settings the game is more difficult than my wife (sorry, hon); victory, though, is always attainable if you properly utilize the tools given to you.
The story is simple. In the near future, the Russian government has been taken over by radical (not awesome) Russian forces in a coup d’état. The Order of the Russian Star (aforementioned radical, but not awesome, Russian forces) destroys San Francisco and threatens to destroy New York City unless the United States surrenders unconditionally. This, and the capture of American scientist Dr. Candide, spur the U.S. military and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to mount an assault on the space-based station the Order has commandeered. Shakespeare it isn’t.
The graphics are beautiful. This game is gorgeous. The level of detail on the characters, backgrounds, animations, etc is top-notch. Even when pushing the gameplay to its high-speed limit, the graphics never falter. The screen is never cluttered, weapon management is simple and unobtrusive, and items of importance are well highlighted. The camera works very well, never getting in the way and moving very easily.
The gameplay is fast and intuitive. The suit your character wears allows for intense bursts of high speed, sustained, controlled knee-slides that turn the world into a blur of soldiers and robots. On the flip side, the suit also allows you to enter “AR” mode, which slows down the world around you. “AR” mode can be activated manually, but it is always automatically activated when your suit reaches a certain level of damage. You are able to carry three weapons and two types of grenades at any time, with the ability to replace your weapons as you play. Picking up a weapon you already have will either fill your ammo or upgrade your weapon. The suit also allows for very powerful melee attacks. Boosting, AR mode, and melee attacks all draw from the same power bar, however, and over-taxing the system will cause the suit to overheat and become slightly less mobile for a period of time, so these abilities must be used carefully. There is an excellent cover system that allows you to slide into cover, dive from cover to cover, and fire from cover very effectively. The level design ensures that the basic element of shooting robots never gets repetitive or boring, and the ally AI isn’t completely stupid!
The dialogue is inspiringly uninspired. There isn’t a lot of talking during the high-paced destruction of Vanquish, but when the characters do take a few minutes to chat, it’s always entertaining (even if, at times, cliched and cheesy). The characters are all fairly archetypal, so within a few minutes of early character interaction, you have a fairly good idea of who these people are. Your character, Sam Gideon, is a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, smart-ass. He smoke so much that, from cover, there is a button to light a cigarette, take a puff, and toss it as a distraction (which is very fun). Cigarettes kill (indirectly, at least, in Vanquish). The dynamic between Sam and Burns, the main NPC, is very entertaining, and develops through bits of dialogue very well.
This game is fucking difficult. Even on easier settings, some of the boss-level robots can give you a hard time. The challenge increases as the game progresses and your weapons become more advanced, but as long as you use the suit and the weapons effectively, there should be nothing keeping you from putting a serious beat-down on those radical Russian robots. The game is short, it lacks multiplayer modes, and there’s not much of a point in replaying it after the initial playthrough except for sheer fun or topping the leaderboards, but it is one of the most fun games I have played in a very, very long time.
There are just over two months left in this year, and there are still games waiting to be released. With that being said, this game is a heavy contender for game of the year in my eyes.
Vanquish was directed by Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil and contributor on Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and more, developed by Platinum Games, and published by SEGA. It can be yours on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 for $59.99 at game retailers near you or on the world wide web.
Oh, and make sure you enjoy the credits once you finish the game. They’re something special.