Platinum games, well known for games such as Bayonetta, Madworld and Okami, is never shy of trying something new. Being quite the experimental and stylish game-developers, I am always excited to see what they have to offer, even if the quality may vary. Looking at their lineup of games, after releasing 3 games in 2009, they only had one title in 2010 called Vanquish. It was the only game in its series and that is quite a shame.
FIGHT FOR ‘MERICA!
Set in a fictional sci-fi world, Earth’s human population has grown so rapidly that nations are fighting for the remaining resources. The USA has attempted to alleviate its energy problems by launching an “O’Neill Cylinder”, a space station that harbors a solar energy-driven generator to provide them with an alternative source of energy. However, the government of Russia has been overthrown by an ultra-nationalist force called “Order of the Russian Star”, which captured the space station and diverted its harvested solar energy into a blast wave that devastates San Francisco. Unless the American government surrenders, New York City will be the next target.
The President of The USA (Elizabeth Winters) takes Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Burns, a decorated war veteran, and puts him in charge of a newly commissioned task force called Bravo Company on board the space station. She also lets the playable character Sam Gideon accompany them. Sam is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (or DARPA) researcher equipped with an Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS), a mechanical suit outfitted with a vast variety of functions, including jet boosters attached to the body. It’s all up to them to save the day.
The story is generally unfocused and not really interesting, with plot-twists that feel, at best, random. However it is never to the point of being annoying or irritating, the game knows it is stupid and goes with it, with some silly dialogues and over-the-top grunts and acting. Just like an Arnold Schwarzenegger-movie: you don’t really care for the story as long as the action is good. Even if the ending sets up for a sequel we never got.
Story score: 5/10
Never-stopping action and slow-mo
Vanquish is a linear, third-person, cover-based, regenerating health, shooter. Luckily, while it has the basics, Sam comes equipped with some unique extras.
Just like with many modern-shooter, you only have access to a certain amount of weapons, in this case: 3 as well as a couple of hand- and stun-grenades. While this doesn’t sound like much, you have a bunch of weapons to choose from (if you can find them) and will easily find some to be your favorites. The game encourages you to experiment, but early on you will notice the opportunity to upgrade weapons by collecting more of the same weapons that you are currently holding (or after big fights, where upgrades for any weapon are acquired). You are armed with an experimental Battlefield Logic Adaptable Electronic Weapons System (BLADE for short), which is capable of scanning any existing weapon and then transforming into a perfect replica. Its ability to store three scans at the same time means that at any given time the BLADE can shape-shift between three different weapons. They will also develop differently, some will have more ammunition and others might do more damage, and so on. Each weapon feels useful and different from the others, so having only 3 at a time is not a bad thing.
With the DARPA-suit you are wearing, you also have access to some fun and amazing maneuvers. The suit has a boost-meter that needs to cool-down after use. Use it too much and you will need to refill the gauge to the top. You will mainly use this for speed-boosting and slow-motion.
Speed-boosting gives you the ability to speed through enemy-fire and away from danger. It’s incredibly fast-paced and is both a good use for maneuvering between cover and shooting while moving really fast. The slow-mo however, is the complete opposite. It will make dodging bullets easier, but also make you aim better. They might not sound so useful, but in this shooting-heavy galore with giant boss-fights that later on will become general enemies, it’s a necessity. The slow-mo even functions as a last stand: take enough damage and it will automatically activate, giving you a chance to survive.
Each area is constantly moving you forward, with barely any room to explore. The stages are linear and don’t leave much to be remembered by, being mostly hallways and open areas with objects that only exist for the cover-mechanics. The enemies are about as forgettable and not really that varied, except for the larger enemies and mid-bosses. They often tower over you and are quite the terrible obstacle. The general enemies are smart enough to take cover and move around, but not really that interesting or varied in movements or strength/weaknesses. While it doesn’t have a lot of variation to its campaign, it knows what it does well and keeps the action high up, frantic and entertaining, even if the campaign only lasts for about 6 hours.
Gameplay score: 8/10
Technical over style
The world of Vanquish is slick and reminds me of a 90s sci-fi setting, where everything is clean and white. A quite… uninteresting world to be honest and no area really sticks out, except from when you enter a forest and finally see some colors. The enemies and characters are also technically well-made and beautiful, but really uninteresting and artistically as generic as the rest of the game. That is except for the main character, with a uniquely designed suit that has some incredible animations, especially when you select different weapons and the suit, on the fly, replicates the weapon in your hand.
The techno-music sets the mood and adds to the atmosphere, but doesn’t really strike me as memorable. The same can’t be said for the sound-effects: they are crisp, and the explosions and gunfire feel satisfying. Voice-actors are also entertaining due to their cheesy and over-the-top deliverance, which fits the mood of the story.
The presentation overall simply does it job, nothing more or less. This isn’t necessarily bad, but if it went just a bit further, it might have stood out more in its design.
Presentation score: 7/10
Shoot them… statues?
After about 6 hours of campaign missions, there isn’t much to do after the credits have rolled. Except from trying to get a better score on each level (which is quite a hard achievement) and multiple difficulty-levels, there are small, hidden Pangloss statues that you can shoot. It is an odd addition and they don’t really add much more than a simple pat-on-your-back achievement/throphy. The extras are lackluster and while it was a good time, I know it will collect dust until another fellow asks “what is Vanquish?”.
Extras score: 4/10
Vanquish was a fun third-person shooter with a unique concept that I really think laid the groundwork for a potential series. But even if we never will get a sequel, this is a perfect weekend-rental that I am happy to have on my shelf. It might not be the best of its kind (as there are almost more shooters from this generations than platformers from the 90s), but it’s certainly one of the most unique and entertaining ones.