What took them so long?!
Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)
Released: May 26, 2017 (PC Release)
Usually when I think of my favourite PlatinumGames experience I fall back to their fantastic action games, like Bayonetta or the absurdly named Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. What I often forget is that they’ve also released a few hidden gems that frequently fly under the radar. Their third person shooter, Vanquish, is dripping with the signature frantic action of PlatinumGames and plays just as well as it did when it was released in 2010. Even after all these years, I can honestly say it deserves to be remembered as one of the best iterations of the overwrought cover-shooter genre, as well as an absurdly fun time.
I’ve played through Vanquish on the new PC release, but other than an uncapped framerate it’s a straight port of the original console version. Since this game is quite a few years old now, it feels a little unfair to try and review it as though it were something brand new. It seems far more reasonable to look at what made Vanquish such a good game back in 2010, and at how well it’s innovations and ideas stand up against more recent gaming standards.
Let’s get one thing out of the way now; the plot in Vanquish is bad, and seven years hasn’t changed my opinion on that. Unfortunately, it’s usually not quite terrible enough to hit that sweet spot of “so bad it’s good”, though it comes close in some places. It’s lucky that the rest of the game is so top-notch, making it much easier to just let the plot fall into the background. You take the role of Sam Gideon, a gritty down-to-earth researcher at DARPA who has been sent into space with the US army to prevent the renegade Order of the Russian Star from using a space station to microwave New York. The immediate response of the US is to send an enormous space armada to take back their space station in an all-or-nothing push to stop their foes. Handily, DARPA decides this is the perfect chance to test some experimental new technology while fighting the advanced robot soldiers of the Russians. A hilariously absurd concept, and certainly fun to be involved in, but honestly it fades into the background so often that I could barely remember any details.
The game is really all about the experimental “Augmented Reaction Suit”, or “ARS”, that Sam is field-testing while saving everyone from the Order of the Russian Star. The ARS provides Sam the ability to heighten his reflexes temporarily, slowing time at will or when in critical danger. On top of these powers, the suit is also equipped with a bunch of powerful jet thrusters powered by the same device as your slo-mo powers. Being a cover-shooter, Sam is strangely unable to jump despite the thrusters and ridiculous athleticism he displays in cutscenes. What he can do, however, is slide between points of cover at ridiculous speeds.
Buttsliding from your barricade just as a hail of bullets and lasers blasts it to rubble never ceases to be entertaining, and temporarily shifting into slow-motion while sliding behind another piece of cover leaves you with time to fire a few stylish headshots into the nearest enemies. The destructible nature of cover adds to the fast-paced nature of the game, while the end of level score underpins the playstyle of Vanquish by penalising you for spending too long hiding. Everything about this game encourages constant movement and aggressive tactics, sprinting wildly through enormous hails of bullets or slowing down time to shoot down hundreds of missiles peppering the area.
To assist in your high-speed antics, you have a little handheld device referred to as “BLADE”, which has the ability to “scan” a weapon when you pick it up, and copy its functions. Watching your guns transform between the three stored profiles made more sense than magically pulling a new gun out of nowhere, especially when you were swapping from a handheld magnum to a huge rocket launcher. Every one of the weapons you collect can be upgraded by collecting glowing green “Upgrade Boxes” or simply by collecting a duplicate of what you’re already carrying when you’ve got full ammunition, though the upgrades are all exclusively upgrades to simple things like ammo capacity or damage per shot. The sheer eclectic variety of weapons means you’re rarely left without a fun choice of weapon for any given situation, satisfyingly explosive shotguns and traditional assault rifle giving way to laser cannons and razor-sharp disc-launchers. No weapon ever felt completely useless, and finding inventive new ways to destroy the mechanical foes sent against me never stopped being exhilarating.
Perhaps due to the game being primarily about the US fighting an evil uprising of villainous Russians, you don’t actually fight many living foes. From your first adrenalin-pumping crash into the station, you’re pitted against a variety of mechanical foes ranging from small humanoid robots clad in deep red armour, to enormous towering spider robots that can transform into even larger humanoid mechs. Vanquish slowly but surely increases the variety of enemies it throws at you, but intelligently ensures that each foe is easy to identify and prepare for even in the chaotic madness this game regularly throws at you. Every area you play in is designed to make sure that you’re never able to dig into one spot for too long, with wide round arenas being quite common battlegrounds. In any modern game this would be considered lazy design, but the world of Vanquish is designed to make shooting hundreds of robot soldiers the most exhilarating experience possible, and not to develop a world that makes any logical sense. And you know what, I’m okay with that.
Every time I thought Vanquish was getting stale it would surprise me with a new enemy, a more difficult area to fight in, or some absurd boss fight to get my blood pumping. An early example sees you running from a giant flying battleship, then silently sniping searchlights while following the same battleship, to then charging straight at the battleship as it turns into an enormous walking robot bristling with insane firepower. And that was just the third chapter.
Vanquish very much feels like a product of its time, when cover-based shooters were all the rage. It could just as easily have ended up being another parade of waist-high walls and cookie-cutter fights. Instead, it took a few ideas from the genre, and injected it with more adrenaline than practically any other shooter even dared. This is a game best played with the expectation of gratuitous high-octane set pieces, stuck together with well-polished third-person shooting, and wrapped up in a flimsy excuse of a plot. When you go into Vanquish expecting bullet hell, buttsliding and blowing up bad guys, I can confidently say you’ll enjoy every insane moment this game throws at you.
Don’t blink or you’ll miss half the battle, and I can assure you that it’s worth it seeing every moment!