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Vanquish Review

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An enthusiasm for accelerated popcorn sci-fi action makes this latest ride from PlatinumGames, however brief, an exhilarating one.


 I am not a robot! I AM A MAN!
With intense, divisive titles like the brutally monochromatic MadWorld and the absurd, hypersexual Bayonetta already under its belt, a certain intensity has become expected from developer PlatinumGames, genre be damned. The Shinji Mikami-directed Vanquish makes good on this expectation, crackling with kinetic, sensory-overloading energy that, in some ways, flies in the face of the more measured pacing generally associated with its cover-based, third-person shooter ilk. It’s a game that knowingly puts an Eastern twist on a very Western style of game design, which leads to a head-cocking combination of self-serious action-movie braggadocio and post-modern non sequiturs that captures the cornball tendencies of both East and West. It also helps foster a visual style designed to stun and an exciting, relentless gameplay experience that, despite its length, will leaving you feeling at least a little exhausted.

The oddly referential nature of Vanquish kicks off with a premise that reads like Halo meets Red Dawn. It’s a far-flung, high-tech Earth where a Cold War revival between the US and Russia goes hot when a rogue cell of Russians--along with perhaps the single largest army of soulless, communist robots in a video game--overtake a massive, ring-shaped space station orbiting Earth that was previously under US control, and which is home to a crazy, categorically irresponsible death ray. With this fun new toy now in their possession, the Ruskies fry San Francisco, and threaten New York next unless the US surrenders. You enter the conflict as Sam Gideon, a DARPA agent fitted with a suit of experimental super-soldier armor that kind of makes him look like a combination of Ultron, Master Chief, and the orbital frames from Zone of the Enders. He also has the kind of forcefully cocky attitude and lack of respect for authority, man, that lead him to drop wry one-liners about eBay in the heat of battle, or feel totally comfortable smoking. In space. It’s unsurprising that Sam ends up at odds with the gruff, half-mechanized leader of the squad of otherwise characteristic-free space marines that he’s tagging along with.  The little shouting matches between the two play host to some specific and familiar post-9/11 language, and Vanquish briefly flirts with Kojima territory with its adorably naive navel-gazing over the horrors of war. For as sincere and serious as it seems like it’s trying to be about ideals like sacrifice and duty, its glimpses of robot dance parties suggest sillier intentions, and yet I can’t tell if Vanquish is winking when it delivers midnight-movie-worthy lines like “We won’t let New York become the next San Francisco!” I guess it doesn’t really matter, I laughed anyway.

 You're not the only one out there with bleeding-edge power armor.
It’s his anachronistic nicotine habit that clearly pegs Sam as a facile Solid Snake pretender, but I’m going to let a lot of that slide, just because his awesome gear makes him so much goddamn fun to play as. Aside from making Sam particularly resilient, the suit enables him to perform a rocket-powered slide-tackle, allowing him to move from one piece of cover to another, or put some space in between him and the laser-filled hordes of Russian automatons, with bracing speed. It’s sort of like the roadie run from Gears of War, but with a greater degree of turning control and much, much faster. The suit also lets you slow down time to better line up your shots--Russian robot design, it seems, falls prey to a recall-worthy weakness to headshots, and the massive mechanized bosses you face on the regular are freckled with conveniently glowing red weak spots. Between these two abilities, plus the usual cover-based opportunities to ever-so-briefly retreat from battle, you’ve got a certain deal of control over the pace of the battle, yet the fundamental movement speed is so blinding that it never moves too slowly. Both of these suit abilities tap into a shared energy bar that, if depleted entirely, can take several seconds to cool down and use again, which, in the hot-and-heavy firefights of Vanquish, can be several seconds too long. Managing your energy levels is something to keep in mind, but on its normal difficulty, the game is forgiving enough that you can have some fast-and-loose fun with these abilities.
 
Sam also has what may be one of the best guns in video games, because it is, essentially, all guns. Any gun that Sam finds, either in strategically placed weapon lockers or out on the battlefield, can be scanned in and then immediately equipped. You can store up to three of these patterns at a time, switching between them, and two flavors of grenades, with the D-pad, but there are well more weapons than that, including basic machine-gun, heavy machine-gun, sniper, and shotgun varieties, plus a suite of exotic, high-powered lock-on weapons, making for lots of on-the-fly decisions about what to keep and what to drop. I found that, of the basic gun models, I relied on the heavy machine-gun first and foremost, but ammo for weapons like the rocket launcher, pulse cannon, and laser array tended to be a little more scarce. Being aware of ammo for all the weapons you're carrying pays dividends, as the game features a simple upgrade system that increases the rank of a held weapon whenever you pick up that same weapon again, provided you are already maxed out on ammo.
 
 Quantity AND quality.
Sam's gun also looks spectacular as it rearranges itself from one weapon configuration to another, though the action tends to be so intense, and the third-person angle is such that you don't get to see that slick little touch too often during battle. That's OK, though, as Vanquish makes looking spectacular a big priority in just about everything it does. The battlefield itself is never terribly large, with a very simple, linear path laid out to take you from one encounter to the next, but you're constantly reminded of the almost unfathomable size of the space station, with arching vistas that make Halo look like a townhouse, and set-piece events like a huge space cruiser crashing dramatically into the ground right beside you. The glowing power source on the back of Sam's sleek, scaled suit helps it look even more high-tech than all of the grey steel that surrounds him on the space station, and the insect-like design that permeates the Russian armaments gives them a great alien quality. And, not to sound like a broken record here, but it all moves awfully fast. In a way, that speed is the biggest issue with Vanquish. Aside from making it an experience that can be too intense to take in for long stretches, the game seems to blow right by at around five hours.

Its weird, half-hearted political gestures aside, Vanquish is the kind of video game that reminds you that these are video games. Perhaps more than any quality, video games allow for visceral thrills unfettered by the real-world logistics of physics and general plausibility. Sometimes a game just needs to look cool and make you feel like a space-age badass, and Vanquish accomplishes both with vigor.
58 Comments
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Edited by Underachiever007

I'm buying this

Posted by Aronman789

damn it

Posted by Yummylee

Jesus, about time. Thought they gave up on reviewing this.

Posted by arab_prince

Wow pretty impressive score.

Posted by Dan_CiTi

Somewhere Brad Nicholson does not approve hahaha. But that's great, everytime I've touched this game it has been great. Lots of fun combat, great awkward/campy/japanese humor, etc. 

Posted by patrick

No arguments here. Shit was hot.

Posted by Vorbis

This is going to be one of those games I pick up several months down the line and really enjoy it, then wonder why I didn't pick it up earlier.

Posted by Landon

Platinum is quickly becoming my favorite developer.

Posted by FunExplosions

This game reminds me of Omega Boost. And candy.

Posted by Toxin066

I love your writing style, Ryan.  Bodacious use of braggadocio. 
 
Bayonetta and now Vanquish? Platinum Games is quickly becoming my favorite developer.

Posted by buzz_clik

I've already bought this, but I've only played about an hour because Fable III's been all sorts of long-term distracting me. I'm actually really enjoying Fable III, but I'm also jazzed that I've got Vanquish waiting for me at the end.

Moderator
Posted by skadbob
@Toxin066 said:
" I love your writing style, Ryan. "
This.
Posted by Bones8677

Please tell me that is a reference to Superman: At Earth's End. :-D

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

BURNING ASS.

Posted by cooljammer00

Glad to see it doesn't suck.

Posted by Skald

Dude, totally. 
 
I'm so going to get this when the price drops.

Posted by Duffyside
@extremeradical said:
" Dude, totally.  I'm so going to get this when the price drops. "
Dude, it's totally 35 bucks at K-Mart for a few more days. No joke. Go get!
Posted by Yummylee
@Duffyside said:
" @extremeradical said:
" Dude, totally.  I'm so going to get this when the price drops. "
Dude, it's totally 35 bucks at K-Mart for a few more days. No joke. Go get! "
Dude, seriously? Totally awesome!
Posted by artofwar420

Excellent, gonna read this while driving to school.

Posted by Crunchman

I'm so glad this game exists.

Posted by Enigma777

Good review. I wasn't expecting any less of this game. Will definitely pick it up when I have a bit more time on my hands

Posted by Duffyside
@Abyssfull said:
" @Duffyside said:
" @extremeradical said:
" Dude, totally.  I'm so going to get this when the price drops. "
Dude, it's totally 35 bucks at K-Mart for a few more days. No joke. Go get! "
Dude, seriously? Totally awesome! "
Dude, yep! 
 
And for anyone in the UK, some place is selling Vanquish and Bayonetta for 30 pounds, which is apparently less than one game is normally?  http://www.play.com/Games/Xbox360/4-/13571562/Vanquish/Product.html 
Posted by MarkWahlberg

Heh heh. DARPA.

Posted by JJOR64

The game does look great.  I will check it out once the price drops.

Posted by JoelTGM

dude awesome boxart!

Posted by Yummylee
 It’s his anachronistic nicotine habit that clearly pegs Sam as a facile Solid Snake pretender, but I’m going to let a lot of that slide     
 
Noice ;P
Posted by sickVisionz

Using Rebel FM logic, Ryan is clearly a clover studio fanboy who chose this game solely for the nefarious purpose of giving it an unjustly high score so that the remnants of a now defunct studio could have a well rated action game semi-associated with them.

Posted by Claude

Great review, I'm such a pussy. I know so much about games, but I'm left not playing them. Sometimes I think I'm more of a fan of the industry than the games that are played.

Posted by Diamond

Got my copy from K-Mart tonight.

Edited by Cornman89

God, Ryan's writing style is so fun to read. I don't even know what 
braggadocio means. I've never seen that word before!

Edited by Duffyside

This review is pretty great. I'm a fanatic for Vanquish, and have been reading tons of comments and reviews and was worried that Ryan might also fall into the camp of people I felt didn't "get it." I know that may make me sound like a bit of an ass... and I can't argue.
 
Specifically I am happy to see Ryan understanding that the game's writing is supposed to a be a mix of machismo and slapstick. The writer himself said he was going for that precise feeling: people not sure why they're laughing exactly, but laughing none-the-less.
 
Two issues I have with the review: First, saying it's about 5 hours. This can be true, depending on how you look at it. I suspect (and may be wrong) that Ryan's end-game clock read around 5 hours. That does not include cinematics (over 2 hours worth I believe) nor deaths. So if you one section gave you trouble, and you spent 15 minutes on it and then died, but then knew what to expect as you went back to the last checkpoint, that is a good way to cut down time. Also, Challenge Mode is incredibly fun, at times difficult, and therefore rewarding. That to me is almost as compelling as the campaign, and adds a lot of replay value. Challenge 4 (of 6) alone took me almost 4 hours to master and finally beat. 
 
My second issue: smoking serves a purpose! When you need time to recharge (health and energy), and the enemies are still coming while you're in cover, if Sam smokes and then tosses his cigarette over the cover, the robits attack it, as they operate via heat sensors, giving you an extra few seconds to gather your senses and then get the hell back out there. 
 
Absurd? Yup. And it's great.

Posted by None

Whats up with terrorists and San Francisco? Anyways, this sounds great, although the length of the game will probably disappoint me.

Posted by rjayb89
Posted by Sooty

I want this game, I predict it will be dirt cheap within a month or two.

Posted by Rawrnosaurous

At the moment I can't be happier that I won this game from Gamepro. I was a little distraught because I was afraid the game wasn't good.

Posted by Tennmuerti

At only 5 hours of singleplayer and no multiplayer this is too thin content wise. At least for a full price.
Maybe as a rental or if I find a cheap copy (unlikely in my area)

Posted by JoMate
Posted by RVonE

Man, 5 hours? From what I've seen and read, I'll really like this game but 5 hours is just to short. They should've taken some cues from Bayonetta.
Posted by DaBuddaDa

Hells yes, I've been waiting for this!

Posted by Blind_Evil

The length thing hasn't been an issue for me. 
 
I'm playing on hard and I'm at 9 hours, just getting to the last act now :x

Posted by ashton

i was hoping someone would get around to reviewing this. maybe a quick look in the works?

Posted by tourgen

I played the demo and was impressed with the speed and frame rate.  Oh and it was actually pretty damn fun to play too!  I'm glad it got a good review here.  It looks like a good $30 game for me when I get the free time.

Posted by SiN13

Been trying to play this but I just can't grasp how I'm suppose to be playing this game because I seem to overheat and die a lot. Too much else out right now to be frustrating myself with this one.

Posted by Undeadpool

SOLD! Or at the very least RENTED!

Posted by amir90

Good to see you liked it as well Mr.Ryan :D

Posted by Duffyside
@RVonE: I think, THINK, he means the play clock at the end of the game said around 5 hours. That clock does not include cinematics or deaths. There is also a Challenge Mode, if you're into that sort of thing. I'd estimate a first play through on Normal to be 7 - 10 hours depending on skill level. It was almost nine for me, but I was abusing the upgrade system like a mad man.
Posted by WalkerTR77

This marks the end... of my presidency.

Posted by GunstarRed

I'm glad Ryan liked it but I definately disagree about the 5 hours thing. I finished the game on hard and timed it and I took roughly 11 and a half hours but the timer came in at  just over six and that was with skipping cutscenes.  Vanquish is easily one of the best games I have played all year.
Posted by RVonE
@Duffyside said:
" @RVonE: I think, THINK, he means the play clock at the end of the game said around 5 hours. That clock does not include cinematics or deaths. There is also a Challenge Mode, if you're into that sort of thing. I'd estimate a first play through on Normal to be 7 - 10 hours depending on skill level. It was almost nine for me, but I was abusing the upgrade system like a mad man. "

Hmm... Interesting. I'll reconsider picking this one up. Thanks.
Posted by Hamz

Great review and I'm glad to see that it got reviewed given how little buzz there seemed to be about the game by most publications. Colour me interested!

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