A blockbuster movie in game form....and it's good!
You really got to appreciate a game like Vanquish coming out around this time. From the realistic military workings of Medal of Honor to the apocalyptic doom of New Vegas, here comes this game that basically says "we do what Michael Bay can't do on his best days: deliver a rousing summer blockbuster", only this time it's in video game form. The action's over the top, it's frenetic, runs at a very smooth pace and the controls feel right but keep in mind "summer blockbuster" also means something else too: they tend to be loud, dumb, void of substance and has its share of issues. Platinum Games so far is getting a really strong track record with their super early release this year of Bayonetta but really I probably wouldn't recommend the price of this game at what it is now but once it hits a deal somewhere or drops in price, absolutely. Not many games scream "we're a blast to play" right now as Vanquish.
The plot of Vanquish is pretty straightforward: it's in the future where resources are really limited causing nations to fight over the few remaining so the United States builds a station to harvest the sun's energy and using solar technology instead. But when a Russian terrorist group takes it over and launches a surprise attack on San Francisco, the US has to get onboard the station and find the leader responsible, lest he fires on New York. So you'll play as Sam Gideon, a soldier outfitted with the ARS (Augmented Reaction Suit), leading the charge as you take on a bunch of Russian robots as you try to save the day.
The action in Vanquish is incredibly fun and more evidently, it's also really fast. Thanks to jets on Sam's legs, he can "powerslide" over to pieces of cover or get closer to his target and melee (prompting a cool jump backwards so you can land more shots) and the sluggish days of other similar games like Gears of War almost seem tame by comparison given how quickly everything flows in this game. I could raise the issue that it's maybe a bit too action heavy at times as the game can pretty much be summed up into "firefight, cutscene, firefight, cutscene" and not a lot of breaks inbetween. It's fun and fast sure but it can also feel same-y and a bit monotonous. One phrase that popped in my head was Smithers from the Simpsons going: it'll be motorized mayhem mayhem mayhem!....um, do we really need all those mayhems?
The story, is, well it feels like a Japanese made game: huge in style but rather empty in substance. The story feels kind of insubstantial, characters are not that memorable and by extension neither is the dialogue and at times (though you gotta love Sam's "I eat rocks for breakfast" voice) it felt like I wasn't moving towards a bigger goal, I was just shooting anything that looked remotely unfriendly and that was it. One thing that makes Vanquish make up for these issues though is the setpieces and damn are they awesome. One example is your on one train, enemies on a train adjacent to you and it's the classic "shoot at other dudes on other side" sequence but what happens is their train starts to rotate around the track and next thing you know, you have to aim up at them who are upside down. Another has you racing across a collapsing freeway causing your view and your aim to be slightly tilted. It's these moments where Vanquish really takes on an exhilarating pace and makes games of this nature look near pedestrian.
Going into slow motion during a dodge or boost also gives the game style and hopping over cover and going into slow motion then is more useful then just real-time but I have 2 gripes with it: one is that any melee move (aside from using the disc launcher) causes Sam's suit to overheat, preventing it from either boosting, going into slow motion or meleeing some more. Granted, I'm sure Platinum didn't want people to just boost-melee the entire game but just the notion that Sam is somehow physically incapable of throwing a punch cause his suit said so is dumb. Also, should Sam take too much damage, he goes into what I would call "get your ass to cover" mode where Sam will instantly slow time in order for you to take cover or should you need to, kill whatever's causing you problems. It's decent in combat but the one-hit kills which don't turn on this mode are seriously lame and cheap. Sure if you died in combat against other foes, it's your fault but to be instantly killed by these attacks kind of deflates the experience and more than once, I let out a big heavy sigh just as I was having fun. And the boss fights repeat too much so remember that boss from the demo? Hope ya liked fighting him cause you get to do it some more! Lucky you.
Unlike Bayonetta, which had really expensive accessories and things you can buy to outfit her with, there's no real replay value in the game. Aside from beating it on higher difficulties and a challenge mode, there's no character skins, no new game+ and the campaign's roughly 4-6 hours depending on how good you are. Like I said, if this was any cheaper, I'd highly recommend it since the action's so insane and over-the-top, graphically it's stunning (if a repetitive color palette, lots of whites and greys here) and runs at a silky-smooth framerate but at the full price, it's hard to recommend given the mileage you can get at other games at similar prices.