Hold on Tight
You can tell that a game is fast paced when activating bullet time merely slows time to a pace other games would deem regular. Such is the case with Vanquish, the third person cover-based shooter from Platinum Games. While it doesn't do a lot to innovate within the genre, the game's fast paced gameplay and intense action provides an entertaining experience.
Set in the near future, Vanquish has you taking on the role of DARPA agent Sam Gideon, an ex-football playing, smoking, all around American badass. Sam is on a mission to take back a space station after it is hijacked by Russians and is used to destroy San Francisco. Armed with a suit of futuristic battle armor called the Augmented Reaction Suit, you must take down the robotic Russian forces on your way to save America.
The gameplay is pretty standard as far as third-person cover based shooters go, however Vanquish manages to incorporate some interesting touches on the formula. The game's weapons employ the BLADE system, where instead of having to pick up new guns, you replicate those you find; ultimately meaning you can keep up to three guns on you at once. Aside from providing some cool-but-often unseen gun-transformations, the BLADE system enables you to collect upgrades that will power up specific versions of your weapons. It’s a system that doesn’t stray too far from the conventions of the genre, but does not seem overbearing.
Where the game really excels is in its pure insanity. Vanquish is fast - really fast. You’ll be fighting hordes of enemy robots at a relentless pace while you watch squad mates die all around you – and die they do. I had a staggering 537 confirmed allies killed in action by the end of the game. Thankfully, the game’s breakneck speed is made manageable by the multitude of abilities imparted by your suits Augmented Reality Mode (ARM).
The ARM is used for a variety of functions, including melee attacks, a boost and the aforementioned bullet time mode. Your melee attacks hit hard, and in one hit can kill smaller robots or seriously damage larger ones, which is really satisfying. When the boost is activated, Sam rockets forward to get in the enemy's face, or escape to cover. When you are severely damaged, you automatically enter bullet time mode, where you can take out the last of the renaming enemies, or hide and regenerate your life. Constantly rebounding between fast and slow can get harrowing at times - even frustrating when you are stuck in bullet time – but it’s not a problem that significantly detracts from the game. What can get really hard is managing your melee attacks, boost, and bullet time as they all share the same bar.
The story and scripted events hardly render Vanquish any less frenetic. The environment lends itself to some truly crazy events, as the giant city within a space station plays host to all sorts of sleek, futuristic areas. One instance of the insanity has you on a monorail shooting at another monorail that is above you, but upside down, circling around you, while you are being boarded by robots. The bosses are also huge, and in the beginning, very challenging. As you advance through the levels though, your upgraded weapons will make short work of repeated boss encounters. Disappointingly, the seemingly simple story takes a decidedly awful turn for the worst as things progress.
The story isn’t merely bad; it actively detracts from the whole experience. It includes some last minute twists and turns, but they’re so ridiculous they make the otherwise middling story plainly bad. There is no attachment to the characters, as any back-story is delivered via loading screens that don't give you nearly enough time to read everything. The voice acting leaves much to be desired, which is a shame because the character designs are very well done.
Yet even with these glaring faults in narrative - the action is fast paced and unique, and the faults in the story can mostly be ignored. Fundamentally, Vanquish is a fun experience, and well worth playing.