Mr. Mikami trades in zombies for mechs in this solid shooter.
Vanquish is a third-person shooter from critically acclaimed director best known for his creation of the Resident Evil series, Shinji Mikami. It is without a doubt one of the most original and fantastic shooters released in years, the only other being Resident Evil 5 in March of 2009.
"Resident Evil" was a survival-horror game released on the PSX, or Sony PlayStation, and was one of the first games on consoles to feature digital actors and their voices. Being one of the first, though, it was also one of the silliest. Featuring infamous lines such as "master of unlocking" and "jill sandwich", it was still an impressive game that required serious strategy to get through, and only the ones who bowed down to it's hardcore gameplay could hope to beat it. If they weren't getting constantly freaked out, that is.
Over the years and after several sequels and other types of games, however, Shinji Mikami left Resident Evil to do his own thing, and now in this year, he has brought us nothing short of greatness in the form of his third-person shooter, Vanquish. A game that is only single player, and deserves serious credibility for that alone.
The developer responsible for Vanquish, Platinum Games, was also responsible for a rather distasteful title in Bayonetta, but do not let that cloud your judgment on this game.
Let's get the good things out of the way first.
It's the near future where the human population on planet Earth has boomed so rapidly that resources began to dwindle swiftly. The United States sought to alleviate its own energy problems by launching a space station, rather a space colony reminiscent of one from Mobile Suit Gundam, that is harboring a solar energy-driven generator to provide them with an alternative source of fuel from the sun. However, the Russian government was overthrown in a coup, and ultra-nationalists calling themselves the "Order of the Russian Star" captured this space station and diverted it's harvested energy into a gigantic microwave colony laser and they fire it upon San Fancisco in order to force the U.S. into a total and unconditional surrender in 10 hours before they fire upon New York City as well.
You take the role of a DARPA field agent, Sam Gideon. Mr. Gideon is equipped with some of the most high-tech weaponry known to our future evolution, most noticeable is the ARS suit, Augmented Reaction Suit. The suit allows him to glide across surfaces on rocket boosters attached to his suit, and it will also allow him to enter into "bullet-time" mode.
This power comes at a cost, however. You have a limited energy bar that you really do not want to overheat because you are extremely vulnerable. If you overheat, your dash-rolls become slower and you can't dodge anything, you can't do bullet time, and you can't slide. You need to seek cover and sit tight so that it will cool off. Certain enemies can also overheat you with an EMP shockwave. Using melee instantly overheats you as well, sadly. Also, if you are critically injured, you will automatically enter bullet time mode until you overheat, allowing you time to get to safety.
The bullet-time mode does make cover practically useless when it comes to taking down enemies, though.
Not only that, he is armed with an experimental weapon system called BLADE, which is capable of scanning any existing weapon and then transforming into a perfect replica of that weapon. Its ability to store three scans at a time means that at any given time the BLADE can shapeshift between three completely different guns. This is also amusing if you have a Laser Cannon or Rocket Launcher as well as an Assault rifle, because then you can switch between any and it will take the form effortlessly.
The weapons you can find are also upgradeable, and it is very satisfying when you finally earn the top ranks for your favorite guns, mine being the Laser Cannon(A Pre-order item), the Assault rifle, and the Heavy Machine Gun. From how much I've played thus far, I am certain that if you upgrade a weapon to maximum then ditch it in one playthrough, you'll still have maximum rank later in the game if you pick it up, allowing free reign for variety and you can still use your old weapons as much as you want if you can find them again.
You upgrade weapons by picking up another weapon of the same type, and if the weapon you have is at full ammo, it will gain a stripe. You need to pick up three weapons to get one star upgrade, and most weapons can be upgraded to 9 stars, which is the max. An eagle emblem shows the weapon is fully upgraded. The upgrades are usually magazine size increases, maximum ammo carried, and then firepower.
There is one other more uncommon way, however. After intense firefights, you can sometimes find Upgrade Chips, which instantly upgrade the weapon you have equipped by one star, and they also restore ammo to full.
What makes this a much more intense shooter is that Ammo is never, if rarely, scarce. This is a very good thing, because even a headshot-maniac like me can run low from time to time. Every time you pick up a gun and you have it already, your ammo is restored to full. There is now middle ground to it. I highly approve, because it keeps the action frenetic and doesn't make you have to contemplate what's next.
I don't think I've ever spoken or focused so much before on the player's own powers.
Anyway, there are a few more minor things that definitely need to be mentioned before I move on.
In this game, I have never before seen such a good use of cigarettes outside of Metal Gear Solid, because while you lounge behind cover in heavy fire and light one up, Sam then throws it out and it distracts the grunt robots you fight, allowing you some free headshots. Of course...I never really used this myself. Other people might get a kick out of it, but I usually ditch cover and just head shot everything.
The graphics in this game are very vibrant, and the game does its best to take you to all sorts of environments so it can show off. Nothing feels rigged or glossy, it is all natural and beautiful. Unlike certain "shooters" released this year.
The attention to detail is very "Japanese" if you know what I mean. What I mean is, there is a lot going on at all times. Every time you shoot a robot infantry's head off, a plethora of pretty blue sparks come out of it's now ragdolled body and shower the area around it. They seamlessly bounce off the ground as they explode into a blue flame surrounded with yellow electricity. This game does color right.
There is no sepia tint in this game. Even the water looks very picturesque, and you never even get to swim in it. All of the models are highly detailed, especially Sam's. If you look carefully at his BLADE when you switch weapons, you see how it works. The transformation of one weapon to another is all very well animated and very fun to watch in the half-second breaks you get to see it.
Providence, the space colony you battle on, does its best to suck you in. There are many scenarios and environments you will battle across, most ruined as they may be. From dangling on a giant bridge on the verge of collapsing to zero gravity, you will see everything and be bedazzled by the glamour of it all.
The animations that Sam takes when using his boosters to slide around the battlefield are varied and all look incredible. It is almost like Resonance of Fate to a degree, because even as you slide you can take aim and enter bullet time to take pot shots at the enemy.
The AI is some of the best I've ever seen, no doubt. Few games have captured real shooter AI in ages, and this game stands out for it's spectacular programming.
Marine allies will take cover, they CAN defeat enemies, and they WILL work together. Lead by their fearless leader with a hilarious physique, Robert Burns, they will take the fight to the enemy while you work your magic on the sidelines.
Robert Burns, the Marine's leader, often barks orders, and the marines will follow it. He tells them to move forward, they do, and they clear out what ever is in the way. What makes this more enticing is that if a marine gets seriously wounded, a first-aid symbol appears on the screen and you can hurry over to them and administer a stimpack to them. They then immediately thank you, but not before dropping a weapon or upgrade chip for you.
They take cover and return fire. Sometimes they even assist you and follow you around. The enemy AI is no different. You may face mindless, faceless entities in the form of the Russian's robot army, but they are still very clever and do just the same.
They don't order each other around, but work as a collective. They jump really high and overtake marine positions, they roll from cover and surprise you, they are worthy foes for the man in the ARS suit.
Now to the meat of it all. Gameplay!
Vanquish is a unique title. It features epic gunplay, new features, and improves on the genre just like Resident Evil 5 did. In a world of lackluster titles like Halo and Gears of War, this game does its own thing and almost takes the gold trophy. There are a few chinks in the armour of this game, though.
Every battle will most likely unfold in unbelievable ways. One, you could dash ahead recklessly on your boosters and start swerving while taking aim at enemies. After blowing away three and nearly overheating your suit, you dash into cover and take some more potshots before focusing and moving forward, taking advantage of bullet time manually.
This game is like the real-time, third-person shooter version of Resonance of Fate. Instead of three misfits, you get one hardcore hero with a powerful suit and a super weapon only he can use.
You fight robots for the majority of the game, all varied and all threatening. From the red painted grunt soldiers to their gold-plated leaders, to the varied giants called Romanovs, to shocktrooper-esque monstrosities like Bia's and even fully equipped battle tanks, you take it all on. But you are usually never alone, either.
There is one thing that is a common complaint, and it's that there is not enough varied bosses. The final boss is just two of one you face earlier on. You fight the same boss four times, one time you even fight two of them at once. You fight an "Unknown" boss twice in the game as well.
The developers did a good job on trying to make each fight unique, though, and for every boss there is a special QTE event unique to them. When you injure a certain part of them enough, Sam runs up and engages in melee or some other thing. The two Argus robots you fight at once, if you destroy the head of the bipedal one, Sam jumps up to it's head and starts pummeling it at light speed, and then ending with a shoryuken that sends it's head off into in the air crashing right behind him as he jumps down.
For one, Sam gets attacked but he counters by firing wildly at it's weak spot. When it's damaged, Sam then jumps into the air and spins very fast and uses his feet like a drill. He twirls so wildly and rapidly in one place that I nearly felt sick myself, but he punctured a very clean hole through the giant robot and instantly destroyed it.
It's the interaction that really makes you feel like you're a hardcore badass, while the game itself assures you that you are still human and will die if you try to stop a giant missile with your face. The first time you fight an Argus, you have the opportunity to shove a missile back into the arm that fired it. Oddly enough, nobody ever comments on you when you do these stunts.
There are intense firefights on several monorail systems, you take flight on an enemy transport, you destroy a massive warship with your bare hands.
I found cover to be very useless in most regards. I defeated all of my enemies by using manual bullet time and shooting them all in the head or their weak points. I then proceeded back into cover and cooled off the suit. Perhaps I cheated, but I didn't get tired or bored with it at all. Sometimes I took fire from behind cover, but you cannot use your slow-mo from behind cover for some reason, so I only used it to get some safety if I got critically wounded or needed to cool off.
I did get the trophy for beating the game without dying doing it this way, though...
Shamelessness aside, even if you played it like I do, there are still some noticeable problems I need to get off my back now. I felt that some enemies were impregnable and quite unfair at times. Especially the Bias. There was a part later in the game where you fight two of them at once.
Bias are bipedal robots that can transform into scorpions. In their bipedal form, they have this giant staff that can become an axe, a rocket gatling gun, or a shotgun. In scorpion mode, they can jump at you and claw you. I believe they also have an instant kill attack by grabbing you with their tail but I avoided it thankfully. They only have one weakpoint and it is the size of an egg on the top of their backs. Even shooting this most weaponry, I never really did much damage and the fight dragged on unnaturally and ruined the pace a bit.
There are also many types of enemy attacks that will instantly kill you, even if you are behind cover. I've watched videos and can only imagine how frustrated I myself would be if it happened to be. The early Romanov variants will unleash a giant fireball if you aggravate them enough, and it passes through everything. On the top of my head I can't remember the name of another enemy that can do it as well, but the Bia's axe can also penetrate through thick walls, even if there was no possible way it could see you.
I also noticed some amounts of "trace aiming", as I call it. Basically, the game cheating. Just miliseconds after I jump out of cover, I sometimes get nailed by a rocket I had no idea was fired, and I am instantly put into a critical state and my rhythm is ruined. The rocket usually comes from a Romanov and they give off no indication when they fire one.
The Argus can also do this in their four-legged form. They can fire rockets and always hit you unless you dodge right as they fire. Older players with arthritis may have problems with this later when fights get ruthless.
The bigger problems of this game are not just minor inconveniences, though. The game is remarkably short. When I beat the game, I completed it within 05:13:25. 5 Hours, 13 minutes, 25 seconds. It is not a terrible thing...but there is a distinct lack of good challenge post-game. Sure, you can replay the story. Good as it is, though, it may get repetitive after a second playthrough.
One of the best games in the replayability department is Resident Evil 5. Especially with it's DLC. The Mercenaries is the most perfect example of how post-game content should be.
The tactical challenges you unlock by beating each of the five acts are just time-attacks against waves of the robots. I can get into it, but it feels really lackluster. I would much prefer to take them on with a coop buddy and have a score counter with a timer ticking down until it's over. Better yet, not over until we die.
I also feel that this game would have been nothing short of amazing if you had a coop partner. There might have been padding of enemies in the story, but with a little work, this could have been a stellar game. Fortunately, this game is well received, and the ending does allude to more happening, so there is a good possibility for Vanquish 2 to take everything that makes it good and use newer things.
This game talks big, but it doesn't really say anything. It lacks content. The single player is basic, but great. You've got everything you need with it, but that's about all there is. If you're a nerd, you can go back and get better scores and times.
Another very annoying gripe is Sam's melee. He has a plethora of awesome attacks and he can do it really well, but every time you kill an enemy with melee or just hit one and not kill them, you are instantly overheated. I do not get why that is, and it's like a spoiled carrot dangled in your face. Melee is very fun to do, you can even do it when you're boosting, but when you do it you lose the enjoyment of your suit's abilities.
In closing, this game deserves appreciation for doing what nobody else wants to do. It's a single-player focused game, a shooter no less, in this market of dreary mockeries of the genre. It doesn't do multi-player, and it creates fresh things on it's own. It adds improvement to the genre that will sadly probably never inspire anything to take it's place. It hits hard, and you won't regret purchasing it. If there is ever a time when you need a quick game to play, this is it. It doesn't skimp on the action at all, you've got a deadly array of weaponry at your disposal, and you've got endless hordes to mow down single-handedly.
This game does not hold your hand. Even with all of these powers, enemies are still very much a threat to your existence. The bosses all have arguments against it which they would like to talk to you about, and it's very well paced and balanced. You've got a super suit, super weapons system, and you're working alone in the crowd. There are plenty of surprises to keep you on your feet, and the QTEs are not aggravating because most of the time they are all unique to a situation and will not result in death if you fail it.
A Crystal Viper is an enemy that you fight later in the game and it's an assassin droid. It will charge at you with it's sword, but if you time a press of Square right, you will uppercut it then slam it face first into the ground, giving you free shots. There is simply a lot to do, and you will have a lot of fun doing it. This is the very first time in a long while that I have ever felt good about purchasing a shooter.
Imagine if this game had the length of one of the most well-paced shooters released, Half-life. Now that's something to think about.