Giving Gears of War a Run For It's Money Since 2010
When I first heard about Vanquish, being dubbed as the "Gears of War on crack" that it was alleged to be, I almost sighed. Such an expression is over-done, and nearly everytime I hear the idiom "on crack" the thoughts that translate in my head are "RIP-OFF" in plain capitals. Heck, I'm sure many gamers might remember when Duke Nukem Time to Kill was given such a title against Lara Croft. We PC gamers though are probably more familiar with the title when it used to describe the stand-alone Gold Source mod: Gunman Chronicles.
Neither game sucked but it goes without saying that they didn't quite push the boundaries of their respective genres either, appearing to be only generic despite the claims of being those "hyper charged" versions of the games they were based on. Vanquish proves me wrong fortunately. It is anything but generic, being somewhat of a satire to the tactical shooter genre and I'm still able to take the game completely seriously. As to why that is I can't put my finger on in a sentence other than that the developers, Platinum Games, know how to make a rounded off experience if they knew any and their history with Capcom might be the answer as to why.
Vanquish is set somewhere in the near future, Earth has colonised into space with the Russians dominating the world as the ultra-nationalist threat they're nearly always deemed to be. You play as Sam, a Darpa operative in a hyper-powered suit tasked with supporting the marines counter-attack and saving the key scientist trapped on a space station, at ransom, with the Russian's leader: Victor Zeitsev. Seems simple enough doesn't it? If you figured cover shooters were generally filled with action and challenge with each corner, then vamp Vanquish to hard difficulty and get ready to have hell unleashed upon you. Robots double, sometimes triple your size, will flood the narrow metallic walkways with your only available option being to swiftly and skilfully take them all down. Obviously.
You can do this with the expected typical machine gun, assault rifle, sniper rifle and shotguns dispersed throughout the level. I must note however that weapons can be gained additionally by reviving your dying comrades on the battlefield too. Additionally, Vanquish rewards those who use the environment to their advantage. There are occassionally the odd gun emplacements and three story death traps off the stages which tips the fight in your favour. Vanquish plays a lot like shmups such as R-Type and G-Darius in how missions progress: simply avoid bullets, make quick and easy, painless stabs at the enemy and then reach the end of the stage for a finale with a supercharged big boss. Nearly every act of game leads to some sort of climatic battle with a 50 foot robot but beating them is simple though, chop away at their weak spot then rinse and repeat.
Annoyingly, there are a number of quick time events played throughout more of the cinematic in-game moments. When you actually do take down the giant kiler robots for example, those that often don't even have to hit you twice to drain your health bar, the game requests you to make initially peculiar movements with the joypads thumbsticks and buttons. Thankfully they're used appropriately, as with Resident Evil 4, and it makes sense to mash the square button to punch them when requested, as that is the same command as melee. It definitely isn't quite as bad as on Ninja Blade so I digress.
One original feature I will give to Vanquish's gameplay is that the health bar is monitored as if an internal temperature of the suit. If you keep draining it to sprint, or rather glide, down maps or initiate the temporary bullet time mode (yes, Vanquish does have both of these) then you risk exposing yourself without shields. On normal it does take a good number of reasonable blows to the suit that your character wears before you're actually dead and gone, in need of a restart to the last checkpoint. Considering, that makes Vanquish a rather forgiving game which again contrasts with Bayonetta.
What does make Vanquish like Bayonetta however is it's visual style and presentation. Every design has a sleek silver finish to, making a change from the mucky looks of shooters of recent time and the cinematics are superb. The banter of the cut-scenes can at times be funny as the contrast of Sam, the main character, and Colonel Burns becomes the focus. I found it humorous how Burns appears as if a 1:1 copy of ANY main character of Gears of War, maybe it is just an unintentional parody but whatever. There is absolutely no co-op in Vanquish also but somehow I never thought it necessary. There is that much going on that two people probably wouldn't make much difference. If you figured co-op would make your chances of completing the game any easier – you've got the wrong idea.
It does mean that as there is no multiplayer at all though as Vanquish lacks any sort of competitive play. That means Platinum's shooter can be deemed a little short once the campaign has been completed, because there really isn't a whole lot to do besides it – much unlike Resident Evil 4's unlockable battle modes. Vanquish's length measures to only five hours long, game time, but it somehow felt right, akin to the original Metal Gear Solid. Vanquish plays at the right momentum throughout.
Otherwise, there isn't a whole lot else to fault Vanquish for. It is a rock solid shooter that makes the very game it is based on, Gears of War, make a run for it's money. It has a refined gameplay core, perfect presentation and the challenge remains throughout. If anything lets it down it would be the actual length of the game itself. Vanquish can now be typically found for £20 and less aswell, it makes me wonder why people still haven't gone out and bought it. You know exactly what to do.