Three hours. Three hours of trying to learn how to play the most intense shooter I’ve ever encountered on ‘Normal’. Three hours before I eventually had to succumb to that nagging voice in the back of my head and switch to the easier difficulty which, in just one of Vanquish’s brilliant touches, is called ‘Casual’, an infinitely less bitter pill to swallow than ‘Easy’. But once I gained a footing, so began a delirious journey into a genre I had previously sworn off as being beyond me. Damn you Vanquish.

Vanquish is a single player hyper-kinetic third person shooter coming from the wonderful minds at Platinum Games (MadWorld, Bayonetta) and directed by Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4, God Hand) which pulls off the unthinkable: rising above a sea of games concerned with running and gunning and bringing some genre-changing ideas with it.

Pressing start on your control pad sees you take on the role of Sam Gideon, a gruff-voiced chain-smoking Solid Snake / Hugh Jackman-as-Wolverine type, wry and dangerous in that paint-by-numbers style common in Japanese bad-ass videogame characters.

You begin your journey through the game’s slim narrative after a hijacked space station is used to unleash a devastating attack that wipes San Francisco off the face of the Earth. Your mission, outlined by the wonderfully over the top Lt. Col Burns (built like a grizzly bear with a giant mecha arm), is to reclaim the space station before it can attack its next target, New York.

So far, so fluff. Needless to say, if cutting edge videogame narrative is your bag, you’re going to need to look elsewhere to get that itch scratched, with ropey dialogue and Kojima-esque heavy handed messages about war mercifully giving way to the sort of action-packed and expertly-choreographed cutscenes that act as the reward they’re meant to be. Frankly, Gideon and the plot he travels through are as forgettable as his outfit is unique; whoever said ‘Clothes do not make the man’ clearly never played Vanquish.

The real star of the show is the ARS, the ‘Augmented Reaction Suit’, a battle suit which, as well as looking like the lovechild of Casshern and Master Chief, bestows upon the player what basically equates to utter mastery of the battlefield: thrusters and bullet time.

At the press of a button Gideon performs a boost slide, not entirely unlike Peter Kay’s gag about boys at wedding discos sliding on their knees, albeit for 40 yards at a time, at a breakneck pace and with considerably more manoeuvrability. During this move you have full control of Sam, steering him with the left stick while taking aim with the right; merely moving around Vanquish’s varied battlefields is a joy, zipping around enemies and – in the case of those as big as buildings – through their legs. This power is kept on a fairly short leash via the temperature of the ‘ARS’ reactor: keep on boosting until the reactor overheats (displayed via a small meter running out in the corner of the screen) and you’ll be forced to make like a pedestrian for a cooling off period, leaving you vulnerable to the horde of robots constantly vying to rip you to pieces.

Likewise the suit is equipped with what it refers to as ‘AR Mode’ (or bullet time to you and me), allowing you to leap out of cover with a flourish and precisely aim for the evident weak spots of the robot army tasked with your elimination. Triggered automatically upon sustaining critical damage, this can also be triggered manually and during the aforementioned boost slides, at the expense of an even quicker depletion of that heat-meter.

Along with the typical assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher and some more outlandish weapons, each materialising from the suit itself in a very cool way, Gideon can also dish out extravagant melee attacks, with each entirely different depending on which of the game’s ten weapons you currently wield. Such power and spectacle comes at quite a price, however, costing the entire heat-meter – an intoxicating balance of risk and reward, much like the game as a whole, daring you to employ risky tactics and empowering you when you do.

It is in moments like this that Vanquish astounds, transforming a player such as myself, more commonly cowering behind in-game cover waiting for an opportunity to strike back, into the kind of reckless risk-taker that only videogames can allow you to ‘be’, taking the fight to the enemy, zipping around behind and between them and surprising yourself with the tactics you develop on the fly.

In terms of visuals and audio, Vanquish delivers on every count. Slick environments dazzle with their construction and in one great sequence, their literal destruction as you narrowly scramble to safety amid a crumbling bridge. Later in the game you find the battle raging above and around you as the regular rules of gravity are briefly popped to one side, against foes ranging from small grunts to bipedal mechs and giant towering bug-like robots and boss encounters that don’t disappoint.

Vanquish is a hard game, unapologetically aimed at the hardcore gamer who wants to be pushed to the limit. Enemies attack you with an ingenuity that is all too rare in shooters, punishing you should you remain glued to one spot for too long and always finding new ways to surprise you and outflank the less-daring, cover-hugging players out there like my former self.

Special mention should also go to the enemies you’ll encounter capable of one hit kills: although always telegraphed to the point of being fair, they’ll still catch some players by surprise, especially those going for the ‘complete the game without dying achievement’! I found that such foes upped the tension suitably, contributing greatly to the expertly paced adventure.

Replayability is a reward unto itself; having conquered ‘Casual’ and trying out the game’s unlocked challenge modes, learning and trying out new tricks and tactics is a joy, with the harder difficulty levels pushing you to breaking point in a way that just works. Played as the score-attack game Vanquish is, the most dedicated will find themselves returning to challenge the online leaderboards for some time to come.







4 responses to “Vanquish”

  1. DanL avatar

    Probably the most descriptive write up I’ve seen around for this game. (and no complaining about the ‘story’ length, wtg you!)

    Played the demo, and was intrigued… your review’s just moved it further up the Christmas list!

  2. Dean avatar

    What a fantastic review. Very excited about this – especially after the ‘Casshern’ reference (one of my favourite films).

  3. Simon avatar

    This is the first review I’ve read of this game that actually explains what is good about it in a balanced way.

  4. Greg avatar

    I must admit I found the demo put me off the game somewhat, however it sounds as though a bit more time with it could be on the cards… Cheers, great review

Leave a Reply