Vanquish – Review
by Mark R
To say that Vanquish isn’t my usual type of game would be an understatement tantamount to suggesting that Eddie Izzard has been known to say rather odd things in his time. The fact that it’s a third person shooter would normally put me off immediately as the closest I’ve ever come to playing anything remotely close to being an FPS would be Fallout 3 or Borderlands… purely because they have guns. Delve in to the rest of my gaming history and you’ll find strategy games, sim games and western role playing games… I like to take my time over everything, to savour the moment and plan every move ridiculously far in advance and, from my experience, first and third person shooters don’t fall in to that category. For me, they’re the square peg being rammed into the La-Z-Boy shaped hole.
There was, however, something about Vanquish that set it apart from all the other shooters that find their way to the gaming marketplace: the heavy Japanese influence. There is something about the Japanese mindset that can take anything reasonably sane and turn it in to something larger than life which, in most cases, defies logic… but in a good way. Their take on the drab and rather saccharine “It’s A Knockout” format of people wearing odd costumes and doing odd things transformed into the bizarre “Takeshi’s Castle”, which regularly featured enthusiastic contestants piledriving face first into whichever obstacle was in their path. Their idea of a game show in the 80s was “Za Gaman” (or “Endurance”) where contestants would be subjected to dehydration, starvation, repeated ocean dunking and even water torture, making Fear Factor look like The Beechgrove Garden. Besides the aforementioned reasons, my initial interest was sparked by the over the top visuals and the frantic nature of few preview videos I’d watched and so, based on nothing but sheer curiosity, I decided to brave the barrage of bullets and give it a shot.
Vanquish comes to us from the same studio as the controversial, and ridiculously high scoring, third person action game Bayonetta and, while it can be just as over the top as its studio stablemate, Vanquish is less about the fantasy and visuals aspect and more about taking you on a bullet-dodging roller coaster ride. The story begins when a nationalist organisation known as the Order Of The Russian Star takes over an American space station created to harvest the sun’s rays as an alternative energy source in order to combat the drain on resources caused by the population explosion on earth. They turn the space station towards San Francisco and send a blast wave which not only annihilates the city itself, but effectively roasts the inhabitants from within, all of which is shown through a haunting sequence that introduces you to the global agenda as well as your own character. You play Sam Gideon, a soldier in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (or DARPA, for those of you in a hurry) who comes complete with his own specialised ARS armour – the Augmented Reaction Suit – to aid an elite squad of special forces, marines and, of course, space marines as they board the space station to overthrow the Order Of The Russian Star.
What clearly separates Vanquish from any other typical shooter is the inclusion of the ARS, and all of the features therein. Looking like a cross between Master Chief and something from 1980s cartoon series The Centurions (all the old folk just yelled “Power… EXTREME-EME-eme” in their heads there), the suit comes complete with its own heads up display, jet boosters that allow the trademark gliding movement, and the experimental BLADE weapon system which can perfectly replicate any existing weapon merely by scanning the original.
The game kicks off with the all-important tutorial session, covering all aspects of gameplay and suit control, set in a testing lab prior to your release to the main quest. While most other games would have the first level play out as a more diluted version of the main game, Vanquish takes the Assassin’s Creed approach of allowing you to familiarise yourself with your weapons, suit and environment before you are unleashed to the world. Here, you deal with “Camera Controls”, “Basic Controls”, “Movement”, “Weapons & Tactics”, “Close Quarters” combat and the “AR Mode”, which is essentially Bullet Time if you’re into wearing long black coats and shooting the hell out of lobbies with your friends. The benefit of this type of tutorial is that you can take your time to properly familiarise yourself with all of the weapon modes and suit functionality but, as you’d expect, it’s very different from when you’re in an actual combat situation and so, while it serves well for learning button combos, putting this in to practice takes another few minutes once the main mission kicks off.
If the over the top visuals and fast moving action doesn’t immediately let you know that you’re playing a Japanese game, your combat support agent and mission coordinator at DARPA, Elena Ivanova will. Introduced in true Japanese fashion, Ivanova is your typically stunning-for-a-blonde agent complete with extremely short skirt, which helps during the various gratuitous upskirt segues, and has beautiful big eyes to match her denim-clad ample assets, which helps during the various gratuitous downblouse segues. That obvious repetition was for comedic effect, pedants. I’m not one for blondes, but the inclusion of Ivanova makes for a very welcome distraction from the tirade of gunfire and exploding robots even if it was reminiscent of Crystal Kane in The Centurions. I, for one, approve wholeheartedly!
In a somewhat contradictory fashion, considering my disdain for lengthy cut scenes when I just want to get out there and learn the history for myself, I found myself sitting through each of the frequent cut scenes… and enjoying them. There was humour, the visuals themselves were pretty stunning at times, the action was such that the clips could easily be lifted directly from the game and made in to a short movie because they were genuinely that well produced. Sure, there was the obligatory hammy dialogue in places, but it only served to further exaggerate the over the top nature of the game, and the frequent upskirt angles whenever Ivanova was in shot just added to the whole trip as far as I was concerned. Not once, even through my second playthrough (as I somehow managed to lose my original save file and had to start from scratch, did I even contemplate skipping past the cut scenes. This, for me, is unheard of… so Vanquish must be doing something right in that respect.
The game itself is fast, furious, and can be unforgiving at times although I’m not sure if that’s purely down to the fact that I just DON’T play shooters… at all. I play Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas on the hardest settings possible because I want to make sure that my enemies are actually tough to kill and that proverbial headshot won’t kill them outright. I’m by no means a tough-ass gamer, but it’s just how I choose to play those particular games, and so I decided that it was perhaps best to go with the “Normal” difficulty setting for Vanquish rather than anything tougher. It was too tough. By the time I got to the Argus guy in the first set of missions, I had exhausted all my ammo and was left floundering around like an idiot trying to find any dropped weaponry, weapon caches or even injured troops so I could heal them and scan their weaponry to replenish and/or replace my own. I just couldn’t do it, and so I succumbed and switched over to “Casual” instead, making the whole experience somehow less rewarding in terms of pride yet more rewarding from the enjoyment aspect. After an hour of replaying the Argus destruction scene countless times from the checkpoint, I transformed the game from Gears Of War into Fable 2 by changing the difficulty level to the shameful “Casual Auto” whereby I just needed to roughly aim in a particular direction and the crosshairs would lock on to the target, allowing me to hold the fire button down until the enemy died… and the cross hairs would immediately jump to the closest available enemy and lock on. Yes, I literally am THAT bad at shooters, and I make no excuses for it – they’re just not my usual genre of choice.
The funny thing is… even when I was being repeatedly killed by this Optimus Prime type Argus chap, I was having a blast! I can’t remember ever grinning so much during any game as I did Vanquish yet, for me, it was hard going at times. When I was describing Vanquish, I couldn’t help but liken it to the video games of old such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Frogger… every level is the same as the last, nothing ever really changes in terms of the premise itself, yet it just becomes more and more frantic as time goes on. As with Space Invaders, where those alien bastards would come down with increasing speed as you progressed through the levels, so too do the enemies in Vanquish yet only the backdrops and brutes change, but it WORKS and that’s the thing. Having sat with Mini Munchman for hours on end playing the same mazes with the same ghosts and only the speed increasing with each newly completed level, I was prepared for the visual assault that is Vanquish, where each new section merely means yet more artillery and explosions to avoid, and DAMN it was fun. Any possible complacency arising from such repetitive gameplay is removed, however, by throwing in a few curve balls along the way… such as a huge mech that can take minutes to destroy, only to have it TWICE regenerate in to something bigger and badder than the last. This, as you can imagine, resulted in more than a few “Oh no WAY!!” moments, followed by internal laughter, a subtle head shake, a smirk and yet another ten minutes of unleashing every damn round into its weak spots. Genius!
In terms of mechanics, the game is practically flawless and the controls are about as intuitive as you can imagine, including the various “duck and cover” type manoeuvres which ultimately turned me off the Gears Of War series. In fact, the one and only thing that I would change about the controls of Vanquish would be to allow more than three weapon slots to be mapped to the d-pad. The left slot is always taken by whichever grenades you happen to be carrying, leaving only the top, right and bottom slots for weaponry… covered nicely by the fact that the ARS suit is only capable of mapping three separate weapon types to its replication memory. Utilising the floor sliding from the ARS along with the bullet time AR mode, whilst still retaining enough power to keep yourself alive and functional can be a struggle at first but, as you’d expect, over time this becomes almost intuitive and doesn’t really involve any forward thinking, making for seamless integration throughout the gameplay.
Visually, it swithers between being a little less than mediocre and awesome; mediocre in that the graphics certainly aren’t what you’d call groundbreaking or innovative when you stop and take a second to look around but awesome because of the way the speed is conveyed on screen by the bursts of immediate blurring and, during the frantic gameplay, you don’t particularly notice its shortcomings. If you’re old enough to remember, the visuals and speed of the shiny mechs are what Rise Of The Robots could have, and should have, been but weren’t – Vanquish has the slick futuristic feel along with the rapid movements but, where Rise Of The Robots fell short due to it being more or less static and stagnant, Vanquish has a sense of immediacy which is picked up perfectly in the way the graphics are used… as long as you’re moving around. There were occasions where screen tearing was evident, but not to the point where it became distracting.Pros
- So very enjoyable, yet without requiring much thought
- Elena Ivanova is a bit of a babe, and the low angles certainly do her justice!
- Good, old fashioned, repetitive grinding but with a modern twist
- Simple control system, allowing for effective Duck And Cover without contorting
- It's truly insane, a barrage of bullets and mech enemies
- Love the premise of the ARS, and it's extremely well executed
- Quite a short game... if you're good at shooters
- Quite a difficult game... if you're not!
- Only three weapons mapped at any one time
- Whenever the ARS suit has overheated, there are times when you're utterly helpless
- Graphics can be severely lacking in areas, when standing still
Vanquish isn't going to rewrite any of the video game bibles, and won't be committed to the annals of time, but it's a damn good game if you want to sit back (or on the edge of your seat, screaming at how the big boss guy keeps regenerating) and just smirk your way through a decent ten hours of gameplay or, if you're not one for shooters, twenty or so! The "lather, rinse, repeat" gameplay of trudging through one area only to discover that the next area is yet another barrage of mechanised enemies may be tiresome for some but for me it was a trip back in time to the old videogame classics where every level was the same, but more frantic than the last... a time when it was more about entertainment than depth and realism. I should hate Vanquish, and I know a lot of people have slated it for one reason or another, but it tickled me and made me want to keep going back to the checkpoint rather than throwing the controller to the ground in frustration. That is, as far as I'm concerned, the sign of a good game. If I had to score it on reflection alone, I'd give it 6/10 or perhaps even 7/10 because there wasn't anything that made me lie awake at night thinking "I could be playing Vanquish rather than wasting my time sleeping!" but, during gameplay, this gets a serious 9/10 for me. Elena Ivanova, on the other hand, I'd only give her one.
Last five articles by Mark R
- Ah! What The Fuck Is That?! - Review
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- Best of 2014 - The Game That Saved Christmas