Shoot, Run, Take Cover and... Slide?
HIGH Taking down two giant robots at once with barely a scratch.
LOW Overheating the suit while surrounded by enemies.
WTF Why do weapon levels get reset when replaying stages?
I admit it. I'm really not the biggest fan of Platinum Games or their former incarnation, Clover Studios. I didn't care for Infinite Space, got bored with Madworld, and Bayonetta was one out-of-control hot mess. But what about their latest title, Vanquish? While it's got the same eye-catching sense of style that is common to the studio's work, something deeper has been created here... something amazing.
For the first time in this developer's history (in my view, anyway) the gameplay is equal to, if not better than the visuals. With both form and function pushed to equally stellar standards, I'm quite pleased to say that what Shinji Mikami and Platinum have created is pure brilliance. While the third-person shooter core Vanquish is built on is certainly comparable to others in the same genre, a world of difference is effected by the number of smart decisions, clever tweaks and brilliant designs.
Quite obviously, the hook to Vanquish is the super-suit main character Sam Gideon wears. It provides him a fair degree of self-replenishing armor, gives him the ability to dash around the environment at a high rate of speed, delivers devastating melee attacks, and also grants him heightened reflexes akin to slow-motion bullet time. It's a pretty amazing piece of technology and gives the player a wealth of options during each encounter, but the most brilliant thing about it—and really, one of Vanquish's best ideas—was that all of these things are powered by one energy meter.
Rather than asking the player to keep track of a separate resource for each ability or letting them run wild with unbalanced powers, Vanquish becomes a fast-paced game of situational strategy. Is it more important to boost away to a safe location, or would it be wiser to deplete the energy bar for one crushing melee kick? If the suit's energy is tapped for precise slow-motion shooting, will the player be prepared to stand their ground while the cooldown process runs its course? The decision to make all of the special abilities holistically linked may seem limiting at first, but I found it to be incredibly refreshing and intelligent, turning what could have been a spazzy, twitchy mess into an exercise in elegant combat orchestration.
Equally elegant was the way each part of the adventure was created to blend seamlessly into the next. Rather than the usual level-by-level progression, the entire mission feels like one continuous journey from the crash-landing start to the final, fateful encounter. It's certainly true that the game is divided into discrete areas, but after the game advises the player of their score with a quick tally, the next section picks up exactly where the last left off. The consistency and flow of this technique gives Vanquish an unusual level of coherence that I would very much like to see replicated in other games.
Building on this coherence is a staggering number of jaw-dropping setpieces that manages to keep the game's running time fresh and engaging (literally) from start to finish. Some of these sequences in the game are absolutely stunning; things like an enemy-laden train doing a barrel roll over the player's own, or jet-dashing across a giant section of highway that's crumbling away, bit by bit. Vanquish's ability to keep the player in a near-perpetual state of awe is virtually unmatched, and any game that tries to outdo the pulse-pounding pace on display here has an unbelievable amount of work cut out for it.
The other, slightly less explosive aspects of Vanquish are just as interesting, and serve to show that the developers took the time to carefully go over everything, leaving no part stock-standard.
For example, the player's gun can morph into different configurations, and is upgraded through a natural and non-intrusive system that doesn't distract from gameplay. The story (usually the first casualty in a game of this nature) was just the right mix of serious, irreverent, testosterone-tinged, and political. The characters each fill the role he or she needs to, and the writers (wisely) never stray into irrelevant emo backstory or wild tangents that subtract from the immediacy of the mission. The frequent cut-scenes gave just enough detail to keep things moving, but never get bogged down with self-important hot air—a perfect blend.
If you had asked me what I expected out of Vanquish based on the demo, I never would have guessed at the kind of brilliance on display here. Every part of Vanquish feels balanced and correct, created with deliberate purpose and vision. Craft of this kind demands attention. In fact, the only bad thing I have to say is that I was disappointed there wasn't more of it, and for me, that's an extremely rare feeling, indeed.
My highest possible praise goes out to Shinji Mikami and Platinum Games, and my sympathies go out to every third-person shooter that comes after Vanquish—it's an impossible act to follow.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. While I didn't find this game to be particularly bloody or gory, the level of violence is definitely intense. Gunfights are hot and heavy, and will likely be fairly overwhelming for younger children. There is also quite a bit of salty language during the adventure. It's all entirely appropriate (and even well done) given the subject material, but it isn't fit for little ears.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You shouldn't have any difficulties. There is an on-screen map detailing enemy locations in real-time, and all spoken dialogue is accompanied with subtitles. In addition, there are also several visual cues on the main character which relay important information, so in my experience, I found everything to be clearly discernible and without any auditory barriers.