The last title out of Platinum Games was Bayonetta – a title that was poorly received by – well, probably just me.
As you can imagine, the announcement of Vanquish out of Platinum Games wasn’t a wave of excitement for me – that was until I played the demo. Never judge a book by its cover – and similarly, never judge an announced game by its developer.
Taking place in the distant future, Humanity has experienced a population explosion. In an effort to overcome energy woes, the United states built the O’Neill Cylinder space station.
Essentially a massive-scale solar-sourced generator, it is overthrown by a force calling themselves the Order of the Russian Star. Immediately, they take control of the station and turn the energy generation into a weapon of mass destruction, annihilating San Francisco as proof of their intent.
The United States President, Elizabeth Winters, sends in Bravo Company, an elite force consisting of Robert Burns, Lieutenant-Colonel of the operation – and our player character, Sam Gideon, armed with a state-of-the-art mechanical suit called the ARS.
Bravo Company aim to retake control of the station from the Order of the Russian Star.
Vanquish is a sci-fi, third-person action shooter. Probably one of the most hectic shooters you’ve ever played.
Your character, DARPA researcher Sam Gideon, is armed with an adaptable armour suit called the Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS). The suit is equipped with rocket boosters which, as the name implies – augments your basic movements and actions.
When Sam is close to death, the suit kicks into a slow-mo, “bullet-time” which allows you to react much quicker to incoming projectiles or enemy attacks. You then have the choice of counter-attacking with a much more precise attack, or retreating for the nearest cover.
The cover system is a crucial part of the Vanquish experience. The game is hard. Incredibly hard. Even playing through on Casual wasn’t a total cakewalk. If you stand out in the line of fire, you will be annihilated by the countless projectiles heading your way. I’ll touch more on difficulty later.
Pretty much anything in the game world can be used as cover. Walls and structural supports can be quickly ‘attached’ to as cover with a tap of the Square button. You then have the option of firing from your position or seeking out the next cover. Cover-to-cover movement can be linked very quickly with the ARS suit’s boost. Thankfully the cover system works perfectly – as the whole game depends on specialised use of the cover available, especially on later difficulties.
The boosting mechanic operates off Sam’s suit’s energy supply. Sliding around the game world at insane speeds is governed by how much energy you have remaining. Somewhat strangely, this same energy system also powers Sam’s melee attack. The melee attack expends the entirety of the energy reserves, instantly putting you into a ‘recharge’ mode and prevents you from boosting or further melee attacks until the suit has cooled down and recharged. So melee attacks have to be used very wisely.
At your disposal are a number of weapons found throughout the game world, including futuristic interpretations of some modern weapons (Assault Rifle, Heavy Machine Gun, Rocket Launcher etc), but also some sci-fi weapons like the Lock-On Laser, a multiple-projectile gun capable of firing homing ammo at numerous enemies at a time.
Weapons have an upgrade system, activated by finding weapons of the same time scattered across battlefields, or acquired as more traditional pick-ups in floating ‘upgrade’ cubes.
Throughout the game world, you also take control of manned turrets and even commandeer enemy walkers to turn the tide of battle in heavy fire situations.
Enemies range from run-of-the-mill droid attackers, similar in stature and ability to Sam himself – all the way to huge robot “Romanovs” and even more monstrous “Argus” class bosses with multiple forms and seemingly endless weapon and ammunition supply.
As I said earlier, Vanquish is a hard game. The difficulty settings on offer range from Casual Auto (Easy + Auto Aim) to God Hard which is just unbelievably tough. Coupled with the fact that many of the ‘boss’ class enemies have instant kill attacks, a lot of people are going to find the initial run quite daunting, even on the easiest setting.
Soon however, you realise that these instant attacks and the swarms of bullets heading your way aren’t so much a cheap death incoming. They’re always accompanied by forewarning and plenty of visual and aural stimulus. Insta-kill attacks are generally led by a charge-up, or the enemy will change forms slightly before executing it. Even off-screen, their insta-kill attack is led by a roar, mechanical whir or charge noise, letting you know it’s incoming – and it’s time to get out of the way.
When you’re used to this dynamic, this incredible sense of urgency Vanquish has, you really begin to enjoy the game. That said, I imagine that the later difficulties, especially God Hard, will be reserved for those who thought Ninja Gaiden Sigma was only mildly challenging on it’s hardest difficulty.
The whole game is awarded a ‘score’ ranking, so as you play, kills, clear time and events award additional score. Deaths deduct score. The conclusion of a play-through uploads your score to global Leaderboards so you can see how you fared against Friends and world leaders. This offers an undeniably addictive replay element to the game too. “Oh, if I didn’t die in that level I’d have beaten so-and-so and gone up 150 ranks!”.
Unfortunately, Vanquish has a dependency on certain weapons – some award much better score in certain areas than others – so if you’re really challenging for leaderboard times, you’re going to be reloading checkpoints until the required weapons show up. It would have been nice to have a ‘weapon selection’ option for replaying chapters or something to aid replays aimed at score.
Levels are also packed full of collectibles called Pangloss statues. There’s something like 112 to collect throughout the game. I found 6 on my first run. So they’re well hidden – or rather you’re so preoccupied with the action that you miss them easily.
There are a set of special Challenge rooms offered, where you fight wave after wave of enemies purely against the high score ticker. It’s good practice for the campaign and there are Leaderboards for challenge comparison too.
Vanquish is a pure action game with astounding levels of on-screen action and an intense sense of urgency. Depending on your difficulty, the campaign can last you anywhere from 4 hours to about 12 hours – but there’s plenty of opportunity for replay thereafter.
Graphics & Sound
Silky smooth frame-rates and intensely action-packed visionary is what this game is all about. Rarely is there a moment when nothing is going on. On average, there are eleventy-billion particles and projectiles smashing their way across the screen, sometimes directed at Sam, sometimes directed at the battling forces around him.
It never falters in delivering one of the most action-packed experiences on offer today. The mix of extreme demolition and the futuristic environment makes it almost incomparable to anything before it.
The Japanese styled mecha-suits and costumes fit well in the futuristic setting and boss types are presented on a gigantic scale – and often possess multiple forms and abilities, all appearing brilliantly.
As you’d expect from a production resting on action and insane amounts of gun fire, explosion and futuristic warfare, the sound is intense, music is hard-pumping techno and voice acting is fast-paced and urgent.
Vanquish is a gem of fast-paced, hyper-action gaming. If you enjoy boosting around futuristic-styled game worlds with a transforming weapon, to club techno beats, Vanquish is right up your alley.
While the story can be short (my ‘easy’ play-through clocked in at 4 hours, 18 mins) there are increased difficulties, Leaderboards and collectibles to warrant additional play-throughs. Also bonus Challenges to attempt.
I struggle to think of a game so packed with on-screen action, all the time and for that reason alone, I simply can’t recommend Vanquish highly enough. Brilliant.