After playing Vanquish, it’s easy to imagine the game’s creator and director, Shinji Mikami, skating and having a simple, inspired thought: what the game needs to complete it is a bullet and a robot bodysuit so that the player can experience the feeling of skating.
Perhaps it’s a testament to his unique vision that he’s not wrong.
Like Nintendo visionary Shigeru Miyamoto, Mikami understands that game mechanics can be built around simple joy. In Vanquish, this comes from the fact that sliding is fun – and that sliding in a mech suit is even more fun, because the bullet-time slowing abilities make sliding even more fun.Taking cues from sources as diverse as Gears of War, Zone of Enders, and the bullet-hell smup genre, Mikami and Platinum Games have forged something that feels familiar enough to be accessible, yet emerges as a unique experience.
Vanquish has a story – the kind of story that exists purely as an excuse to put you in the right environment to shoot lots of stuff. It succeeds on that level with a fantastic B-grade sci-fi movie premise, where a nefarious Russian, Victor Zaitsev, has just nuked San Francisco (with rays of sunshine), and is now demanding that the United States give him New York City as well as the rest of the United States.
The game casts you as Sam Gideon, a DARPA operative out to thwart Zaitsev and rescue the kidnapped scientist who created your super-powered bodysuit. Sam teams up with a group of Marines to help them in their mission. Sam is like Ultraman in that he can do a lot of things that other people can not do. sloppy military conspiracy, some clumsy moralizing about the dangers of bureaucratic irresponsibility, and, most importantly, a lot of fantastic macho one-liners.
It’s the kind of story Mikami has always excelled at creating: a vision of a “supercool” world that’s culturally like a late ’80s action movie. The only female character in the game wears an extremely short skirt, the main character chain-smokes, the Marines always grunt “hoo-rah”, and most of the actors talk like they have gravel stuck in their throats. Vanquish offers the same kind of fun that Mikami’s best games always have – the game’s absurd, campy story, and the over-the-top humour of God Hand are all found in the game, as well as Resident Evil 4‘s style.
Fortunately, all the silliness looks fantastic. While your opinion of the game’s aesthetics may vary (depending on how much you like space station interiors and impossible-looking robots), the game itself is very good. Vanquish is full of details, whether it’s a new weapon coming out of Sam’s suit or smoke coming from a destroyed building on the horizon. Despite this level of detail, the action never slows down. Even during the most busy firefights, the game will still run at a normal frame rate.
At a few points in the game, Vanquish changes the scenery a bit (for example, during one mission they throw in an air-conditioned park setting with long grass and blowing wind), but most of the game is spent in the usual sci-fi setting. Fortunately, this is hard to fault when what is presented is done so well. Coupled with a hectic mix of guns, explosions and a throbbing mix of techno tracks, Vanquish’s presentation is spot on throughout.
Gears of Mechwarrior
While the setting sometimes lacks variety, the set pieces almost never do. In one mission, Sam and his group have to go up a hill. They have to blast their way up the hill while enemies run out of cover around the player to fire at them. Soon after, the game has you continue storming enemy positions while navigating a collapsing highway. Later, Sam and the Marines must again get rid of resistance while moving through a series of zero-gravity chambers. These rooms make the player forget about the background of the game and focus on what is going on right now, which makes the game very exciting.
“Vanquish can be taken for what it really is: a breath of fresh air, a game that combines the old school of video gaming with the new school of video gaming.”
The gameplay is the real star of the show, and as mentioned before, it draws inspiration from a wide range of sources. There are shades of many modern titles throughout the game, but at its core, Vanquish is a game about player performance rather than story. It is a love letter to those arcade shooters. Platinum Games has made each level a small-scale situation where enemy types, level design, and weapons are all added up to make a large-scale game with a lot of opportunities for players to use their skills. Levels sometimes have enough room for you to move around, do melee kicks, and do gymnastics, while other times the levels are too tight for you. Vanquish forces you to use its cover system and distraction system to get through the levels.
The core gameplay itself is stellar, and the game is designed to play to its strengths at all times. Vanquish definitely deserves a place alongside the best of Platinum’s style-driven action games. It offers a level of bombast and fluidity that can easily be compared to God Hand or Bayonetta. Sam’s suit holds three guns and a grenade, which can be easily swapped for anything on the battlefield. Each of the shooting options is a blast to use – from the standard assault rifle to the lock-on laser system – and they all lend themselves to different strategies that work well with the basic movement gimmick.
“Vanquish encourages you to use your first run as a test drive of sorts.”
There’s a lot of fun to be had here, which goes hand in hand with a design that encourages high replay value. Rather than create a standard 10-15 hour story, Platinum decided to reduce things back and focus on making a set of well-designed, carefully designed games that reward different ways to play. You can play the game for about five or six hours, depending on how hard you want it to be.
However, Vanquish encourages you to use your first run as a test drive of sorts. Some may bemoan the fact that the game is short, but its lack of length is actually one of its greatest features; like some of the industry’s most popular shooters, Vanquish is more concerned with how well you’re able to perform in each of its stages, a fact made explicit in the game’s inclusion of online ranking systems and the cumulative stats that pop up as you complete missions.
Some gamers may dislike Vanquish for the very reasons that others will praise it as one of the best action games of the year. With its short campaign and cheddar-infused script, the game is something that many will find immediately off-putting. But if you’re willing to appreciate what it accomplishes (and approach it with a sense of humour), Vanquish can be taken for what it really is: a breath of fresh air, a game that combines the old school of video gaming with the new school of video gaming.