Gamersyde Review: Vanquish
When you are the creator of such iconic series as Resident Evil or Devil May Cry, when you have also been responsible for more peculiar titles as Viewtiful Joe and God Hand, you basically have nothing to prove the world anymore. However, when discovering Vanquish for the first time, it is just impossible not to be taught a new lesson by Shinji Mikami. Yet more proof that the Third Person Shooter genre can still evolve and bring new sensations. But enough with the introduction, it is time for you to read our full review of Platinum Games' latest jewel.
I will be honest with you, I actually did not expect to like Vanquish and I must confess I did not even complete the demo that was released on Xbox Live and PSN some time ago. My absence of enthusiasm was not due to a lack of confidence in Shinji Mikami, nor was it explained by the doubts I had concerning the game itself. No, it is just that I had the stupidest idea that it would not be a game for me. It was not long before such prejudice was completely smashed to the ground and as soon as I started to play, it simply hit me: I almost missed one of the most exciting gaming experience of the year.
One thing should be made clear right away: you won't play Vanquish for its storyline. Worthy of a B movie, the scenario of the game will not carry you away, and with the dialogs clearly being second degree, it is hard to get sucked into the story. Also, sometimes the way the events unfold are quite difficult to understand, as if something was missing or the characters' reactions were not coherent. It's hard to say more without revealing too much of the plot but the end result is that getting attached to the characters is not easy. Sure, you will laugh at the lovely compliments Sam G (you) and Burns (the CO of the Marine soldiers that accompany you) throw at each other, but that's about it. That being said, it cannot be denied that a lot of effort was put in the staging of the cutscenes. They are great fun to watch, impressive most of the time and they are also a nice break from the crazy pace of the game. Along the same lines, the briefing sequences played in first person view allow the player to rest for a few seconds before all hells break loose again.
Exhausting, exhilarating, addictive, these are the three words the come to mind when playing Vanquish. Though the game looks like your standard Third Person Shooter, much like the two references of the genre (aka Gears of War and Uncharted), it is imperative to lose all the reflexes you have learned to get over the past few years. True, the beauty of the game is that you can actually play it the way you want, but to be able to use the character's abilities to their full potential, you must understand its essence and why it is important to play it differently. In titles like Gears of War or Uncharted, you must progress very carefully, going from cover to cover, taking your time to aim and shoot, getting used to a somehow slow pace. Vanquish is all about mobility, staying put is just not natural anymore, not efficient either or at least not as much as always being on the move. In Shinji Mikami's game, taking cover is just a means to catch one's breath when things get a little too hectic and it becomes urgent to recover.
When pressing the LB/L1 button, Sam G starts gliding at very high speed and, what is most amazing is that, despite the phenomenal sense of speed, the player is always in total control of what is going on. Obviously, so the game does not get too easy, the developers added an energy meter that prevents you from using the boost capacity of your suit all the time. That's why you must learn how to use it correctly, so you do not run out when you need it most. The hero's abilities do not stop at that though, as you can also trigger a slow motion effect at will, provided your suit is not overheating yet. This "bullet time" mode allows you to pinpoint your enemy's weak spots and it can also serve as a wake up call when it is triggered automatically as you have taken too many hits. It then gives you time to find cover whilst shooting yourself out of harm's way.
One thing is sure, all of Sam's abilities will come in handy very soon if you want to survive the numerous waves of enemy robots that will come your way. One could argue the developers could have done a better job in terms of AI, and added a little more variety (the number of different enemies, boss included, is actually rather low), though it would not be fair to bear a grudge against Vanquish for that as you barely have time to notice such details. With quite a consequent arsenal (XX different weapons are available) and a close to perfect gameplay system, the combat becomes a true ballet rythmed by the sound of electronic music. Many thanks to Platinum Games for not considering they had to force us to play with a one-button-to-rule-them-all layout for the controller. Who has never yelled at Marcus Fenix for getting into cover instead of simply dodging, just because the A button was assigned to both actions? No such problems in Vanquish, X (square) for cover, A (cross) for dodging, Lb (L1) for gliding - no risk of doing the wrong move unintentionally.
As we have all come to expect it from any action game, it is no wonder to see that Mikami's latest creation features an upgrade system for the weapons. Shooting down enemies can sometimes grant you a collectible bonus that allows you to enhance the capacities one of the three firearms you have in your inventory (magazine size, number of ammo, firepower, etc). Maybe a little more unusual is the possibility to do the same by simply collecting the same weapon you're already carrying, provided you're already full on ammo. Sure, it takes a bit longer to reach the gun's potential that way, but it is still a nice addition. Eventually, we should also mention the presence of Quick Time Events on certain occasions. No worries though, they are certainly not as intrusive as you may think (meaning you will not be asked to realize a QTE for just any simple action) and are always meant to showcase Sam's powerful abilities. Some may not be that clear to get the first time you see them, but they all offer a very entertaining spectacle. So what's not to like?
In terms of visuals, Vanquish is, once again, among the best games that have been released so far. Particle effects à gogo, realistic lighting, very detailed character models (whether it is the humans, the robots or the giant boss), nice looking environments and spaceships, all this with a rock solid framerate to top it all. The only concern some might have is with the game's resolution (1024x720), which is not true 720p and gives the title a kind of blurry look. Call me crazy, but I think it participates in the feeling of watching the special effects of the original Star Wars trilogy, which I'm sure you'll agree, looked more realistic somehow than the CG ones of Episodes 1,2 and 3. Of course, as in all 1980 special effects, when you get a closer look at some of the details, you realize that not everything is perfect, like some of the backgrounds for instance. One more thing some might regret is the fact that the game's environments are maybe a bit similar. It's all very coherent, as the story is set on an orbital station, and the player follows the squad in their (realistic) progress (no ellipses in the storyline which means you won't find yourself 10 miles away from where the last mission ended). And to be fair, I was still surprised by some of them and was not bothered at all by the absence of a snowy level or an underwater one.
Sound wise, the game is a bit of a letdown. First, the techno music is certainly not the best out there and it will get on your nerves very soon. A more orchestral and cinematographic soundtrack would have suited Vanquish better if you ask me. You may tell me that it is actually a matter of taste, which is indeed true, but as my subjectivity comes before yours in this article, you will have to allow me this liberty of tone. The voice acting is not to be taken seriously if you want to enjoy it. The characters are real caricatures but if you like the style, then you should be fine. If the English version is not to your liking, you can choose the Japanese one, which is good news for those of you who prefer playing games in their original language, though, with one caveat: the subtitles only appear during cut-scenes and not during in-game sequences, which obviously makes it quite hard to follow when you are not fluent in Japanese. One last thing could have used more polish in the sound department, the mixing of the voices. As a result, it is not always simple to understand what the characters say, but as you can tweak the different audio levels in the option menu, it is not that much of a problem in the end.
Vanquish comes as a real nice surprise and is undoubtedly one of the best action games of 2010. Because its gameplay suffers absolutely no criticisms, it is a lot of fun to experience such an over the top roller-coaster ride. It is so entertaining that you even tend to forget that the adventure is rather short : 6 to 8 hours in normal mode, and without any mutliplayer to make it longer, Vanquish is then just about the satisfaction to get a better score at the end of each mission, or to improve one’s style of play. That being said, it is hard to blame Platinum Games for not delivering a longer experience as I don’t believe the game would have benefited from it. Everything is in place for the best possible sensation, and if the last act could have offered more than just three missions, the game is built in such a way that it is just impossible to get bored, which might not have been the case if you had had to play two or three more hours. Moreover, since a hard mode and a God Hard mode are available for those looking for a real challenge, the time you spend playing the game is really up to you. Even the normal mode is challenging enough to be worth your while, and the great thing is that it never gets frustrating nor discouraging. A challenge mode (very similar to Gears' horde mode) has also been added and it is rather tough but not everyone will consider it as a good incentive to keep playing. Vanquish is then the perfect example of a well-executed Japanese game, and with the tongue-in-cheek references to Metal Gear Solid (some of Sam’s intonations, his faithful cigarette, the big robots and the codec system to name but a few examples) and its original and very effective gameplay, it would be a shame to miss Shinji Mikami’s new IP.
About the game
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