Mr. Fister Reviews: Vanquish (Xbox 360)

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Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Platinum Games
Players: 1

*Note: This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.

Ever since rising from the ashes of Clover Studio, developer Platinum Games has specialized in delivering console experiences that are incredibly over-the-top in some manner. 2009's MadWorld brought violence and gore to an extreme level not previously found on the Wii, and early 2010's Bayonetta dripped with sexuality at every curve. Their latest project, helmed by Resident Evil 4 director Shinji Mikami, follows this trend, this time putting the major focus on pure action. This project is Vanquish, a third-person shooter that brings as much intensity as a trip to your local video arcade.

Vanquish's narrative is about as straightforward as the games you normally find at the arcade. A future rebellion in Russia leads to an extremist taking control of the country, and his first act as leader is to hijack a space station containing a very powerful laser and use it to annihilate the city of San Francisco. Naturally, the U.S is quick to respond and sends the military to stop Viktor Zaitsev, the brains behind the hijacking. As Sam Gideon, a DARPA agent wearing a prototype combat suit, your job is to assist the military in taking back the station by teaming up with a ground unit and battling the robotic forces within.

For the most part, that's as deep as the story gets. Some cutscenes hint at a larger conspiracy arc, but much of the dialogue you'll hear primarily concerns where you'll be going next and how to efficiently blow up the next big robot. Besides, you'll be far too busy with the hectic gameplay to have time to care deeply about the clichéd characters and their super-gruff voiceovers.

The core gameplay in Vanquish borrows plenty of elements from modern third-person shooters like the Gears of War series. You move from cover to cover blasting away at enemies for the entire game, utilize a regenerating health system, engage in a few quick-time events, and carry only a set amount of weapons that can be occasionally upgraded to carry more ammo and dish out greater damage. Apart from the occasional disc launcher and lock-on laser beam, the weaponry doesn't deviate much from the standard fare of assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, and rocket launchers. The big hook to Vanquish's gameplay is that Sam's prototype suit allows him to boost around the area at high speeds and go into slow-motion at will to pick off targets at his leisure. The twist is that if he uses too much at a time or takes out an enemy with a melee attack, the suit overheats and he temporarily loses these abilities until the meter used to gauge the heat completely fills up. If Sam gets hurt enough, the slow motion will automatically activate until it completely drains the meter. This can help you find cover or take out whoever poses a threat, but it can also leave you drained which could prove fatal in certain situations. Other than this, the suit's powers are integrated well into the gameplay; not only do they become secondhand after the few first levels, they're appropriately necessary for tackling some of the tougher challenges.

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In a nutshell, Vanquish is Gears of War with cool powers and even crazier action.

Vanquish doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel when it comes to third-person shooters. Instead, it simply turns the action and intensity up way higher than most other shooters would dare to go. Enemies, bullets, and just about anything else you can think of come flying in from every direction. Explosive setpieces are the norm; for almost its entire length, you'll be pulling crazy stunts like dashing across a collapsing bridge or dodging the leg of a gigantic mobile base and then jumping into said base to destroy it. The cover system is almost a formality, as you'll be spending far more time putting your suit's slow-mo and boosting abilities to good use against the enemies than picking off targets behind a chest-high wall. This all results in a game that gets your adrenaline pumping in minutes and makes other comparable shooters feel like they're encased in pudding. It says quite a lot when the game includes a button that lets Sam take a quick smoke break which has little practical value, yet you'll find yourself using it in almost every break from the action that you get.

Luckily, the game's engine is able to keep up with the action thanks to solid production values. There are no frame-rate drops or graphical bugs to speak of no matter how many bullets, explosions, or enemies are onscreen. Even with all the action going on, the graphics and particle effects remain solid in both the explosive setpieces (such as a ship crashing into part of the docking bay) and the scenery. However, the music doesn't quite stand up to Platinum's previous entries. It's as fast-paced as the rest of the game, but aside from maybe the title screen, the tracks are pretty forgettable.

Vanquish's biggest problems don't come until later into the game. At first, the game is a blast, throwing plenty of enemies and bosses at you and constantly keeping you on your toes. Unfortunately, after awhile the game runs out of new enemies and tricks to throw at you. Even bosses, as thrilling as they are, start to repeat themselves as the game wears on; the last act itself has only one new boss. The game does its best to try and mix things up - sometimes you'll have to escort a friendly vehicle to a certain location, and one mission has you picking off spotlights with a sniper rifle before the monorail you're on is spotted - but these moments are short-lived and you'll be back to zooming around and blasting enemies in slow-motion before you know it.

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Enemies and bosses are fun to blow up, but they repeat themselves more than they should.

The other problem with the later parts of Vanquish is that "later" comes much sooner than it should. At about five hours, the campaign is pretty short. Granted, that's five hours of near-nonstop shooting and dodging, but it still feels like the game had to be cut short before its potential could be fully realized. The other issue with this is the replay value is a bit lacking. You can unlock tactical missions as you progress, which are sections of the game where you face off against as many waves of enemies as you can. However, there's not much incentive to go back and play through the single-player campaign a second or third time. This makes it quite difficult to recommend for its high entry fee of $60.

These problems aside, Vanquish is still great instant fun and a good break from more serious games of its genre. It represents a much more simplified sense of fun: One that doesn't require playing several hours before things get interesting enough or even having to care about the story at all, but one that only asks that you know how to shoot a gun towards the advancing robotic army and have a good time while doing it. I can't condone a full-priced purchase, but consider giving it a shot next time you're at the video store or whenever the cost drops down to something more reasonable.

A good review there, sir, well done. Flowed nicely, good layout and you cover all the problems too. Might have to pick up this game when it's a little cheaper. I saw a trailer made up of just gameplay and I was pretty sure my 360 would kinda choke and catch fire at how much action there was. I should see if the demo I have of this confirms my fears, or not, of 360 death.

 

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