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Vanquish Review

Brad Gallaway's picture

Shoot, Run, Take Cover and... Slide?

Vanquish Screenshot - Click here to buy from Amazon

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.

Vanquish Screenshot - Click here to Buy from Amazon

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. Rating: 9.0 out of 10.

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.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): Platinum Games  
Key Creator(s): Shinji Mikami  
Publisher: Sega  
Genre(s): Shooting  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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Disagree on almost everything Brad

Hey Brad,

After just wrapping up Vanquish not but an hour ago I have to say I'm in almost complete disagreement with you here.

For one, I found the game to be just plain ugly. With the exception of one forest area, the entire game was made up of grey metal corridors that fell completely flat with me. It never felt like a city where people lived, but rather shoddy soulless sci-fi settings that summed up everything people hated about the Star Wars prequels. But aesthetics are very subjective, so I'll move on...

The script was abysmal, imo. While I wouldn't have wanted "emo" characters per se, I would have wanted someone with more personality than these bland gruff talking meatheads. By the time the game was over I felt like I literally knew nothing about anyone in it other than they're determined "to carry out their mission." How heroic. And don't get me started on the Samus look-alike who does nothing but stand around and gives intel in a scantily clad uniform.

I can take poor writing with a grain of salt in an action game as story is less vital to their success, but I would argue that the game is way too talky for such a mindless action romp. Every time I had to go into first person while briefed on a mission I grew impatient. That may be because I hated the writing and just stopped caring about what was going on, though.

Anyway, it's an action game so I'll move on to the mechanics. I totally disagreed about the upgrade system, which I found a constant irritation. You upgrade by finding ammo for a weapons that are already equipped with full ammo. So in essence you're highly encouraged to hang on to weapons you like, but not to use them. Given that you can only hold onto three weapons at once, you'll likely by toggling between two, while holding a third that you're trying real hard not to use so you can level it up. As a result, I never wanted to use my best guns which felt very debilitating for a shooter.

I also didn't care for melee attacks using up your power. The cost to benefit ratio just seemed too high to use them, so while I experimented with them from time to time, I never found them useful. Did you discover otherwise?

It's surprising that you liked the game so much after being so down on the demo as I was in the opposite camp where I liked the demo, but found the game just felt like the demo copied and pasted several times over (right down to fighting the same demo boss several times). Sure, there were some great setpieces (the tram in particular as you mentioned), but most of it felt very samey from beginning to end.

Contrary to my rant, I did not hate the game. I found it a pretty good third person shooter. But the ugly look, painful dialogue, and repetitive gameplay held it back from the awesome shooter it so should have been since sliding and slow-mo were both a lot of fun.

Not trying to hate on your review by any means. Just curious how we managed to come out of this with such different takes.

Melee attacks

Jeffrey Matulef wrote:

I also didn't care for melee attacks using up your power. The cost to benefit ratio just seemed too high to use them, so while I experimented with them from time to time, I never found them useful. Did you discover otherwise?

I find them very useful. True: many of the larger enemies don't die immediately from a melee attack. However, they do receive large damage and often get knocked back and are stunned afterwards. Especially when the melee attack is combined with the slide. Slide onto an enemy -> Kick -> Empty clip in weak spot of stunned and weakened enemy -> Profit! :D

I usually destroy the last robot of a group in melee because a) it's cool and b) saves ammunition :)

I disagree with you in terms of visuals, but that's personal preference. I love the style of the game and the suit is just awesome. I agree with you in terms of story however. I actually switched to the Japanese voices in cutscenes and only kept subtitles on, in order to get a sense of where I have to go next to be awesome.

The biggest mistake you can

The biggest mistake you can usually make with a Shinji Mikami game is to take the story seriously. Although the characters were archetype meatheads, I saw them as clear parodies of Solid Snake and Marcus Fenix. I mean, there's a character named Shinji Mikami for crying out loud.

Now whether they are effective parodies is another discussion, but to criticize the characters for being shallow is another thing. I don't think they were ever created to be deep in the first place.

It was a bit talky though. More cutscenes than I would've liked for the game.

Anyway, great review Brad. I'm a bit surprised at how you didn't get any of this from the demo. After playing the demo, the game turned out pretty much how I expected (sans the amazing set pieces I didn't really see coming).

It's not so much that I was

It's not so much that I was taking the characters seriously, but rather that it wasn't funny enough to be funny or serious enough to be serious. It ended up just feeling bland and cliched as a result.

Conversely, I loved Mikami's former God Hand which is as out there as anything I've played. I wanted more crazy nonsense like that in Vanquish.

3 questions for Brad

1) Both you and Jim Sterling seem to share some common ground in your reviews from time to time. Why do you think you disagreed so completely about this title?

2) In your Enslaved review, you made the point that the shortness and ease of gameplay diminished the experience somewhat. Is Vanquish better because it's more involving, even though it's shorter?

3) Is Vanquish worth $60?

Jeff I agree, more wackiness

Jeff I agree, more wackiness ala God Hand would've been welcome. But then again, look at how successful that game was (unfortunately). There's still some zaniness in the story. Dancing robots, some funny, out-of-place vulgarities. Plus it all sounds hilarious in slow motion.

Rob, I respect Jim Sterling's opinions, even on Vanquish, and I hate to sound like a defensive fanboy about it, but I think Jim was just "playing it wrong." It's a bit similar to IGN's 3 for God Hand. I'd hate to speak for Brad, but I think he'd agree.

You can play Vanquish like a cover shooter, and it'll bore you to tears. Sterling also seemed to have underutilized the melee system. You can't just walk up to people and punch them. You have to use it when you're already low on the meter, or in a "near-death" state where you're going to lose the meter anyway, or backflipping off enemies and shoot them as you're backflipping.

Replying to a bunch of

Replying to a bunch of stuff….

Jeff:

>>The script was abysmal, imo. While I wouldn't have wanted "emo" characters per se, I would have wanted someone with more personality than these bland gruff talking meatheads. By the time the game was over I felt like I literally knew nothing about anyone in it other than they're determined "to carry out their mission." How heroic. And don't get me started on the Samus look-alike who does nothing but stand around and gives intel in a scantily clad uniform.

But see, that was what I liked about it. These guys are on a lightning-fast do-or-die mission. There's no time to get into backstories, it's kill or be killed out there.

>>I can take poor writing with a grain of salt in an action game as story is less vital to their success, but I would argue that the game is way too talky for such a mindless action romp. Every time I had to go into first person while briefed on a mission I grew impatient. That may be because I hated the writing and just stopped caring about what was going on, though.

Well, those sequences are quite brief, maybe a minute or two, tops. I felt like they did a good job of touching base with the player and then moving on.

>>Anyway, it's an action game so I'll move on to the mechanics. I totally disagreed about the upgrade system, which I found a constant irritation. You upgrade by finding ammo for a weapons that are already equipped with full ammo. So in essence you're highly encouraged to hang on to weapons you like, but not to use them. Given that you can only hold onto three weapons at once, you'll likely by toggling between two, while holding a third that you're trying real hard not to use so you can level it up. As a result, I never wanted to use my best guns which felt very debilitating for a shooter.

I actually didn't find that be true at all. I don't have the disc in front of me to fact-check at the moment, but I primarily used the heavy machine gun for most of the game and it was the first one to max-out by far. I didn't see a connection between non-usage and faster upgrading. I may be wrong, but my impression was that the only thing that counted was picking up another weapon of the same kind, not that the ammo count had anything to do with it.

>>I also didn't care for melee attacks using up your power. The cost to benefit ratio just seemed too high to use them, so while I experimented with them from time to time, I never found them useful. Did you discover otherwise?

I actually used the melee quite a bit. It works well for stunning enemies or knocking them back, and then opening them up to close-range fire. I would often (much like Li-Ion) dash, melee when close enough, and then open fire to polish them off.

>>It's surprising that you liked the game so much after being so down on the demo as I was in the opposite camp where I liked the demo, but found the game just felt like the demo copied and pasted several times over (right down to fighting the same demo boss several times). Sure, there were some great setpieces (the tram in particular as you mentioned), but most of it felt very samey from beginning to end.

I'm very surprised to hear you say that, since I felt as though the game did a superb job of staying fresh and exciting from start to finish. It's certainly true that certain enemies were re-used, but not excessively so. The level designs were quite varied in terms of enemy placement and assault tactics, and there were so many wow-moments and fantastic set pieces that I never felt bored for a second.

Rob:

>>1) Both you and Jim Sterling seem to share some common ground in your reviews from time to time. Why do you think you disagreed so completely about this title?

You know, I actually noticed that and I was wondering same thing. From what I can tell, it seems as though Jim approached the game without seeing the balance between the powers of the super-suit and the unified energy bar. In his review, he often mentions feeling constrained or limited, and that says to me that he expected greater unfettered use of the various powers and was disappointed when he discovered that the developer did not grant such free reign. I've got nothing but respect for Jim despite all the mischief he stirs up for himself at times, but this is certainly one instance where I feel as though he got it wrong -- or, at least, he didn't find the developers intent in this design to be to his liking.

>>2) In your Enslaved review, you made the point that the shortness and ease of gameplay diminished the experience somewhat. Is Vanquish better because it's more involving, even though it's shorter?

I would absolutely say that Vanquish is a better experience in terms of gameplay because it's so much richer and deeper. The game demands quite a bit of skill on the higher difficulties, and you really can’t even slack that much on the lower ones. The game doesn't do auto-anything for you, and it's very plain to see that the focus is on getting players to engage with the superbly-designed combat engine and creative combat sequences. In my view, Enslaved was more about giving the player cinematic things to look at and asking for a bare minimum of input, while Vanquish is equally cinematic (if you ask me) yet never sacrifices the intensity and complexity of play.

>>3) Is Vanquish worth $60?

Well, that's a really difficult question to answer. I liked Vanquish a hell of a lot more than I liked Enslaved, although I would say they were both good games. I would also say that from a gameplay perspective, Vanquish offers much more for a player to sink their teeth into, and holds up better in terms of replay. I'm not someone who replays games very often at all, yet I was quite engaged in going through the adventure again. The gameplay really holds up. All that said, the fact of the matter is that it will take the average person between 6 to 8 hours to go from start to finish. Of course, I'd say that six to eight hours were of pretty superb quality and much better than the average game provides over the length of ten, twenty or even thirty hours. At the same time, the value of sixty dollars is not lost on me and I certainly understand what a big chunk of someone’s budget it can represent. I suppose if I had to give you a straight answer, I'd say that it was well worth it if you are the kind of player who values quality and has a pretty comfortable gaming budget. If you're the kind of player who has to be frugal with their purchases, then I'd have to say it would be a better value at $40 or less.

I certainly don't mean to diminish the product at all, but financial realities are financial realities, right?

Thank you for responding to

Thank you for responding to the various comments. I especially appreciated your insight as to whether the game is worth sixty dollars.

Also, as a deaf gamer, I read the reviews on this site because of the separated section on deaf/hard-of-hearing playability. This might seem like a "pain in the ass but gotta do it" part of your review duties, but trust me, you are worshiped for it.

Hey CM, thanks for your

Hey CM, thanks for your comment. Also, if you have any feedback as to how we can improve the D/HH section, please let us know! = )

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