One of my favourite over used phrases has to be ‘a roller-coaster of a ride’. It’s a great sentence, evoking notions of a must have experience, a white knuckle, thrill-filled adventure – but writers and marketing execs have spammed it so much when talking about a high action film / game / comic / book to the point that it has become terribly clichéd. In this instance, I’d like to take this evergreen phrase, modify it and elaborate: Vanquish is like being stuck on the world’s greatest roller-coaster ride.
Imagine – if you will – you are at Alton Towers, it is 2AM and it is deserted, you have the whole park to yourself. You are riding Oblivion because thrills are your thing. The first time you vertical drop the blood rushes to your head, you scream at the top of your lungs, your body naturally reacting to the fact that you are dropping to the ground at 70 MPH. You are biologically and emotionally terrified. You go again, it is equally exciting, you are loving every moment of it. After a full hour though you begin to grow weary of Oblivion, it’s only doing the one thing after all. You try to exit, but realise that the bars holding you are stuck. You are utterly safe, but you aren’t going anywhere for the next five hours until the park staff arrive to help you off. You experience Oblivion hundreds of times, each time you drop, each time you hear ‘don’t look down’ over the Tannoy, you tire of it a little more, desensitized to the ride. You realise that Oblivion isn’t dangerous at all, it’s a carefully planned attraction to elicit the most response out of a group of ride goers. You discover that the queue length for Oblivion is long for a damn good reason. You realise that being in the same emotional state, at the same levels of excitement no matter how intense is – ironically – a little boring.
And that is Vanquish when taken at extended length. In hour long stints however the third person, cover-tinged shooter with an agile edge is without equal in terms of pure adrenaline, constantly barraging you with skin-of-your-teeth successes, bombastic set pieces and gigantic enemy bosses. Playing as Sam – a member of DARPA in an over populated future where a militant division of the Russian state is vying for domination, with a super weapon capable of incinerating any city in the world – you’re armed with a special suit of armour that gives you the ability to slow time and rocket boost around levels, plus a BLADE weapon, essentially a Swiss Army Knife projectile launcher that can ‘scan’ machine guns, assault rifles, rocket launchers and more to add them to your armoury. If this all sounds ludicrous, it’s because it is and Platinum Games focus on mechanics over story is plain at almost every turn. Dialogue that often falls a little flat or feels anachronistic, characters with so little motivation as to be laughable, readable background text during intermissions that are impossible to read in their entirety due to the quickness of the loading times, the narrative is nothing but an excuse for scenario after scenario. This isn’t an issue, Shinji Mikami has always been better at producing works that are more style than storytelling substance, but it’s a little disappointing due to the world around you being such an interesting place.
Set aboard the weapon you are sent to destroy for the entirety of the action, the environment is plenty of hard lines scrubbed clean to an inch of their life, the future of architecture according to Apple. This enclosed space also allows for the developers to let their minds wander and excuses almost any set up they can dream of. A shoot out in a zero gravity, cylindrical room where just figuring out which way is up is a challenge? Fine. A nerve shredding, shot perfect stealth tour on the back of a speeding monorail? No problem. Fighting uphill while entire towers crumble and come crashing towards you? Go for it. There’s pitched battles across expanses of land, tactical destruction of giant war machines reminiscent of some of Metal Slug’s finest bosses and encounters with genuinely troubling elite units hell bent on taking you down with them. Variety then is no issue when it comes to the action department.
The gun play itself is also supremely satisfying, selecting the right weapon for each situation and using cover sparingly to provide a little relief when things really heat up. If you’ve played Gears Of War you know what to expect, but it’s much more rapid than you may expect as Sam can haul ass when he desperately needs to; such as sliding through an enemies legs, turning on a dime and attacking its weak spot, before dodging gun fire and shooting rockets out of the air. The entertainment focus here then is the mechanics and in this it succeeds immensely. There are a few gripes to be had, initiating the slow motion requires an evade to start it, meaning you’ll sometimes find yourself leaping behind an obstacle and unable to fire upon your target, some invisible barriers are present in areas you would expect Sam to navigate easily, plus there’s no manual shoulder camera switching which can be an annoyance when taking out opponents hidden behind corners. In general though, towards the half way checkpoint you’ll feel in complete control of your avatar, which is rewarding in itself when you’ve just taken out five enemies in a row in one smooth movement.
You’ll end up rooting for our friend at DARPA by the end and if there’s one character that’s likeable in the game, it’s him. Ably voiced by Gideon Emery, his performance feels somewhere between a Travis Touchdown of the far future or a very self-aware Nathan Drake. Emery makes the most of the lines he’s given and in portraying a sarcastic Everyman figure he wins a space in the player’s affections, providing the impetus to proceed when the game starts to drastically ramp up the difficulty in its final hours.
The game exhausts quickly and is best enjoyed in short sessions between more mentally engaging titles. To return to Alton Towers for a moment, you will want to come back for more time and time again, so long as you don’t find yourself puking from over exposure. A lack of peaks and troughs hamper the title long term, but Vanquish ups the third person shooter ante enough to be relevant, confidently producing a strong Japanese take on an ever so Western genre.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Platform: Xbox 360 (PlayStation 3) Release Date: 26/10/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Vanquish for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on an Xbox 360 Pro. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.