Video Game Review: Vanquish
This is a hi-octane science fiction third person shooter game that is so fast paced and over the top and fun that it’s a real shame this game didn’t garner the attention it deserved. You play Sam Gideon, a gravelly voiced protagonist who wears a futuristic suit of armor, like so many lead characters in this day and age, but this game actually makes you feel like you have all the technological backing such a thing should bestow. Let’s get right into the review.
SIGHTPLAY – This game looks pretty good. It’s not quite as colorful as it could be, but that’s not to say that it looks bland. There are just a lot of blues, reds, metallic’s, and a sampling of the rest now and again. The protagonist looks really cool, and the suit of armor actually looks like you could maneuver around in it. Instead of just being another regenerating health bar feature that most other video game protagonists have, this suit features an incredible amount of mobility. This is a very welcome change of pace in terms of character design. Seeing a character wear armor that seems impossible to even lift, let alone save the world while wearing is tedious. If you play this game, you’ll witness the sidekick don the kind of armor I’m talking about. He equips these silly looking boots that are wider than him (and he’s a big guy). He uses them to fly around, which makes him look even more ridiculous, despite the enormous mini-gun he hauls around.
The enemy design leaves something to be desired. There are less than five enemy types. If you count these enemies when they use a different kinds of weapon or armor or color palette, than the enemy count is just under twenty. Sparse, to say the least, and they’re recycled far too often. The same could be said of the good guys as well. Aside from the hero and the sidekick, the rest of the supporting cast (villains included) is entirely forgettable.
These gripes tend to be forgotten when you are actually in the midst of the game and everything is happening around you all at once. Although doesn’t have the graphical superiority of most AAA titles, but that doesn’t prevent this game from looking spectacular. Maybe I just have a weakness for a single missile pod, shooting hundreds of rockets, complete with smoke trails.
SOUNDPLAY – The sound design in this game fare decently as well, which seems to be a recurring theme for my review so far. Hopefully it doesn’t come off that way. Most music in this game falls under the purview of electronica, and given the futuristic setting, it is fitting. If, for example, this game had a symphonic arrangement, or heavy metal playing during the course of a level, it would seem out of place. What does seem out of place is the voice actors, because they deliver some lines of dialogue that should be considered staples of the action genre. And yet lines like “let’s get the fuck out of here” as you make a dramatic exit just sound goofy. As if they spent more time practicing how to do a deep gravelly voice, than expressing the relief of survival. The protagonist and his sidekick suffer from some serious “Bale Batman” voice-work, and instead of thinking of these characters as hard-boiled they just come off as overcooked (and silly). The weapons sound really cool and the assault rifle gunfire reminds me of an old 8bit bullet sound, just being fired at hundreds of rounds a minute.
GAMEPLAY – There is a story about a U.S. president, and Russians, and San Francisco getting destroyed, umm, and science, and, the future? Ok the story sucks and is entirely forgettable. But they give you a really kickass suit of hi-tech armor and thousands of robot bad guys, put a gun in your hands and say “go save the world!” and that’s exactly what you do. I’m not about to hold a lack of compelling story against this game for one second, because this isn’t that kind of game. This is a fast paced third person shooter with very tight controls.
The frantic pace of all the action is a sight to behold, and when you’re zipping about the battlefield tearing enemies apart one by one, it feels awesome. When all the gears of chaos are in motion this truly feels like a video game. Amidst all the explosions, bullets, lasers, and bits of robots, you still feel like you are in complete control of the game. You can dash through the legs of larger enemies, dodge enemy fire, take cover behind walls, leap over said walls, melee attack, and are able to engage AR mode (i.e. slow motion) at any time. This gives you the opportunity to speed around the battlefield, till you are able to size up a situation, get in position, and methodically go from enemy to enemy wiping them out in rapid succession. Or, you know, just tear shit up.
Unfortunately there is a lack of weapon variety in this game. Apart from the standard shooting gallery of weapons like sniper rifle, shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher, and grenades, there isn’t really anything else to get excited about. There is a homing multi-rocket weapon which looks cool, but does pitiful damage. There is a disc launcher which shoots buzz saws at enemies, but completely lacks the awesomeness that this weapon had in Dead Space. There is another weapon that shoots a large ball of energy that can go through objects and damages anything it touches. Save for this weapon being cool to use, the rest of the arsenal is an absolute snooze-fest. This game could have really benefited from taking the Ratchet and Clank approach to weapon design. Only two types of grenades in the future? Shameful.
Vanquish is one of this really fast action games like Ninja Gaiden or Bayonetta, not in the sense that you have to perform combos. More so in the sense that at any given moment you’ll be pressing at least two or three buttons if you want to dominate your enemies. This means that if you hone down you’re gamer reflexes to their maximum, and enter that nerd Zen mode, you can play the game on its hardest difficulty and beat each level unscathed.
Now that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy, and this is one of the more challenging games I’ve played this year, but just because you can’t pull off “God Hard” mode without losing a single life, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. This game has a challenge, and I LOVE it for that. It doesn’t hold your hand too much. After beating the game you unlock Challenge Mode, and this is perhaps the most fun I’ve had with the game, and I’ve only beaten 1 of 6 stages. These stages throw several waves of enemies at you in an arena with set weapons located all around. Think Mercenaries mode from Resident Evil, however the objective isn’t to receive a high score, simply to survive. At times these challenges feel downright impossible. But once you spend the time to learn how to best tackle each wave, and actually complete one of them, the sense of accomplish is nearly overwhelming. This game is a lot of fun.
REPLAY – All of that said, as an experienced action gamer, on my first play through I was able to beat this game on Hard mode in roughly five hours. Five hours! This is unacceptable for a game this fun to play. Sure the challenge mode requires a ton of practice if you want to beat them, but once you have there is no reason to do it again. The same could be said of the main story. You unlock “God Hard” mode, which is indicative of most SEGA titles, and don’t get me wrong I’m glad they do it, but there is no incentive to actually do so. There aren’t any unlockable features. Not even concept art (which pretty much no one cares for). No movie gallery. No alternate costumes. Nothing.
It is in this regards that I weep for what this game could have been. A single player story that doesn’t last as long as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I’m talking about the original cinematic cuts of the movie. If you want to talk the complete extended directors edition of those movies, they easily double the length of this game. Only kidding. But just barely.
SCORE – 4 out of 5. This game was a real treat for me, as these kinds of over-the-top action games are right up my alley, and was a real blast to play. Unfortunately it’s really short, and since its fun and you won’t put it down, the ride is over too soon. Without the incentive to keep playing, this game is the perfect rental title, which is disappointing to admit, but it’s the truth.