Michael Kontoudis
24 Oct, 2010

Vanquish Review

PS3 Review | Shinji Mikami's latest boosts into cover for our full review.
Veteran game director Shinji Mikami is generally regarded as one of the great creative minds of the gaming industry, having blazed trails as a director or producer with titles such as Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, God Hand and the beloved Resident Evil 4, all of which earmarked him as an innovator and expert showman devoted to conceiving unforgettable gaming experiences. Couple this pedigree with the promise of the development team at Platinum Games (responsible for this year’s Bayonetta), and it is no surprise that expectations for Mikami and Platinum’s latest, the simply-titled Vanquish, have been rocketing through the atmosphere. Ostensibly a cover-based third person shooter in the vein of kill.switch, Gears of War and their imitators, Vanquish has a lot to prove and two hefty questions to answer: can it live up to the talent of its creators, and can it excel in a subgenre traditionally dominated by Western games by Western development houses?

Being blinded by explosions is par for the course.

Being blinded by explosions is par for the course.

Vanquish co-opts iconography and concepts with gleeful abandon, resulting in first impressions which suggest that Mikami has cross-bred the Master Chief from Halo with Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid and dropped their offspring into Gears of War for a holiday. The game’s hero, Sam Gideon, is an all-American former football star whose career is cut short by an injury which leads him to becoming a researcher at DARPA and developing an advanced combat exoskeleton titled the ARS; which, as it turns out is just as well given that a militaristic outfit named the Order of the Russian Star has taken over an orbital space colony, reconfigured it into a giant microwave emitter, and used it to broil San Francisco. Together with a group of forgettable marines, Sam is tasked with rescuing a missing scientist, retaking possession of the colony and preventing the destruction of its next target: New York City. Now if we have made any of the above sound interesting to you, apologies are necessary: Vanquish barely pays lip service to anything resembling a narrative and is largely content to employ its cheesy, maudlin and overwrought cinematics as an excuse to string together its numerous action sequences. It is somewhat disappointing, however, that the confused fusion of American science fiction and military tropes with Japanese excess does not result in something more interesting than the sub-Kojima nonsense offered by Vanquish. Even though all of the characters look great and animate well, none of them boasts anything resembling a personality worth caring about (let alone breaching the third dimension), and the game telegraphs its meagre ‘twists’ with the subtlety of Lady Gaga. Where games like Uncharted and its sequel achieve greatness by deftly mixing their stellar gameplay with endearing characters and snappy writing, Vanquish fails to provide any memorable context for its mayhem; it is fortunate, then, that the game is so very enjoyable to play.

Vanquish, clearly, is all about its mechanics, and little else, yet even in this regard it is a striking and peculiar beast. The game resembles Gears of War in only the most superficial ways; there is a snappy, responsive cover system, to be sure, but the efficiency of Sam’s movement makes Marcus Fenix feel like a shopping trolley with a dodgy wheel. Aided by a rocket booster strapped to the back of his combat suit, Sam is able to flank and jet from cover-to-cover by sliding on his knees at the speed of sound. This ability, coupled with a well-implemented variant on the now-mandatory bullet time mechanic, make Vanquish an utterly unique third person shooter and differentiate it from its many sources of inspiration. Mikami and Platinum have cribbed from many, but the unique way in which they have combined a number of disparate stylistic and mechanical elements help Vanquish to transcend its inspirations and become something quite ingenious in its own right.

Sam Gideon strikes a stunning pose.

Sam Gideon strikes a stunning pose.

Aided by a responsive and considered control scheme, Vanquish is a supremely tactile and immersive shooter. Its many combat scenarios are fraught with tension, but one never feels at a loss due to clunky or unmanageable button placement. The game excels and thrives in its effortless delivery of chaotic set pieces, filling the screen with enemies and projectiles and challenging the player to negotiate the fray with as much skill and flair as possible. Boosting, rolling and switching weapons on the fly via Sam’s morphing BLADE weapons system (Vanquish apparently never met an acronym it did not take to) provides ample opportunity for expert players to show off their skills, and the game even employs an old-fashioned score counter which tracks player’s chains of kills, offers up a screen at the end of each mission which evaluates the player’s performance. All of which is to suggest that Vanquish is a modern game which spares more than a passing glance to gaming history; in some ways, however, it is this reverence for classic conventions and nostalgia for days gone by that is both the blessing and minor curse of Vanquish.

Like games of old, Vanquish is utterly single-minded and relentless. The adrenaline-fuelled combat is exhilarating, captivating, but only ever strikes a single note for the game’s entire duration, notwithstanding a very brief and unconvincing attempt at stealth-based play. Players will shoot, dive, roll, melee and boost almost constantly until the (admittedly wonderful) end credits begin to roll, with nary a puzzle to interrupt the action or a moment of peace to stop and enjoy any of the game’s often-gorgeous vistas and lovely lighting effects. While this is not a problem for the first couple of hours, the tempo begins to drag by the mid-point and it becomes clear that Vanquish is uninterested in building to any sort of crescendo and would rather just assault players constantly with waves of enemies and explosions until they fall into a trance-like state. Without a few quiet moments to break up the action, the game’s attempts at ‘big moments’, such as when a highway begins to crumble beneath Sam’s feet, or an assault on a massive, robotic fortress, feel somewhat mundane and get lost in the sound and fury. While moment-to-moment play is never anything less than terrific fun and the game consistently looks amazing, it is unfortunate that very little of Vanquish ever really has a chance to stick. The numbing effect of the game’s non-stop climaxes, pulsing electronic soundtrack and sun-soaked visuals is offset somewhat by the brevity of the experience; again like games of old, Vanquish can be beaten in a couple of sittings and, taking cinematics into account, should not last the average player more than six or seven hours on the default (and rather brutal) difficulty setting. The downside is that outside of an unlockable higher difficulty and some survival-based challenges, there is nothing in the way of post-game content to compel another play-through. Those who derive enjoyment from competing for top spots in online leaderboards may derive an additional few hours of enjoyment, but for most, Vanquish will likely assume the position of a one-time romp.

In motion, Vanquish is often gorgeous to look at.

In motion, Vanquish is often gorgeous to look at.

Make no mistake, though: Vanquish is a very good game, and everything which it does well is done better than almost any of its contemporaries. It offers unique, unparalleled play mechanics, gorgeous graphics and a host of pulse-pounding action sequences of which many other games would be envious. It lifts liberally from Western action gaming conventions and, almost in ridicule of its competitors, takes familiar ideas and ratchets them so high as to be unrecognizable. In many ways, what Mikami and Platinum have done with Vanquish is to offer players a glimpse of the future of third person shooters. Crafted with love, care and passion, Vanquish will be fondly regarded by many for years to come notwithstanding its imperfections. A boring story, flat pacing and a dearth of meaningful content render Vanquish a game ripe for expansion and refinement in what will hopefully become a fruitful franchise, but for action aficionados and devotees of all things Mikami and Platinum, their journey undoubtedly begins here.
The Score
Vanquish only sounds a single note, but it does so with style and flair to spare. The most polished, exciting and interesting shooter of the year. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 years ago
The review is pretty much spot on with my opinion.

-Fantastic,fast and refreshing gameplay for a third person shooter
-Sensational enemy design (a usual with Mikami games)
-Good challenge makes you breathe a sigh of relief after some of the scenarios and certainly after the final boss

-Disposable story (I didn't even know the last level was the last level)
-Bit small on content/unlockables (strange considering what Bayonetta had)

Took me 5:02 hours to finish it on normal. It is short I guess, but its flat out from start to finish and its not an easy game (challenges are brutal).

I hope it gets enough sales to warrant a sequel, but it may be a struggle with the focus being on the games length putting alot of people off.
3 years ago
Great review, Michael! I'm still playing it, but I agree with what you've said.
3 years ago
Haha, "the subtlety of Lady Gaga" is the most amazing analogy I've heard in a review for quite some time.
3 years ago
Great to see games like this coming out still, short on content but high on impact and doing something different to the constant stream of sequels and cookie cutter blockbusters.
3 years ago
Nice review. It's good to see something a bit different in such a homogenous genre these days. Will have to let this one plus several other ones wait until I'm done with exams eep!!
3 years ago
lexase wrote
I hope it gets enough sales to warrant a sequel, but it may be a struggle with the focus being on the games length putting alot of people off.
Indeed, mate. Even if a game is very creative and different, if it has a majority audience out there complaining over length then unfortunately may not happen. Pity methinks!
3 years ago
Best get this for $50 from play asia or ozgameshop, $89 is too rich for 5hrs of gameplay and little extra content
3 years ago
i bet we will see more DLC ?
3 years ago
Nice review Michael; very well written. I might pick this one up when it becomes a bit cheaper, it looks like it would be a lot of fun for a short while.
3 years ago
I also heard that the playtime is only tracked when you are in action and doesn't count any from deaths so the playtime on your file is the very minimum amount you could have played.
3 years ago
Still.. 5hrs of "real" gameplay.. and 1 or 2 hours of "other stuff".. Just not worth full price.. not anymore. There are just too many other games out there worth playing.. some of them indie titles. For the $89 this one would cost, I could get several other games.

This beggars the question of course.. how much gameplay time is worth $89 (full price)? 12 hours, 20 hours?..

The other thing to consider is replay value.. a game like this, as stated in the review, has little reply value aside from leaderboard stuff. Now compare with a similar title (not the same): Borderlands. How does this game stack up against Borderlands? How many hours was that, on the first play through? 12? 16? I can't remember.. but it was a decent length.. and the seconds playthrough WAS worth doing even without any additional DLC.

Now take a completely different game and compare: Gran Turismo 5.. I can't even begin to imagine the length of time that is going to take to complete and the replay value there is enormous by comparison. The one thing this has in common with Vanquish is the sheer amount of work; blood sweat and tears etc

In any case, I'm not sure how long would be long enough for me to consider paying full-price but 5 to 6 hrs is just a little too short..
3 years ago
5-8 hours would probably be the average length of most shooters. Look at Halo, MW2, Resistance, Gears of War, all can be finished in under 10 hours and in the case of Halo and MW2, both ask for significantly more than $89.
3 years ago
Of course, titles such as Resistance, Gears, Halo and Call of Duty boast multiplayer modes to extend lifespan, which may or may not be a relevant factor for many when making their purchasing decisions.
3 years ago
This beggars the question of course.. how much gameplay time is worth $89 (full price)? 12 hours, 20 hours?..
I can only speak for myself, but game length doesn't even factor into my purchasing decisions. If anything, I'm more inclined to pick something up that is shorter in game length because I just don't have the time to commit to a 20+ hour SP-campaign game, nor do I find playing a lengthier campaign any more enjoyable or 'worth' the purchase. But I realise I am in the minority these days. I don't care for replay value—achievements, item unlockables etc.—because I don't think they add anything of value to the core game play. They are just frivolous bonuses put there to please people who need a 'reward' or purpose to re-play a game.
3 years ago
Jahanzeb wrote
Best get this for $50 from play asia or ozgameshop, $89 is too rich for 5hrs of gameplay and little extra content
I paid £25.11 inc shipping from 101cd.com, that's about $40. Sounds worth it to me!
3 years ago
Unless you collect games, 7 hours is acceptable, because most people will buy, then sell once they finish it. You might lose $20 or $30 rather than $89.
3 years ago
qwas wrote
If anything, I'm more inclined to pick something up that is shorter in game length because I just don't have the time to commit to a 20+ hour SP-campaign game, nor do I find playing a lengthier campaign any more enjoyable or 'worth' the purchase.
I completely agree with you here, once ive finished the games main story i normally dont try for all of the achievments or unlockables unless it is really worth it.
3 years ago
This game is gonna be freakin' sweet dood!
Normally not excited by these vaguely homoerotic militaristic 3rd/1st person shooters (looking at you Halo,Call of Duties, Band of Bro's etc) but since this is coming from a Japanese developer studio I'll make an exception icon_biggrin.gif
3 years ago
Man, I can't wait for this to arrive from ozgameshop.

I love how Gamesradar sum it up in the opening sentence of their review:

"If it were possible to make a game out of the phrase F**K YEAH!!!, with the three exclamation points and everything, it would probably come out looking a lot like Vanquish."
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    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  21/10/2010 (Confirmed)
  SEGA Australia
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