Books are books, films are films and games are games. It would be nice though if the video games we know and love could take a leaf out of the book of other mediums from time to time. Vanquish is one such case that typifies this problem. As a game it is fun. Quite a lot of fun actually. It is able to nail the sense of satisfaction and the adrenaline rushing challenge that so many games fail to achieve. As far as the story and characterisation is concerned however, I wish that Vanquish could have taken some inspiration from the myriad of films and literature that weave complex and meaningful tales.
Let’s start on a good note so I can save my usual ranting up for later. The game plays out with many staple mechanics of the third person shooter genre including various cover and weapon upgrade systems. The controls handle well and make you feel empowered as a player and, aside from the annoying use of a face button for grenades, the default control scheme is spot on. The cover system is solid and functional with minimal glitches that usually characterise cover in third person games, that said the system has very few whistles and bells and is largely uninspiring.
One of the better gameplay features of Vanquish is the technology of its universe and how this effects your play style. The game features a plethora of weapons, ranging from the usual assault rifles and shotguns, all the way to the more creative lock on lasers and low frequency emitters. The variety of your arsenal is a nice touch and the ability to upgrade weapons through upgrade chips hidden in the levels gives a decent incentive to explore. The problem with the game’s weapons is in their varied levels of usefulness. The assault rifle seems capable of levelling any robot at any range, where as the humble disc launcher can barely scratch the surface of your foes. There is a serious imbalance going on here that adds to the already present repetition in Vanquish’s gameplay. Thankfully, some of the less creative aspects of Vanquish are redeemed by some of the cool moves offered by the protagonist’s ARS (augmented reaction suit). The most notable addition to the moves repertoire is a fancy and slightly ridiculous sliding manoeuvre performed with a tap of the left bumper. The speed at which this moves you around the maps is decent and, even though it uses up your energy reserves quickly, it gives the gameplay in Vanquish a real sense of speed. You also get various slow-motion inducing moves that allow you to quickly target your enemies before they can react. The fact that this move is automatically triggered when your health drops below a certain threshold also helps mitigate the frustrations usually associated with potentially cheap deaths. This all adds up to make Vanquish one of the better arcade shooters out there. It may be highly derivative of other titles in the genre, but it certainly is a blast.
One of the most satisfying aspects of Vanquish’s technology is the way it is presented visually. The actual graphics of Vanquish are nothing to write home about, with a standard white wash colour palette we’ve come to expect from every game set in the future. The aspect where Vanquish shines graphically is in its incredibly smooth animations. Whether you’re sliding along the floor like a snake on speed or dodging oncoming bullets in slow-motion, The game runs at a flawless 60FPS and looks a real treat in HD.
Now here come the complaints that characterise nearly every review I write. Starting with the other side of the presentation coin, we have the audio in Vanquish. Holding off on ranting for but a moment, praise must be given to the game’s use of sound effects. They really help to beef up the, already solid, gunplay and the distorted effect when you activate bullet time really hits the spot. That said, the music is comparatively trivial, really failing to stand out in any meaningful way. This is the lesser of two evils in comparison to the pre-school voice acting, which made me want to Van Gough both my ears in sheer disgust.
These annoyingly voiced characters are compounded by some truly awful characterisation. (For those of you who haven’t guessed yet, here comes the big rant.) If the paint by numbers characters aren’t see through and generic enough, then one look at the protagonist will pain you in indescribable ways. He looks like a carbon copy of Solid Snake, but he lacks any of the complexity and depth that made Snake such an enjoyable character to play. So you have to inhabit this massive frat boy douche for the entirety of the game, and it is not a fun experience. The plot isn’t even vaguely respectable either. Once again generic Russian terrorist forces are threatening the US. Seriously, the cold war was nearly forty years ago. Get over it. Between the Russians, Chinese and British, we seem to produce every villain in video games since their inception, and it’s getting mighty old. The plot does grow on you as it throws up some moderately enjoyable good vs. evil scenarios, but that said a parasite also grows on you in the same way.
Money doesn’t grow on trees and neither do copies of Vanquish, so is it worth trading the former for the latter? The single player is long enough boasting a good six hours of play, give or take based on your difficulty setting. There is also a challenge mode that is a welcome addition, though the challenges are fairly samey and rather shallow. I described the single player as if there was a multiplayer component in Vanquish, but sadly this isn’t the case. I don’t think all games need multiplayer, and I understand it would be hard to implement bullet time into a multiplayer setup but Vanquish is just screaming for some sort of co-op mode. Regardless of this lack of content there is a solid achievement list sporting many extraneous feats that were rather fun to attempt.
No matter how much fun Vanquish may be, it is unlikely to be ingrained in your memory for long. The quick pace and snappy arcade stylings are let down by poor balancing, lame storytelling and a repetitive mission structure. Vanquish is a case of style over substance and, whilst the style is very stylish indeed, it really does need something more to make it worth a purchase over some of the other blockbuster titles coming out this autumn.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Solid gunplay, slick bullet time moves, tight controls, fun arcade style shooting, really swift pace, satisfying weapons
Generic story, highly derivative, really poor dialogue, horrific character design, quite repetitive mission structure, Lacking in content