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Vanquish Review

Sam Gideon in VanquishBy Kob Monney

Why run and gun when you can slide on your knees and shoot a robot in the head? If there has been something lacking about the third-person genre it is movement. The rigidity of staying in one place (usually in cover) and waiting for the enemy’s head has been a popular staple (at least in most of the third person shooters I’ve played). Splinter Cell: Conviction rectified this in some way with its last known location mechanic. Vanquish? Well, it has you sliding on your knees.

Playing Vanquish reminded me of James Cameron’s Terminator, specifically that notable line by Kyle Reese when he says that the terminator will absolutely not stop until you are dead. The sentiment is echoed in Vanquish where every single robot on screen wishes to do you harm in no uncertain manner. Even when you think you have destroyed one they will often search out your position and self destruct. You find yourself in the centre of this deadly vortex and quite frankly it is the best place to be.

Vanquish is an engrossing Japanese third-person shooter, a funky mixture of Halo, Gears of War, Iron Man, Gundam and spliced together with a dash of Bayonetta. It’s a madcap, sometimes frustrating but mostly involving experience that has you lurching from one ridiculous set-piece to another. The action can be dizzying to the point where you feel as if you are not being attacked from right to left but from above and below as well. If you can picture a stream of missiles/lasers/grenades heading straight for your position it is hard not to be aware of a sense of visual awe mixed with apprehension.

The story is functional taking place in a near future where Earth’s human population has grown and energy resources have dwindled. In an attempt to create a sustainable energy the United States launch a space station that harnesses solar power. However the space station is captured by Russian Ultra-nationalists, led by Victor Zaitsev, who turn it into a formidable weapon and destroy San Francisco, aiming to force the U.S into an unconditional surrender otherwise they’ll destroy New York as well.

Vanquish melee

The game’s protagonist is Sam Gideon, a DARPA researcher equipped with the ARS suit (Augmented Reaction Suit). Simply put while wearing it he’s able to miraculously perform (and avoid comund fractures in his bones it seems) above and beyond the levels of an ordinary human. When the suit is under severe duress a bullet time like mode is activated giving you enough time to either recover or use the extra time to pummel your opponent into oblivion. The bullet time cannot be utilised all the time as the suit needs time to recharge often leaving the player exposed to attacks. The bullet time brings in a tactical element to the gameplay ensuring that running and gunning is underlined with a consideration of the situation, allowing the player to determine the best method of eradicating the enemy without maxing out his own resources. It can also be activated manually which pushes the player into confronting almost suicidal situations. It is in surviving these moments that Vanquish asserts its own identity and ranks as one of the more unique video game experiences of the last year.

The ability to boost across the ground changes much of what we would consider about the third-person genre. In fact it nearly transforms it, turning the action into slick, free flowing movements as in order to best your assailants you will have to traverse the environment in the best way possible to give yourself the greatest chance of surviving. Vanquish encourages the player to come out of cover rather than stay hidden and so you are constantly moving, assessing the battlefield and trying to find the weakest points in your enemies armour so you can take appropriate advantage of them.

Vanquish enemies

The environments differ between larger outdoor spaces and smaller indoor spaces so spatial awareness is key as there is a tendency to be  trapped in a small space where boosting is not the best option or trying to figure out how to traverse larger environments without being eviscerated. The words stick or twist come to mind as staying in one position is not the best option (especially as some of environment is destructible, something you’ll learn once a hole as been blasted through your cover and left you for dead). Turning your back on the action is suicidal as you will lose track of your enemies and positioning on the battlefield. Having a keen sense of where everything is and responding to it is tantamount as the player finds themselves in situations where the potential to be overwhelmed is significant.

The game is tempered with some frustrating moments. Instant kills happen…well, instantly and regularly and are an inconvenience when they occur. Too many times you find yourself swatted by an unexpected attack that you can never respond to in the time given. While the gameplay could be considered to have elements of trial and error, so simple is the gameplay (slow down time, point and shoot) that it is difficult to accept when you have been killed when you believe that you’ve done nothing wrong.

Ally A.I is markedly disappointing (at least they seem to be on normal, harder difficulties may be a different matter) as the help they offer is lacking. No matter what they do, your foe will always, always come for you and your allies cannot relieve the pressure of constantly fighting these large-scale enemies. They are often ineffectual and function  as fodder, the amount of times I’ve heard Gideon say “get out of the way” as a marine runs past should indicate that they get in the way more often than they should.

Without doubt Vanquish is a very, very good game that is slick and stripped down to the bare necessities. The ability to boost is a welcome addition giving the player more freedom in how they tackle their opponents. While there are some frustrations, the game functions as a fresh alternative to some of its Western counterparts, as a sensory experience there are few games that are as exhilarating as this.

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