PS3 review: Vanquish

VanquishArt

To feel let down by the opening hour of Vanquish is completely natural. Coming from Shinji Mikami, the action-game auteur responsible for Resident Evil 4 and God Hand, a certain level of finesse is expected, and Vanquish seems to miss the mark. Granted, the graphics are stylized and detailed, the controls responsive and on-point, the enemies sleek and smart and varied. But there’s a sense of malaise – would the gaming god of up-close action really make such a me-too cover shooter, one in which players hide rather than approach, taking pot-shots at enemy A.I. over waist-high cover?

Of course not.

The feeling that something’s amiss builds up slowly. Main character Sam Gideon can boost around levels at incredible speeds, which feels only a little excessive when rocketing from cover to cover. Time slows down when Sam takes critical damage, a wasted mechanic when he can simply duck back to heal. But what really feels off is the game’s difficulty. The enemies are too far away, and each shot feels meaningless, hopeless.

Shots will connect and kill, but rarely does Sam make any meaningful progress – until players begin using Sam’s Augmented Reaction Suit to its full potential. Players can slow down time at will, but only when performing a dodge roll or jumping over cover. It’s strange, at first, to maneuver away from safety and into the fray. But it works.

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It soon becomes clear that no, Vanquish is not a me-too cover shooter. It’s even the antithesis of that style, finding its heart as much in Devil May Cry and Bayonetta as anything else. Sam boosts around the battlefield, hops over enemy cover, engages bullet time, and unloads a clip directly into his robotic enemies. This is incredibly personal combat, often feeling more like melee combat than projectile warfare.

It’s amazing, given the tremendous scale of some battles. There’s this idea among many Western gamers that Japanese developers are unwilling to commit the resources required to make truly cinematic games, games with an enormity that makes conflicts real, that extend the game past its boundaries and into a wider world. Vanquish knocks that idea on its ass.

Vanquish has enormous battles; Vanquish depicts a war. Cities stretch into the horizon as their streets crumbles underfoot. Enemies surge, leaving their stations, emerging from buildings. Hulking behemoths extend past eyesight, so large they crush city blocks as they walk.

But when you jump over cover and slow time down, the world fades away into zen. This is another world, a microcosm of perfect focus. It’s a beautiful moment, ever placid. Intimate connections are formed with enemies before they fall away, naturally, in time.

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I’ve grown familiar with these enemies. I cherish them. I love the sleek robotic grunts that make up the core infantry, the mobile cover units that scamper crab-like around the battlefield before expanding into shields, the enormous walking jellyfish that explode into spider mines when destroyed. The enemy design rivals any game’s. It’s magnificent.

So when I say that Vanquish’s scoring system feels arbitrary, or that some foes have far too much health, or that the story rivals any other for inanity, know that I am coming from a perspective of utmost respect for what Mikami and Platinum Games have crafted here. This is a work to rival any action game, a game whose flaws feel incidental compared to its remarkable core.

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5 Responses to “PS3 review: Vanquish”

  1. karlosmorale Says:

    Love this game. I enjoyed reading this piece 🙂

  2. Gems of this generation: part 1 | Catstronaut Loves Games Says:

    […] Vanquish seems, at first glance and touch, like Gears of War. The trappings are a little different, with Russian robots and mechs taking the place of Gears’ monstro-humanoid Locust forces. But there’s the same burly space marines, the same assault and sniper rifles, the same waist-high cover to crouch behind. […]

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