The evolution of the gaming medium is important nowadays as it seems all too easy for developers/publishers to fall into comfortable formulaic ruts of churning out samey titles that feel more like mods than memorable experiences that stand on their own two digital feet. But when it comes to control mechanics, there really is no point in reinventing the wheel if it can’t be topped.
Case in point, Gears of War and its near-perfect third-person shooter (TPS) controls/cover mechanic. Anything less than these mechanics for a third-person shooter is a step in the wrong direction, with overall levels of immersion and enjoyment directly impacted by how a new title fares on this comparison.
What I’m getting at here is the frustration and disappointment I’ve had recently with third-person shooters—Kane & Lynch 2 springs to mind—that only half mimic the control mechanics of a system that has proven it works. The good news for Vanquish is that it sticks a lot closer to the Gears of War control/cover system, which works really well for the most part. It’s only when it tries to step away that it becomes frustrating. There are the simple factors such as having to use an extra button to vault over cover, instead of a single all-inclusive cover/vault button, and then there are bigger no-no’s such as the lack of blind fire.
But then there’s one simple inclusion that goes a long way to making these oversights forgivable: the ability to use jet-boosters on your Iron Man-esque suit to quickly move around, flank and power-slide into and between cover points.
If you’re looking for the storyline to be the compelling reason to jet-boost you from A to B, you’ll need to set your expectations firmly at Starship Troopers more-so than Minority Report. You step into the power boots of Sam, a dry-humoured hero who is part Marcus Fenix and a pinch of Master Chief with a John Constantine cherry on top. It’s up to you to battle insurmountable odds of neo-Soviet robots that, in an old school Bond-like plot, want to wreak havoc on the rest of the world.
Vanquish is all about the epic cinematic battles, mostly cliché but sometimes entertaining dialogue and some fantastic breaking of the fourth wall thrown in to boot. In fact, the latter item saves the compulsory initial training level from being an exercise in tedium, resulting in some wry smiles while learning the ropes.
The graphics are sufficiently sexy, while the game engine does a solid job of handling some of the bigger clashes, some rather open battlefields and the general chaos that ensues in this kind of game. While it feels a bit disjointed at first, particularly with some of the seemingly random spots where a level ends and the next begins, it’s not too long before you’re in the thick of some of the most frantic fights of this generation of gaming. And ultimately this will determine how entertained you are by Vanquish.
Everything about this game is skewed towards adrenaline junkies who like to feel totally freakin’ ninja when battling it out against waves and waves of mindless foes. Yeah, the friendly and enemy AI are dumb, the flow of the game is frustratingly broken up by unnecessary cut-scenes or pointless first-person (minus the shooting) sequences, but there’s something incredibly rewarding about power sliding around a battlefield and taking out enemies mid slide.
Unfortunately, just as with the frantic pace of shooters such as Modern Warfare 2, the adrenaline high can only be maintained for so long, which results in a game length of around four to six hours: hardly ideal on the bang-for-buck front of a single-player-only title.
There’s also an included ‘AR mode’ feature (read: bullet time) and one-hit-kill melee attack that both, as with the boosters, chew away at your suit’s energy. Run out of energy, and you’re not going to be able to use any of these three functions, which leaves you camped in a corner smoking a cigarette (seriously, there’s a dedicated ‘smoke cigarette’ button) until your powers rejuvenate. Learning to find the right balance of sliding, AR mode and melee attacking is crucial as it will determine how often you’re staring at the respawn loading screen.
The boss battles are of particular merit and, although not overly cerebral in how they’re bested, can result in titanic struggles that keep you on the move as the juggernauts obliterate friendlies and cover alike, all the while trying to pulverise you with a tirade of bullets, lasers and missiles. Once you perform an AR mode-infused power slide between cover shooting down incoming missiles, it’s hard not to be grinning like an idiot. When the combat is at its best, Vanquish is almost as fun to watch as it is to play.
Alas, Vanquish is also lacking some much needed polish to increase the overall appeal and immersion. The power-sliding can be clunky when not on flat terrain or when attempting to move around corners, while the game is sometimes finicky when it comes to cover that can or cannot be shimmied across. There were also a couple of nasty bugs, including one that meant I had to double back to kill a non-threatening remaining enemy before a particular door would unlock: lame.
Vanquish is by no means a bad game and is definitely well worth having a look at if high-speed combat gets your engine revving. But the short campaign and lack of genuine motivating reasons to come back for more hold it back from being wholly recommendable as a must-play title for everyone.