There’s something about Japanese production values that is telling. When playing such a title, one must suspend disbelief, postpone reality, and succumb to outrageous stunts, excessively dramatic action, and more extreme low-angle shots of women in short skirts than would be considered reasonable in Western media. (Feel free to substitute the low-angle shots with frames full of jiggly breasts.)
Vanquish is no exception. As chain-smoking, former football star turned DARPA operative Sam Gideon, you employ the use of the ARS battlesuit to shoot, vault and slide your way to victory in a fashion that closely emulates other hyper-nimble heros of Japanese titles (which should not come as a surprise, given Japanese producer Atsushi Inaba’s production history). It’s a good thing, too, when the game world is one where the USA is engaged in bloody struggle against the robots of the recently overthrown Russian Federation. Yes, robots. Despite the fact that the human population has ballooned out of control.
Vanquish‘s main drawcard is Sam’s agility. Using the ARS suit to slide around the landscape is effortless. Dodging is fast and barely takes a second. When you are near death, however, the gameplay flips and the familiar look-and-feel of bullet-time is liberally applied. This is all supported by a comfortable control scheme, detailed visuals and impressive animations – the changing of weapons is especially slick.
Unfortunately, for all the advantages that your mobility provides, the game can be deceptively challenging. The action is fast-paced and frenetic, and it barely lets up. Your weapons may fire hard and fast, but you’ll find that your clip empties sooner than you may expect. Enemies can sap your energy with a single melee strike, and if you stay stuck in cover for too long, they will get the jump on you. Certain projectiles will kill you instantly, no exceptions. Much like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, the game lulls you into a false sense of security with your abilities, then proceeds to exploit your weaknesses and fill the screen with chaos to break your concentration.
The game can also suffer from a bit of repetitiveness – you will find yourself maxing out the upgrades for a basic set of weapons and foregoing all others, which can make the gameplay somewhat dry. Bullet time, while making the game more forgiving, feels a little overdone – not just in this game, but in other games that have preceeded Vanquish.
But perhaps the main stumbling block in Vanquish is that there is no respite from the grating storyline. This is probably a case of something being lost in the translation (or simply a clash of cultures, where Western people may just “not get it”), but if your eyes glaze over whenever a beautifully rendered cut scene kicks in, then you’re forgiven. The short length of the single-player campaign will also sting, given that there’s no multiplayer mode, with the primary form of inter-player activity being score leaderboards.
Inaba has not produced a terrible game, but the game’s value may be lacking for some. Be sure to keep your expectations low, and try it out. You may be pleasantly surprised.