Let’s face it. You really can’t move in a video games shop for third-person shooters. They are everywhere and, for the most part, all offer more or less the same type of thing. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan. But I yearn for something a bit different from the genre, something that will make me remember the game and not end up confusing it with the myriad of other games in this genre that I have played. I want something special.
Now I am sure that when developers sit down at a table to discuss what the next project will be, they actually want to create something special. But nine times out of ten, that glint of creative genius gets lost along the way and we end up with something far more mainstream. However, something special seems to have happened when Platinum Games, responsible for Bayonetta and MadWorld, sat down with Shinji Mikami, director of Resident Evil 4. The result was Vanquish.
So, it’s a cover-based third person shooter then. That much is straight forward. The storyline is also fairly simple and standard fare amongst the genre. Basically, the Russians have taken over a giant space station and pretty much destroyed San Francisco. They then demand surrender of the US, otherwise New York will suffer the same fate. The player then takes on the role of Sam Gideon, complete with experimental Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS), and is charged with wrestling back control of the space station, along with a group of hard-as-nails marines.
So all of the action takes place aboard a giant space station that is well and truly under-siege. The Russian grunts of choice all seem to be robotic in nature, so the player can expect to spend a lot of time fighting against various different types of combat based machinery, including some very impressive boss battles. Although the boss battles certainly offer something different, the vast majority of the adversaries suffer from a slight lack of variety. But at least there are plenty of them.
Which is one of the things that is quite impressive about Vanquish. Right from the very start, the player is thrown in at the deep end. Chaos reigns from the very beginning, with the player having to make their way through a hail of rocket fire and bullets. This level of action is carried on throughout the eight or so hours of gameplay to the games conclusion. Of course there is downtime and cut scenes for furthering the story, but the player is never more than a stones throw away from yet more fast-paced, adrenalin-inducing action.
So what makes this game so special?, I hear you ask. Basically, Sam Gideon. Specifically, suit and style.
The ARS that Sam wears has a number of neat functions. Firstly, it packs a reasonable collection of weapons and can “reassemble” itself to mimic the other weapons that may be encountered throughout the game. In reality, this is just a fancy way of dealing with the fact that Sam cannot pick up different weapons as they are built into the suit. But it is still cool. The weapons themselves are mostly recognisable from other third-person shooters, with a couple of surprising exceptions, such as an energy gun that can knock down enemies behind cover.
Cover plays an important role in Vanquish. The sheer number of enemies that Sam will be facing off with makes ducking behind cover, of any sort, essential. But moving between cover is where we can experience two of the most impressive functions of the suit. Firstly there is the boost. Sam can, for a limited time, use this function to rapidly slide form one form of cover to another, or indeed just zip around the current battlefield in an attempt to get a more favourable vantage point. The way he slides is impressive and feels very much like you are controlling some kind of rocket powered mech, rather than a guy in a suit. Excessive use of the boost function will cause the suit to overheat and prevent the player from accessing other functions.
Such as the rather impressive slow-motion AR function, which allows the player to slow everything down, making it easier to dodge or aim with precision whilst moving at high speed. The slow-motion also kicks in when the player is coming close to dying, giving them a chance to either seek cover or finish the enemy before biting the bullet, so to speak.
The controlling of all these functions can be a bit hard to get the hang of. There is a nice “lets test out the suit in a controlled environment” style tutorial right at the very beginning of the game. But once the player is dropped into the action, it really is a baptism of fire as the player tries to get to grips with the controls whilst attempting to stay alive. This does make for a very tough beginning to the game. But once the player has the controls worked out and they are coming more naturally, the game in general seems a lot easier.
Now the other thing that I said was special about Vanquish was the style. Sam Gideon himself comes across as a very cool character, oozing with style. And no-one can deny that the ARS is stylish and impressive. But the game on the whole has masses of style. Watching Sam as he boosts across the battlefield, with rockets whizzing around over-head and marines dropping like flies to the left and the right, then stop and lay behind some random piece of rubble to take stock of what is going on, is very cool. To then have him spark up a cigarette (which is bad for you kiddies!) is just too much. I want to be Sam Gideon!
But it is not all peaches and cream, I’m afraid. I have already mentioned that there is a slight lack of variety in the enemies that the player faces. The same can be said of the gameplay. Although there are a few points during which the player can experience something different, such as the zero gravity section, for the most part the gameplay is the same throughout, fight to reach the next fight. Also, with no multiplayer mode, the game has very little replayability. Sure, you can play through and try to beat your time or score, but otherwise there is no real reason to come back for more once the ride is over.
But whilst the ride is going, it is one hell of a rollercoaster. It may not be the most innovative game ever, but it has some really nice features which are backed up by solid gameplay. Vanquish not only sits atop of the third-person shooter mountain, but it sits there looking damn cool.