It's not often that a development studio cranks out two games within twelve months of each other, but it's a feat that's been achieved by Japanese developer Platinum Games. Some might see this as a bad thing, that they're compromising their games' quality because of a busy work schedule, but that train of thought couldn't be further from the mark. Vanquish more than proves this by having sublime production values, a solid narrative and engaging gameplay.
You take control of a DARPA researcher called Sam Gideon, who aside from being an ex-American football player, looks like a mech because he walks around in something called the Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS). He's sent into orbit to try and recover one of DARPA's leading scientists called Dr. Francis Candide, who was working on America's solar-energy driven power generator when it was taken over by a group calling themselves the Order of the Russian Star. However, he's there under the ruse that he's assisting the Marines in their attempt to stop them from attacking New York with the weapon.
Aside from having some rather graphic detail in the cutscenes, especially right at the start when the Order of the Russian Star fire said generator at the city of San Francisco, the story isn't really the main focus of Vanquish. There isn't much development, but then there doesn't need to be. The story just serves as a necessary plot driver to throw you into more and more heated action situations.
On face value, Vanquish conforms to the typical third-person shooter mould, but due to the nature of the ARS, Sam is capable of some rather crazy moves. It's what sets Vanquish apart as the gameplay is frantic and fast-paced without ever seeming cluttered or overwhelming. You'll often find yourself in what seems like a mini-war, with plenty of allies and even more opponents squaring off on the battle field. And using the correct tactics can really make the difference between progressing and failing.
Sam can perform various moves, such as sliding around the floor at break-neck speed or increasing his reactions so that everyone else goes into slow motion. He can also perform evasive rolls at a speed that's probably never been seen before. They all work together rather well and can be used as a combo too. Use the speed to get behind an enemy, perform a roll and then aim to induce his enhanced reactions. There's one catch though, this can only be performed for a little while before the suit overheats and when in this state, Sam is less efficient. He can't speed boost and his rolls are a lot slower. But that's when you try and find a nice piece of cover to hide behind - assuming it doesn't get blown up.
What makes the gameplay of Vanquish so gripping is its fluidity. You can switch between all these moves in an instant - there's no lag at all. Firing the various types of weapons - some of which are quite unique - feels very satisfying and the combat never gets boring. You never get a feeling of tedium, just disappointment when opponents get killed and anticipation for the next section.
The different set pieces throughout also help to make the whole experience even more engaging. There are parts where you'll be fighting side-by-side on moving train platforms, having to adjust your aim for the immense speed, or where you'll be in a zero-gravity environment fighting enemies on a different axis. And that doesn't even begin to talk about the challenge of fighting Romanovs (enhanced enemies), all while trying to fend off snipers, enemies trying to melee you, gun turrets and walkers. It's quite fortunate that the game employs a regenerative health system and that the ARS kicks in whenever you're hurt. It's a trade-off though, as if manually triggered, you can control the over-heating. If it's triggered through damage being taken, it over-heats automatically to help you get out of danger.
The production values of Vanquish are fantastic. The intensity of Sam's animations are sublime. Firing off Sam's assault rifle is one of the most satisfying gameplay experiences for a long while. It fires so insanely quick and with solid accuracy. The rest of the game is also fantastic, especially when you use the ARS and you see bullets/missiles/laser beams flying around the screen in slow motion. It's sometimes quite breathtaking, especially if you induce it to see a missile fly just past your head.
The audio production isn't quite as good, but it's still decent. The soundtrack is suitably intense and uses a good array of techno sounds to get the blood pumping. The voice acting is also pretty decent.
Where Vanquish may disappoint is with its length. Factoring in down-time for deaths, the game can be completed in around 5-6 hours and there isn't a huge amount to do afterwards. There's God Hard difficulty for those who really want to test themselves, and the game also has numerous challenges available - which are well, challenging. The big omission though, is that the game is single player focussed. There's no multiplayer or co-operative modes and it's a real shame.
It often feels like Vanquish is the wrong name for this game. "Non-Stop Action" would be a far more accurate title, but it's probably not as catchy. The game constantly throws enemies at you, but it never feels too much, it just feels fun. The immense production values just help to make the whole experience rewarding. The omission of multiplayer is a big negative, but it doesn't stop Vanquish being a fantastic game.