Vanquish Review

Richard Walker

At first glance, it seems that Vanquish is a little bit in love with Metal Gear Solid; not that they're similar games. Far from it, in fact. But with a gruff-sounding hero in Sam Gideon, channelling the wise-ass gravelly tones of Solid Snake and a button that allows you to take a drag on a cigarette, it's impossible not to make the comparison, especially given how off the wall the game can be at times. However, Vanquish couldn't be further away from the sneaking and hiding of Hideo Kojima's stealthy opus. It's almost the antithesis, with some seriously fast-paced third-person shooting action that demands hair-trigger reactions and a high tolerance for extremely flashy visuals. The only cardboard boxes here are exploding ones.

"Who needs Master Chief? Sam Gideon's suit kicks ass!"

In gameplay terms, Vanquish is on a comparable plain to Platinum Games' stablemate Bayonetta in terms of pace and balls-to-the-wall action, constantly throwing enemies and set pieces at you with little - if any - downtime. There's a fair bit to keep your eye on too, with Gideon's pristine white ARS armour overheating more often than a dusty old PC and more bullets and projectiles flying around the screen than flies around a huge mound of excrement. Vanquish is completely insane then, relying on the management of your suit's resources and coping with dozens of smart and aggressive enemies on-screen at once.

Vanquish's suit is a feat of engineering and the star of the show, with a booster fitted on the back, enabling Gideon to powerslide around on his knees firing from all angles, rotating the camera and drawing a bead on enemies as you jet along like a maniac. Pressing X allows you to seamlessly snap to cover at any time, so learning when to hit the boost and when to entrench yourself behind a barrier is a tactic you'll come to refine over time. Happily, the controls are some of the tightest and most responsive you'll come across in an action game, with X drawing you into cover when you're close and A initiating a fast evasive roll. Given the speed and frenetic nature of Vanquish, its sublime controls are a godsend and the lynchpin of what makes the game so enjoyable and exciting.

Holding the left trigger with a roll also sends the ARS (Augmented Reaction Suit) into slow-motion bullet-time (wait, come back! It's good, honest!), so you can take a moment to line up some headshots before your suit overheats for the umpteenth time. While we're on the subject, virtually every action you execute seems to send your suit into a heat frenzy, meaning that you'll be treated to the sound of the armour's exhaust going haywire as it vents after a melee attack, boosting, activating slow-mo or reaching a critical level of health. While having your melee attacks limited by the ARS reactor is a real pain, the latter function triggered by a low health state, is useful for giving you a last gasp to try and escape to cover and regroup. Given the speed and aggression of most of the robotic antagonists in Vanquish however, retreating to cover is only ever a temporary solution as it often either deteriorates or the enemy will rapidly outflank you, so learning to keep moving is key.

"I think the appropriate response is "gulp"..."

Then there are the towering bosses, the first of which is the daunting Argus that can transform from a scampering, four-legged tank into a looming bi-pedal monster that you can proceed to pick apart piece by piece. Compared to the later boss battles however, the Argus is small-fry. Try fighting the lethal scrap ball called Unknown or taking on the Crystal Viper or destroying the skyscraper-dwarving Kreon as it stomps its way down a river cutting a trail of destruction on a collision course with anything in its way. These - like many of the game's enemies - are capable of taking you out with some fatal one-hit kills if you're not careful, so staying sharp and listening for the cues is essential.

In these kind of large-scale boss encounters Vanquish really excels, but also manages to conjure up some truly memorable and action-packed set pieces, including a race against time as a bridge collapses behind you and countless spectacular QTE events that see Gideon pulling off some ridiculous moves that you'll wish you could actually do in real time. Like for instance, Gideon using the ARS to go into a frenzied pirouette so that he can drill clean through a boss's chassis to blow a huge hole in it, or running up an Argus to box its head clean off its shoulders. If only you could perform such feats yourself during a mission. Regardless, they are a sight to behold.

If it's the big stuff that makes Vanquish truly worthwhile then, it's the little stuff that can make it occasionally irritating. Niggles like your allies constantly running across your field of vision or stopping in front of you as you're aiming really start to grate over time and the needlessly sweary dialogue they spout is both dumb and repetitive. That said, when there's wall to wall bullets, machismo and testosterone by the barrel-load, the wanton cursing sort of makes sense. And to be perfectly honest, any semblance of narrative in Vanquish is neither here nor there, as a typically sneering Russian villain holds America to ransom with an orbital weapon capable of microwaving entire cities. Naturally, you're sent in to stop him and that's pretty much all you need to know.

"Football celebrations in the 22nd century haven't really evolved."

During your mission, spread across five acts, you'll be able to upgrade your range of weapons that form part of your metamorphosing BLADE. Using this single contraption, Gideon can access standard weapons like an assault rifle, heavy machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle or more unconventional fare like a ricocheting disk launcher or a lock-on laser, which can rain laser fire upon enemies from a distance. Three guns can be carried at any one time, with one slot reserved for EMP grenades and frags, so you always have a diverse selection of weaponry at your fingertips.

Vanquish isn't a particularly lengthy experience, weighing in at about eight hours overall to complete its story, but what's here is pure action gold. Switching the difficulty to hard increases the longevity a bit, but raises the frustration factor considerably meaning that the unlockable God Hard mode will be for sadists or shooter purists only, especially as there's no achievement attached to it. Speaking of which, Vanquish's achievement list is a nice balance of simple and difficult, with the standard collectibles to find in the shape of gold Pangloss statues and a whole bunch of weapon-based requirements to fulfil. Others give you specific tasks to complete during missions, making you often have to go out of your way to perform a certain action, most of which are fairly trying.

Another triumphant action title feather to put into Platinum Games' cap, Vanquish succeeds on almost every level and is let down only by a few frustrations like stupid AI allies, a constantly overheating suit, which makes you feel inadequate when you should feel unstoppable, and the occasional difficulty spike. It might be fairly short-lived, but unlockable tactical challenges and the lure of posting a high score on the online leaderboards might tempt you back for more. And one thing's for certain: after playing Vanquish, everything else will feel far too slow in comparison.

An ear-bashing techno soundtrack that we recommend switching off immediately. Once you do, you'll be free to enjoy the sound of grinding metal, fizzing ballistic missiles and bullets ricocheting left, right and centre. In short, great sound effects, horrible music.

Vanquish not only looks stunning, but also manages to pull some truly remarkable sights out of the bag. The first time you see the vertiginous Kreon for instance, will make your jaw drop and there's plenty of sexy motion-blur effects, sparks and other pyrotechnics elsewhere to keep your retinas simmering nicely.

When Vanquish hits its stride, it’s an absolute joy to play, but when the difficulty shoots up and hits you with a single-hit death on multiple occasions, things can get pretty infuriating. There's no faulting the game's mechanics and controls though, which border dangerously close to perfection. We also wish that melee attacks weren't limited by the suit's heat restrictions, as they're rendered almost worthless.

There's not much to Vanquish beyond the story, sadly. Tactical challenges and the lure of improving upon your scores attempt to encourage repeated play, but chances are once you've finished the main narrative, you'll find little impetus to go back. Though slickly presented and providing balls to the walls action from start to finish, Vanquish feels a little light on content, unfortunately.

Not the greatest achievement list in the world, but not the worst either. There's a nice mix of simple and more challenging achievements here, with some asking that you go the extra mile during certain missions. We'd rather not have to track down tiny Pangloss statues though, but then almost every game has to have a collection-based cheevo of some description nowadays, doesn't it?

Keep your fingers crossed that SEGA and Platinum Games continue to work together, because if they keep putting out quality products like Vanquish, then everyone's a winner. It doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of Bayonetta and it's nowhere near as brilliantly esoteric, but Vanquish does put a new spin on the third-person cover shooter. And for that reason alone – despite some slight niggles and flaws – Vanquish deserves recognition for daring to break the mould a bit.

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