If you follow my status updates on Facebook, you’ll notice that I’ve been very positive about Vanquish. I really liked the demos and I ultimately ended up buying the game. You may even have seen the pile of bronze trophies I’ve started earning for it. So I’d like to explain why I like Vanquish and why I recommend that you try it, while taking a bit of a critical eye to some of its elements.

Plot Summary

In a dystopian future, the population of Earth has exceeded 10 billion people causing the struggle for the planet’s natural resources to be even greater than it was before. The US builds and launches a space colony to harvest energy from the Sun, and Russia takes control of the colony. Their goal? To use the microwave energy array as a weapon to wipe out entire large US metropolises and give the superpower no choice but to surrender unconditionally.

You are Sam Gideon, a member of DARPA assigned to a research project to create the Augmented Reaction Suit. The ARS is lightweight and incredibly agile, has intense firepower, and has the ability to replicate weapons found on the field and switch between programmed weapon configurations to give operatives more tactical options. It also includes a boost system for high-speed maneuvering and, as its name suggests, an Augmented Reaction system that elevates synaptic responses in critical situations. In short, the ARS is the ultimate weapon, and you have been asked to don it for its first mission: to stop Russia from using the captured space colony to take out their next target, New York City.

What I like about it

Vanquish is a thrill ride with all of the eye candy of a major Hollywood action flick. It pretty much has two states: cutscene and being under fire, with some notable exceptions. I feel the adrenaline rush each time I push through enemy lines, putting Sam’s life on the line to gain crucial ground and turn the tables in a seemingly hopeless battle. And to my mind, that’s the ultimate goal of a shooter and Vanquish absolutely does not fail to deliver.

I’ve never been a big fan of shooters. I played FPS’s way back in the DOOM/Quake days but after the original Half Life and Quake III Arena, I pretty much never touched shooters again. In that time, the genre largely evolved, and cover-based gun-fighting has become a bit of a meme in the third-person shooting genre. It’s a bit difficult, if you’re not used to the tactics, to really sink teeth into the genre.

This brings me to the next thing that I really like about Vanquish: some of its gameplay elements are designed to help the more casual gamer. When you’re under heavy fire, the suit’s AR mode will automatically turn on for a short time, during which you can take out enemy infantry before they know what hit them, counter missile attacks by shooting them out of the sky, and dodge through slow moving bullets and projectiles to find cover. Once that period of time is up, the augmented reaction mode turns off and the suit takes time to cool down, during which that mode can’t be engaged again.

You can also trigger the AR mode manually while performing rolling dodges, rolling out of cover, or using the boost. This gives you increased ability to get the jump on enemies as well as allowing you to score some very epic kills. Between the AR mode and boosting, the player is given some decent advantages over enemy forces, but the overheating/cool-down mechanic prevents this from being abused to make the game too easy. Also, there are a number of attacks that are straight-out instant kills, so the player still pays the price for a critical mistake.

Vanquish manages to strike a good balance between helping players out and giving them incredible challenges to overcome, particularly in Normal and Hard modes.

What I don’t like about it

It’s really rather short. It’s pretty much like a roller coaster; incredibly thrilling for about a minute or so and then you’re getting off the ride, possibly readjusting the contents of your stomach, and looking for something more. The game tries to give itself some replay value by ranking you on various aspects of your performance in each mission, including time spent, friendlies KIA, friendlies revived (you can revive fallen friendly troops by administering an injection from a stimpack), cover usage (I found this one a bit odd), and many other criteria. So you can replay the same levels over and over again to get better scores and there’s an online leaderboard so that you can rank yourself against the world.

There’s no multiplayer whatsoever, not even a co-operative two-player mode. This is perhaps because Vanquish’s AR mechanic involves slowing down time for everyone but you, which to another player would look incredibly weird. It’s a very nice game to watch though, if you’re into watching people play video games. It’s almost like watching Transformers except the robots don’t transform as much (and usually don’t talk), the dialogue is slightly more “ha ha” funny, and the camera doesn’t shake all over the place (unless the player makes it do that, I guess).

Vanquish’s visual polish is unevenly distributed. In some parts, the photorealism is turned up just about as high as it can go. In other spots, the art department phoned it in. It might have been less jarring if the visual style of the game were a bit more consistent. The writing is also a little sub-par and the voice acting feels a bit lacking compared to other PS3 titles.

The limited weapons configurations can be a bit awkward on first play-through. You see a sniper rifle. Should you pick that up to replace your rocket launcher? You can only guess what’s coming up next and hope that you made the right choice. Of course, it would be even worse if the game simply gave you all of the weapons and let you use them all whenever you wanted. Picking up a weapon that’s already loaded into your suit’s memory will refill the ammo for that weapon. If that weapon already has full ammo, picking up another one will progress the weapon on its upgrade path, increasing its ammo capacity, firepower, and accuracy.

In short

Japan makes a third-person shooter for PS3. A bit of an unusual move but the result is quite thrilling to play and I would recommend at least renting it to give it a try. It does fall into some of the not-so-awesome tropes of Japanese games — being linear, putting too much emphasis on the cinematic story-telling, and doing some hand-holding in terms of where to go next and how to engage the enemy. Overall, Vanquish is an excellent title and would make a good additional to your library if you’re looking for something fairly short.