Vanquish is a Full Throttle Slugfest; Stylized and Violent
Sega’s Shinji Mikami, the director of the stylish Devil May Cry series, has released his second game in the last two years, after the slugfest of Bayonetta. He has decided to take his unique brand of intricately stylized and hyper-detailed gaming to the shooter genre. Shooters of late have become notoriously bland, hardly able to veer from the explosively cinematic Halo or the depressing RPG of Fallout, so it’s pretty amazing to see a game bring something totally new and different to the table without trying to cut any corners. Vanquish takes the shooter and jacks it up with a nice dose of speed right down its nose. Built with the Havoc engine and powered by Criware, this is a game with immense power behind it. Gamers are put behind the wheel of Sam Gideon and his underground, super secret, government developed Super Suit.
This game is all about the suit, it’s the power behind your punch and the slip in your slide. And there’s a war for you to throw it into, a war on a space station. It’s kind of like the death star because in the first scene you’ll see it blow up San Francisco. As a note, this game is mature, and there’s really not much blood, except that this opening cutscene is Gruesome! Capital-G gory. It almost feels like Japan hitting back the U.S. for WWII, the citizens that is every man, woman, and child are popped by laser heat like balloons and crushed under San Fran’s rubble. The Russians, controlling an army of robots, have commandeered this space station and are starting a world war with the U.S. The president looks remarkably similar to Hillary Clinton. (I was splitting my sides during Hillary’s world war declaration. “We will be Victorious! God bless you all!”) The whole game takes place on this massive conical space station and it’s a stunning sight. Like the halo ring always above Master Chief’s head, the space station is ever-present eye candy, always shifting to detail the battle-scape of the present moment. The amount of background design is amazingly impressive. However, most of the time, this detail will fly right by you. Vanquish is not a game for those who like to “take it slow” or “take it all in” because those people will die. They’ll die a lot. Vanquish is a fast and furious game that often feels like a roller coaster ride and sometimes like a straight free-fall plummet.
It’s all about the battle suit. This bad boy has so many capabilities that it’s not surprising in how much it carries this whole experience. It’s packed full of treats and goodies, but the big one is the power slide. Rock on Sega. With the touch of a button Sam drops to his knees and rockets away at a hundred miles an hour for a full hundred yards in a matter of seconds. Now, this is a cover based game, like Gears of War, you’re constantly popping in and over cover to avoid the spray of bullets. It’s just so smooth to shoot forward into enemy lines and blow the lid off all your enemies before they have a chance to say “sh*t that was fast.” The tactical uses for this little power are numerous, from quickly getting up a flight of stairs to flanking your enemies to squealing right under a boss’ nose. The power slide keeps this game at a hot and fast pace, of course this means that most of the beautiful scenery is lost in the blur of a long slide, but that’s all just part of the experience. The speed does get to be a bit much, sometimes it’s overwhelming and you’ll end up putting yourself in some bad situations, but if you need a moment to breathe and take in the battle you can use a slo-mo bullet time whenever you need it.
Slow motion can also be activated when you’re health is low to give you a couple seconds to catch your breath or it can be activated while sliding to get that clutch shotgun blast right into your enemies’ belly as you whiz by. It’s super useful, plus it showcases the amazing detail in this game, each bullet and rocket and laser is caught in mid air, making a mosaic of munitions across the screen. Slow motion will really help with knocking down the bigger enemies and pin pointing their weak spots, though it’s really not that satisfying to bring down the big guys in slo-mo, it feels like taking away the challenge. The melee button, is actually, really visceral and the power in your suit means you can bring all but the biggest bosses down to their knees with a fully charged hit. It can be used in to finish off a slide or to backhand a whole group of enemies. Now, all three of these powers: the slide, the slow motion, and the melee, are all tied to one recharge system and it has to be carefully managed. This recharge system is often the difference between life and death, the life-saving-last-minute-slow-mo will only help if you haven’t wasted your energy on a whirlwind dash behind your enemies. It’s an amazing balance, really makes you consider what you’re doing.
But, it’s a lot to deal with, this power suit. This is a hard game, a game that takes no prisoners and it will take your brain a while to just get your mind up to speed with the action. These powers are rad, but it can be a bit overwhelming. If you’re planning on playing this on normal then you’d better be an experienced gamer, I mean you should have owned an N64 or Genesis or at least a PS2 for a number of years otherwise this game will be too brutal. It’s a little reminiscent of Shinji Mikami’s Devil May Cry, a series notorious for its ridiculous difficulty curve that never stopped climbing. The shooting controls are fine, easy enough to adapt to, but you at least should be a console gamer who’s used to using both joysticks in tandem. But, regardless of how good you are, unless you’re playing on Casual Auto which isn’t all that bad, you’re going to die a lot.
At first the near-death-slow-mo is going to make you feel invincible, but quickly you’ll realize that without it you’d be a dead man. You’ll also find that slow motion is necessary for bosses, they’ll only reveal their weak points for a short amount of time so lots of bullets have to be poured into them. However, if this doesn’t intimidate you and dying a lot is an understandable consequence of a good game, then I highly recommend replaying the game to master its many nuances, which are mostly stylish but also very satisfying. I managed, once, to kill a boss by shotgun sliding into him, kicking him in the face, and shoving one more shotgun blast down his throat before hitting the ground. Just saying.
The battles in Vanquish are excessively detailed and really well choreographed, it’s over the top in a modern CGI kind of way, with massive space vessels crashing alongside your fire fight or capital ships leveling square miles of terrain. On the small, battle to battle, scale the firefights are all different. There’s a huge variety in terrain that’ll sometimes require you to power slide behind enemy lines or utilize the sniper. One of the most exciting battles is the siege of Gran Hill, where you’ll be fighting up along a hill built on a 70 degree incline, power sliding up is practically suicide. The robot enemies you face come in waves of weak enemies backed up by some brutally powerful bastards. Most enemies are either a one shot kill or two rockets to the chest, no in between. You’ll need the games whole array of weapons to adjust to the terrain and deal with those big boys, however I was very disappointed to find that the whole array is only ten weapons, two of which are just different grenade types. For such a futuristic game, I expected a wider array of weapons, but somehow the ten seems to work. They’re all so unique that it’s pretty easy to find two or three to get really attached to. I liked the fast-firing shotgun, the scattering heavy repeater, and the bubble cannon, called an LFE gun. The upgrade system is also very smooth, occasionally enemies will drop an upgrade item, which you can grab to upgrade the weapon you’re holding. It’s usually only a small ammo upgrade, but the longer you try the better they’ll be, this works well because it upgrades the weapons you use most.
Vanquish is divided up into levels, which are all about fifteen minutes of killing in a specific locale. At the end of each level you’re be scored based on deaths, kills, time, etc. And you’re also scored on how many of your men died. The battles are so large scale that there’s no way you’re going to preserve all of those valiant foot soldiers, however it’s a nice goal to get as close to zero as possible. The storyline also puts a nice emphasis on preserving the lives of your men. The big moral divide that exists between Sam and the operation general, Burns, is in how they treat the men. Burns is a badass with a chain gun glued to his right arm, he’s your go to guy for reinforcements and battle directions. However, he just doesn’t value the lives of his men, so it’s up to Sam to protect as many of them as possible. Sam’s a hero, you know, so he’ll always be the one to reach out a hand to the falling marine. Your relationship with Burns is shaky throughout the game, but it’s interesting and shows a lot about about Sam. All in all the plot is in the preface, in that it’s all about destroying the station because the Russians blew up San Francisco, never gets much more complicated than that. The level design has that Devil May Cry feeling of ascending a tower, where the whole point is to reach the top, but the fun is in how you get there. So each level is pretty separate from the ones that came before it and the ones that’ll come after it, but the whole way through you’re fighting upward and inward to the center of the station. And obviously, when you get there, you’ll blow it up.
Aside from the main campaign, which has a fair amount of replay value, there are challenges to test your skills on. These are super difficult, but fun if you’re starting to get the hang of boosting everywhere and managing your recharge. But the upsetting thing is that the campaign is only five acts long and hardly takes six hours. The game moves at such a fast clip, and you feel like it’s packing in so much, that you won’t feel cheated, but it ends abruptly. The difficulty in Devil May Cry meant that even a good player could spend fifty hours on the single player, but here deaths are more forgiving. For those real hardcore gamers this, kind of, takes the challenge out of it. There was something immensely satisfying and frustrating about having to restart every level from the beginning in Devil May Cry; it’s the kind of anger that keeps you putting quarters into the arcade. So for all its challenge, the stops in this feel more like roadblocks than walls. However, I can’t help but get the feeling that they’re training us for the inevitable sequel, ramping up our minds to the speed it takes, so that in the next game we’ll be ready for twice as much. Maybe. But, the game definitely is pointing towards a sequel. Hopefully it will have more story and guns and levels, instead of more of the same.