Like a sledgehammer to the solar plexus Vanquish’s frantic action assaults the senses, incessant bullets, rockets, grenades and lasers bombarding the player. With time to barely catch breath before the next wave of enemies appear, the experience is as much akin to old-school shoot-em-ups, the likes of R-Type, as it is first-person shooters.
As grizzled protagonist Sam Gideon – think Solid Snake meets Robocop – it’s your task to repel hostiles following a terrorist attack on America by Russian forces; thankfully he just so happens to be equipped with the prototype ARS suit which covers him from head to toe in bespoke armour (hence the Robocop).
The ARS not only offers protection but also augments Gideon’s strength, allows him to boost short distances and even increases his reflex time, to the point where he’s able to dodge bullets, a fine piece of kit then. The tech comes at a price however, the suit tending to overheat at the most inopportune times, meaning its use must be moderated to avoid repeated death – no easy task.
One of the most unforgiving games to appear of late, crank the difficulty up to hard – the level the game needs to be played at – and dying becomes a regular occurrence. Thankfully load times are mere seconds so you’ll soon be plunged back into the action; although autosave points can occasionally be harsh, demanding you start from scratch against a multi-form taking boss for example.
The hostiles which Gideon excels at blasting and pummelling out of existence are of the robotic variety, and as such fall prey to some particularly gruesome, albeit blood-free, deaths. Red soldiers form the army’s bulk, while commanders are brownish; then there are their larger comrades – huge rocket spewing death machines complete with shoot-em-up essential glowing weak points; you know, so you know where to aim.
If anything, the repetition of robot types is one of the game’s weaknesses. Not so much the grunts, it makes sense that they all conform to a certain spec, but rather the specialist boss fights which tend to keep churning up the same giant robots time and again. “You want diversity? Fine. Try to take down two rather just the one behemoth,” you can almost hear the developers shouting.
The other annoyances are revealed in the game’s one-dimensional pacing – it’s breakneck speed or nothing – and in the ARS suit which can tend to hinder as much as help. It makes sense to have such a powerful piece of equipment overheat, otherwise what would stop someone going through the entire game with heightened reflexes? But the overheating does tend to lead to the player being punished for pulling off some spectacular moves.
For example, charging into an enemy and unleashing a flying kick at just the right moment is trick to pull off, even harder considering you’ll stop en route if shot. However, succeed and you’ll be rewarded with an overheating suit and increased vulnerability – not the situation to be in if despatched enemy wasn’t alone. Surely it would have made sense to have such a complicated attack rewarded with a temporary boost of the suit, not a debilitating malfunction.
Despite these faults however there’s something about Vanquish which keeps on pulling you back in. That it’s a spectacular looking game is one reason, as are the bigger-than-life characters that ‘know’ they are walking clichés. Then there’s the score system which has the temerity to actually plunge you into minus figures if you happen to have been killed a whole lot. It’s been so long since I’ve bothered to pay attention to my in-game score that I was taken aback when negatively scored, making a vow there and then to keep Gideon alive at all costs.
One other minor quibble is the length of the game, while talk of the game only being 3-4 hours long is plain crazy – it might be possible but why rush so much? – there’s no denying that Vanquish isn’t a marathon, in fact it’s a sprint. The lack of multiplayer therefore becomes something of a problem. While I can appreciate the developer’s reasoning – why bloat an already crammed market with yet another shooter – the inclusion of co-op at least might have been worthwhile.
Overall you pays your money and takes your chances with Vanquish. It’s a truly novel experience which attempts to further the first-person shooter by introducing never before seen speed into the equation. If you’re bored of Call of Duty clones and looking for a shooter with a better than average joie de vivre then look no further; I challenge you to feel bored while playing it, pangs of frustration yes, but never bored.