Review: Vanquish (PC)

Confusing story redeemed by brilliant gameplay

Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Action, Third Person Shooter
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Rating: M for Mature
Price: $19.99
Previously released on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Vanquish is back on the PC with improved visuals, unlocked framerate, and faster gameplay. For those who have played Vanquish before, the game had its faults and struggles with the limits oft PS3 and Xbox 360 hardware. Now, Vanquish has seamless flow and is still all-around the same game people know and love. Returning gamers and newcomers will both enjoy this fresh look and appreciate its replay value.

 

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Vanquish has no spiritual content other than one small dialogue piece between three characters. One character suggests “praying” after Sam, the main character, asks how they could avoid being blown up to “kingdom come.” In response, Colonel Burns says, “Well it’s a good thing I’m an atheist then.”
Violence: The game revolves around military strength and war. There is gun violence, but the main enemies are robotic. Shooting Marines is frowned upon, as you will receive a “friendly fire” score penalty for doing so. The opening scene shows people dying from a terrorist attack in gruesome ways. There is also a graphic suicide.
Language/Crude Humor: Every time anyone talks, their sentence always has the word F*ck or F*cking. It is said without hesitation and is used abundantly. Sh*t is also used from time to time. In terms of crude humor, the Colonel jokes about the main character or his men being p*ssies. All of this is used to construe a machismo feel for the game, using the stereotype of cussing as normative behavior of someone who is in the military.
Sexual Themes: There are no sexual themes in the game.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Sam Gideon, the main character, can smoke a cigarette whenever in cover. Occasionally, Sam will smoke a cigarette in a cutscene. Using cigarettes as distractions by flicking them is an achievement/trophy.
Positive Themes: In the game, Sam repeatedly desires to save all the Marines in his company. Part of gameplay requires Sam to heal allies in order to get a higher score. Repeatedly, the commander will push to complete the mission, disregarding any lives that might be lost, but Sam always questions him and is reluctant to sacrifice any more men than absolutely necessary.

Review

When you begin the first mission, you are instantly thrown into the middle of the action. There is a lengthy cutscene at the beginning, but it does not set up the story very well and it leaves you asking where you are and why you’re there. Eventually, you come to the conclusion that you have to get from Point ‘A’ to Point ‘B’ and it really doesn’t matter anymore because you’re having a blast. With the ability to boost dodge and slow down time, killing enemies is that much more exciting. But the fun doesn’t stop there because each enemy presents its own set of challenges—even the easiest enemy can end up killing you if you’re not careful.
Vanquish starts out with a tutorial which is very useful, combing over every mechanic you need to know to fight well. You can always skip it and dive right into battle. I don’t recommend this, for you might miss some key mechanics. Once in battle, there are several ways to avoid enemies. One major way is to take cover behind obstacles. But since the game keeps score, you are docked points if you stay idle for too long. It almost seems as though you are required to use boosting and slowing time to evade and defeat enemies. Once you do, the game becomes loads of fun.
Your suit can do two things: it can boost you to the other side of a battlefield quickly and it can slow down time. There are various uses for these, including getting up close to enemies or slowing down time enough to get a headshot on an annoying robot. The only problem is that your suit has an energy meter; once it’s used up, it must cool-down and recharge. If you take too much damage, your suit will instantly slow down time so that you can get out of harm’s way. You can also manually do this which gives you a great advantage in battle.

The story is largely lacking and since there is not much background given for these characters. Except maybe a quick paragraph during a loading screen, we have little reason to care. The voice acting is decent at best, but there isn’t enough emotion for us to feel any sorrow for a character’s death. The story ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, leaving room for a could-be sequel, which was probably abandoned. It almost felt like the story was tacked on to some excellent gameplay ideas, which fortunately for Platinum Games, is the only redeeming factor for the game.
There are two different game modes: story mode and challenge missions. The story includes the main missions that progress the storyline. The challenge missions are for those looking to try their skill in a set of hard situations. Time is recorded throughout the mission to show how quickly you were able to conquer your enemies. This is a great way to practice boosting and manipulating time so that you might create a good combo that works for you. I found that as long as I kept moving, for the most part, I was safe. Cover seems to only work when you’re low on health and need to wait for your suit to cool off. If you’re the type of shooter to shoot from behind a wall, this game will force you out of your comfort zone. If you don’t go to enemies, enemies will come to you. Melee is poor in this game, so I suggest always shooting and melee when you absolutely need to and have no other choice. One melee attack will kill an enemy (or do significant damage), but will empty your energy bar, and you will need to run away before another enemy melees you to death.
Enemies are another positive point in Vanquish. They range from foes that can be killed with one shot to those that can take fifteen minutes to kill. The challenge varies, and every encounter has another fresh mix and match of enemy robots. Whether it be five grunts and a few snipers or five assassins and three mini-bosses, it’s hard to grow weary of fights. Boss robot battles are fantastic and challenging enough to force you to change your approach. This is another instance where Vanquish “forces” you to use your suit mechanics. There was an instance in the game where I was pitted against two boss robots at the same time. If I had not been constantly boosting across the map and slowing down time to take perfect shots, it would have been impossible…and that was on normal difficulty!

In terms of weapons, there is a decent variety. You can hold (Vanquish calls it “scanning”) up to three weapons at once, and up to three frag and three EMP grenades. There are many weapons to choose from, but I mostly stuck with the heavy machine gun, the assault rifle, and the rocket launcher. The machine gun helped me take down enemies with more armor, while the rocket launcher helped with big enemies or a large group of them. The assault rifle I used as a backup in case I ran out of ammo on my other weapons. These three were great, but I also enjoyed the disc launcher, the anti-armor pistol, and the auto-laser—and there are even more to choose from.
The soundtrack is forgettable, but the sound effects are great. There was one point where the sound wasn’t balanced correctly and the soundtrack was a little too loud for the characters’ dialogue, resulting in imbalanced EQ. The effects are fantastic, clear, and they make you feel like you’re on a real battleground. All of these sounds just come shooting at you and can be really distracting if you’re not focused. A lot of enemies’ attacks are based on sound. If you don’t learn the alarm it makes before a heavy fire, you won’t be able to defeat it. One enemy chirps before blasting you with a bomb from its head. Whenever I heard it, I would simply dodge to my right or left to avoid the blast. If I didn’t, it usually meant instant death.
With all of these good things, I cannot help but wonder what if the story had been better. If there had been more of a focus on the characters and their development, then perhaps Vanquish would have had a bigger fan following. Despite it’s heavy lack of story, Vanquish is still a successful game with its high replay value and enjoyable gameplay. It is definitely one of those games that you can boot up any early Saturday morning and have a great time. If you enjoy games like Mass Effect, Uncharted, Destiny, or Battlefront, then be sure to pick this one up.

The Bottom Line

While Vanquish suffers under a bad story, its time-stopping mechanics boost it up to a great game.

 

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John Campbell

Based in San Diego, California, John enjoys working, writing, eating with friends and family, and gaming - both board games and video games. After earning a Bachelor's Degree in Humanities, he currently works in IT, but hopes to one day become a full time college professor and writer. His recent favorite games include Persona 5 and NieR: Automata.

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