An ode to Vanquish by Simon…
Oh Vanquish, I had such high hopes for thee,
Especially considering your pedigree.
But even coming from the makers of Resident Evil,
Could do nothing to prevent this from being drivel.
For no matter how awesome that suit might be,
In the end I’m afraid you disappointed me.
I guess I should elaborate a bit... Vanquish was one of those titles I had my eye on but waited for the price to drop before getting it.
Now I kinda wish I hadn’t bothered. I’ll put this out there early… I rarely trade in games, but Vanquish is already back at Gamestop.
Where to begin… how about the nonexistent, nonsensical story? You play as one Sam Gideon, a chain-smoking bozo who works for DARPA (Defense Adavnced Research Projects Agency). I think Sam's a douche, but apparently he's a genius who has created wondrous new mechanized body armor called the Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS).
After an incredibly lame tutorial introduces us to the marvels of the ARS and the laughably bad lip-syncing that plague the in-game communications (more on that later) we suddenly bear witness to San Fransisco getting obliterated by a solar array that has fallen into the hands of… wait for it… the Soviets! That’s right, they’re ba-ack! With legions of Communist robots no less! Oh, the humanity!
Aaaaaand that’s pretty much it... Sam gets dropped off at the array by his inappropriately dressed handler Elena Ivanova (I still can’t tell if that was supposed to be ironic or not) with Bravo Company and their commander Lt. Col Burns, a giant with a mechanical arm that can transform from a shield to a Gatling gun (ain’t technology grand?!), in an attempt to take the station back before it’s used to fire again on another target in the good ol’ US of A. They introduce a crazy bad-ass Russian antagonist, but then he doesn’t show up again until the very end. There is a bit of a side plot about Sam finding his mentor, Professor Candide, who makes a couple brief appearances, but I never really understood why…. actually I never really understood any of it to be honest.
So you guide Sam as he fights through wave after wave of Red Robots before the next strike. The plot "twists" (notice the quotation marks?) are so numbingly obvious you’ll roll your eyes. There is no character development to speak of. The actual ending was so stupid I threw my hands up in frustration and shouted a loud "WHAT!?!" at my TV. It’s one of those where the plot is so bad it’s not even funny... like it doesn't even count as a "plot" as defined by Webster's.
This is made all the more unbearable by the atrocious sound work. Seriously, it’s just plain awful. The bland recycled pseudo-futuristic technobeats are bad enough, but pale in comparison to the dialogue. Sam goes around spouting one-liners and poor puns that would make Ah-nold blush. But he is actually outdone by Lt. Col. Burns, who is, simply put, a walking cliche. Burns and Sam’s banter is unbelievably bad, bordering on embarrassing.
Graphically Vanquish ain’t too bad, but it ain’t great either. The in-game animations are pretty good and the cut-scenes are okay… but then there are the moments when Sam communicates with his teammates and handler via his helmet. You get to see a HUD and in the upper left corner an image of the incoming caller. But then they start talking… it’s some of the worst lip-syncing I have ever seen. It's almost like they didn’t bother re-animating it for the English version (I kinda want to play the Japanese version just to see if it matches up then). What’s odd though is that the lip-syncing in the cut-scenes is spot on… it’s very weird. It feels cheap, almost half done. But then so does the rest of the game.
The ARS suit is definitely the highlight of Vanquish. Straight out of a Japanese manga, the fashionable evening wear allows Sam to rocket around the battlefield with quick thruster bursts. It does actually work pretty well. But be wary, there is a limited amount of juice you can use. If you overuse the suit it’ll overheat leaving you relatively helpless for a few seconds.
Adding to the suit is a clever "Bullet-time" mechanic that allows Sam to slow down time. Zooming around behind an enemy position, then slowing time to blast the evil Russian robots to bits before they even have a chance to turn around is pretty satisfying. But this also uses the power supply on the suit, so keep an eye on the meter.
Sadly, that’s really all the game is, barring some bigger versions of the robotic menace complete with classic highlighted weak points. The novelty of the suit wears off by Act 2. The level design is pretty repetitive with lots of invisible walls guiding you. For a guy with a crazy awesome rocket suit, it's surprising where he can't go. In the end it becomes a slog through similar areas and level designs where Sam must shoot a bunch of bad guys, keep an eye on the power meter, and wait for Elena to unlock the barricaded doors or the elevator to arrive…
There is also a fair sprinkling of ‘Quicktime’ events to keep things interesting. You’ll need to be on your toes for these, but I think they are more forgiving than in some other titles. It seems like you're given more time to react to the on-screen prompts.
Oh, and Vanquish is short... like, really short. I beat the game in four hours. But considering that I was really ready for it to be done, perhaps that is a blessing in disguise.
I find myself in the uncomfortable position of not recommending this game, the first time I have done so. Vanquish is different enough to warrant a rental, but with so many great titles out there to play, why bother? The thing is, it’s not completely unplayable. The core dilemma here is that rather than creating a well rounded game with a cool mechanic, Vanquish was based around a gimmick. The ARS suit is pretty cool and is fun early on… until you realize this is all there is to the game. It never develops from any standpoint: be it gameplay, design, or story. Seriously, aside from the suit the best design decision was the "shooting gallery" end credits sequence where you get to shoot the developers in an old fashioned arcade style shooting gallery. I found it was oddly enjoyable... I wonder why?
Score = 5.9 / 10