Over-the-top style, mediocre plot, and corny dialogue are three ways to describe Vanquish. You could also call it surprisingly fun. Because it truly is both, and just when you can’t stand to swallow another ultra macho catchphrase or Steven Blum grunt-infused one-liner, the game drops you into a frenetic and enemy-filled scenario, the kind where you have to keep moving to survive, and it’s a total blast, especially when you take down the final enemy scrub just as your life bar is depleting, tossing you into slow motion “bullet time” for one last chance at hitting a checkpoint. Those moments feel genuinely exhilarating, as do the rare quiet moments, like riding a monorail and sniping spotlights to avoid being detected, where the goal is to be quiet, a stark contrast to the majority of the game.
I do have some problems with Vanquish, but before I get to those, let’s start with the good. Mainly, the really good. This game is free. Well, at least for me. I was given a year’s worth of PlayStation Plus with the “classic white” bundle, and so I’ve been downloading games like a fiend. Not necessarily playing many of them, mind you, but now they are on my Ps3, ready for whenever I’m ready. And this one went up a week or two ago; despite my claim that I want to only focus on fewer games in hopes of then completing these games, most nights I don’t have the correct amount of time to devote to Ni no Kuni, and reviews for Vanquish prided themselves on that it is a short, but satisfying experience. I can handle short and sweet currently.
Anyways, Vanquish. In it, you play as Sam Gideon, soldier warrior for DARPA. He and a bunch of U.S. marines are out to stop Victor Zaitsev of the Order of the Russian Star. Why? Well, Zaitsev promptly declares war on the United States by capturing Providence, a self-sustaining space station that harnesses solar energy, and turning its solar generators into a giant death ray. Like a true villain, he destroys San Francisco before demanding that the female President of the United States surrenders. And so you team up with Robert Burns, voiced by everyone’s favorite grumbler Blum, to stop the Russian antagonist before more damage can be done.
You do this by shooting alien-like robots with guns. You shoot them with guns, I mean. Wait, they also have guns. Sorry, that got confusing. Words, people. Basically, the gameplay involves shooting, taking cover, sliding to new cover, and shooting some more. There’s a healthy range of weaponry at Sam’s disposal, though I’ve stuck mostly with traditional weapons like the assault rifle and anti-armor pistol. Before Bulletstorm came around and had you sliding into enemies, there was Vanquish and its power sliding ability, which allows you to move swiftly across the ground at the cost of shield energy. It’s a really fun and useful mechanic, especially when you can time it perfectly to get behind an enemy and deliver a succinct melee attack to the noggin.
Now for the faults: instant kills and the treatment of Elena Ivanova. Several larger enemies have attacks that will instantly kill Sam in one hit, regardless of how full his shield bar is. This is pretty frustrating, even though these attacks are highly televised via bright beams of light and audio cues. Sometimes you just can’t get out of the way fast enough, and then you’re dead, back at the last checkpoint. As for Ivanova, she’s a wasted opportunity and a fine example of how videogames present women poorly. And this is coming from a game that casts a female POTUS in its future, to all their credit. Basically, any time they cut to Elena, who is Sam’s combat support intelligence, they use camera angles that emphasize only her legs and butt, like so:
And that’s ultimately disappointing to see each and every time the narration cuts to her, especially since she’s never doing anything dynamic, just visually conveying data, like incoming enemy ships and doorlock passcodes. To Vanquish, at least so far, she’s nothing more than an up-skirt. I know standing desks are all the rage these days, but you could’ve put her in a chair and behind a desk and have her function all the same. Or even just leave her as a voice in Sam’s head, telling him (and the player) what to do next.
Right now, I’m near the end of Act 3, and I think I saw on the Trophies list that there are five or six acts in total. Halfway through it then. And that’s great. I suspect by the end of Vanquish I will have had my fill of the game’s mechanics, but like I mentioned before, short and sweet is sometimes exactly what one needs. Even if it is short and sweet and overly macho to the point that I can’t help but roll my eyes as I pop out from cover, trigger AR Mode, and clear out a line of enemies in one swift, action hero-like manner. I guess it really is all connected.