Review: Vanquish

The Japanese gaming industry is dead. This sudden and stark obit, eulogised by one of its most trusted wards, Capcom’s Keiji Inafune, proclaimed stoic and without remorse or gravitas, recently reverberated around its reeling international family, relatives and rivals alike balking at the apparent abrupt demise of a once vibrant and ancient empire. Especially considering the industry is far from six feet under, Platinum Games’ Vanquish evidence of an abundance of vim and vigor in a region said to be stifled by the virulent, creativity-suppressing scourge of Japan’s “salary-man” mentality. Make a bad game? That’s okay, your job is safe. You’ll still get paid.

Vanquish is not a bad game – far from it in fact. But while it proves there’s life in the old dog yet – and capable of at least trying new tricks – there are other signs of trouble present; portents Inafune may not have specifically referenced in his scything attack on his homeland’s attitude to game production, but symptoms that suggest an even greater threat. The loss of identity.

Not since Japan reopened its borders to the outside world in 1854, thus ending both the Edo period and its isolationist foreign policy, has something as intrinsically Japanese so openly embraced the Western way of doing things. The impact of successful American games like Halo and Gears of War resonate to Vanquish’s conflictive Japanese core. From both its aesthetics to gameplay mechanics, Vanquish has taken the concept of the suited future-marine – twisting the premise to its specific needs – and set it among a third-person cover-based environment all too familiar to those of us on this side of the world. One of its core elements, the unfortunately named ARS, or Augmented Reactive Suit, is a tricked-out variation of Master Chief’s signature attire. Decked with more moving parts, gyrating gizmos and unraveling weaponry than a Transformer with schizophrenia, it’s as if Platinum have ensnared the more compact Spartan, strapped him to a table, and unmercifully unleashed MTV’s Pimp My Ride crew on the non-consenting space-marine.

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It’s not that mimicry should be frowned upon in gaming. After all, the vast majority of games are rehashes of what has come before; gaming the paragon of Darwinism – strong and successful traits factored into the prevailing genome, advances passed on in the next evolutionary step to fitter, more resilient descendants. It’s how Platinum Games have built upon this foundation, however, where telltale cracks appear.

Though the suit is predominantly the main character of the piece, it is inhabited by one Sam Gideon, possibly the most unlikeable character to grace gaming since perpetual petition-pusher Jack Thompson. As a video-game personality he possesses not one single redeemable quality. He’s an ass throughout the entire mission, quipping and jostling with his commanding officers at every opportunity, his over-powering bravado often trite and grating. It doesn’t help that he’s been given some of the worst dialogue we’ve come across in a game since, well, since games were supposed to have bad dialogue.

We don’t like Gideon, and it’s almost enjoyable listening to his absurd moans when he succumbs to enemy fire. Platinum Games have no doubt attempted to create a cocky, anti-hero here but they’ve unfortunately misfired. Instead we suffer through a two-dimensional, banal annoyance that we struggle to connect with throughout the experience. It’s a small point, perhaps, in a game where the focus is on death-defying high-jinks and overt displays of machismo, but the detachment between player and protagonist is painfully tangible, the result an abject non-investment in the character and, by association, the task at hand. Not that we really care about that either.

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30 Comments

  1. Nice review, I was expecting it to get an even lower score as I was reading from what you were saying! The poor story and characters doesn’t really bother me, it strikes me as a Gears or DMC style game where the characters are ridiculous badasses put in random situations more for the sake of action and fun gameplay than a clever plot. The repetition of bosses is a real shame though, that is a pretty cardinal sin in my eyes, lazy and unnecessary (unless really, really integral to the plot, but even then the boss should have changed). I definitely will get this at some point as it sounds like a visual feast, but with so many big game atm it will have to wait a while.

    • Glad you liked the review.

      Just on your “I thought it would score lower from the review’s content” point. Vanquish is a good game and got a good score accordingly. Don’t forget, we use the full scale, so a 7 is a solid experience. I think I emphasised the fun factor and its stellar design just as much as some poor gameplay nuances and lacklustre plot. I’d recommend Vanquish and it’s definitely a game worth playing. It does have flaws, though. Not enough to skip the title completely, but evident enough to prevent the game from getting an 8, a 9 or a 10.

  2. Personally I thought the game was great deserving a 8 or 9 in my opinion. I looked at it like a Japanesse interpretation of a western 3rd person shooter and as such I really enjoyed it. Its pure action going from one relentless battle to another.

    • I didn’t check other reviews until I had finished the game and yes, there are a few 8s and 9s out there. (There are also other 7s and lower). If you would have scored the game diferently, that’s cool. As long as you could backup that score with justification in your review, which I have done here, that’s all that matters.

      • Of course. That is simply my opinion from playing the game. I totally respect the score you gave it.

    • I agree, an easy 8/10. This sort of all out shooter doesn’t need an oscar nominated story. My favorite shooter of 2010 by quite a margin, loved every moment of it.

  3. For the most part I agree, though I have to say I found Burns a lot more annoying than Gideon, and think the game could benefit from a multiplayer (to be given the opportunity to return to that world again is something I would like very much – and whilst I’m not sure exactly how they would have implemented it, I think it would have been a good addition).

    Also, I’m impressed you managed to write a review longer than the game itself =P

  4. i picked this game up about a week ago,i fully agree with the points you stated,mostly on the lack of in depth character interaction,a score of 7 is suiting of this game but i think the non stop adrenaline pumped action in the game more then makes up for its faults,in my opinion it would be 8/10 but 7/10 is still awesome for a game this good.

  5. Thought this was going to be a reasonably good game, but not excellent, and you’ve gone and proved my intuition correct. This is a definite love film rental for me. A game i’d like to play through, but doesn’t warrant having 40 quid thrown at it. Rent it, play through the story, pick up some trophies, send it back. As drnate said above, too many big games right now to warrant buying this. Black ops has me hooked!

    • I’ve already 20 quid on Amazon right now, good value!

  6. This has to be the best written, most detailed review I’ve ever read, brilliant.

  7. Your words make my words look like monkey vomit :oD fantastic review, and now you can pick the game up for under £20 which is a good price.

    • Yeah I knew that would happen, I played the challenge demo its quite addictive so I need to get Vanquish soon not sure if I would’ve payed over £30.

  8. While I respect your opinion on Vanquish, I absolutely disagree that it is “only” a 7. I would honestly have given it a 9. The lack of depth to the characters and story do not detract from what is essentially an arcade shooter, emphasized by the fact that youre scored by your speed and style running through the levels. The game is essentially a 3rd Person shooter style Space Invaders. Enemies appear, you shoot them and move on. I love the relentless nature of combat and that the developers didn’t feel like they had to tack on a stealth section, or some other unnecessary genre staple that have become so fashionable. They focussed on what the game did well, and that was fast, intense action.

    But what I found most telling about the quality of the game was that everyone works perfectly. The shooting is ridiculously satisfying, the sliding mechanic adds something new and the cover system is perfect. Nothing feels like they missed something.

  9. Wasn’t it people on this very website (among others) who slagged of FirstPlay for reviewing ‘old’ games? lol!

    • It’s late. There are reasons.

    • Better late than never, I buy a lot of games months after their release date, so it doesn’t always matter if a review doesn’t come out at release (obviously it’s better for the two to coincide, but I’d rather a later, better review than an early, rushed one.)

  10. Like others, I mostly agree with that brilliantly written review. However, I think the review focuses a bit too much on the story, which lets face it is, and was only ever intended to be, superficial at best. It wouldn’t be so bad if we could read the operation dossiers which give a bit of background, but the loading times are so quick you don’t get chance (never thought I’d ever complain about loading times!).

    Yes the characters are all rediculously stereotyped and we’ve seen them all before. Agreed that Burns ground my gears more than Gideon, but still. Let’s not forget that what it’s all about is shooting punching/robots in the face!!

    I didn’t think the AI too bad. The animations are first rate and I love the way you can selectively disable enemies. I love shooting the Romanovs in the face and then watching them ragely blindfire. If you disable a robots legs, it’l come crawling after you. The insta kill lazer things, whilst grating, I generally like. It keeps you on your feet and there are enough audio clues with all insta kill lazer/rocket attacks for you to get your ass out the way!

    The choice of red colour for the robots is excellent. Killzone 2 was all too grey for me, and I found it difficult to distinguish grey friend from grey foe, especially at distance. Here the robots can still be picked off in the fiercest and most chaotic fire fights. And boy can they be hectic!! There must be 1000s of individually animated projectiles on screen at times.

    For me it’s a good 8 going on 9/10. The fact I’m playing through twice says a lot as I rarely devote time and effort to a second playthrough with the Uncharteds being the only exception so far.

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