Vanquish doesn't exactly get off on the right foot. Oh sure the graphics are awesome, the gameplay is frantic as hell and everything is almost ridiculously responsive but almost as soon as you turn the game on you start dying. Vanquish is a very hard game that doesn't exactly ease newcomers into the experience plus there are numerous quirks with the gameplay itself that take a whole lot of warming up. But once you get into it Vanquish is an incredibly good game with some exciting set pieces that ranks right up there with the other titles that clearly inspired it.
While it might come as a surprise, Vanquish actually does have a plot amidst all the madness. Much like the rest of the game it's fairly overblown and makes only a little bit of sense until the very end. It's actually fairly dramatic but that doesn't really set in until the games almost done. Until that point this is a fairly typical "Russia attacks United States, United States attacks back." scenario. Except in this case the Russians set a pretty horrific tone for the game by literally boiling San Francisco alive with a microwave laser thing. It's quite graphic as well as disturbing for those sensitive types out there.
Heck this game wouldn't be quite as impressive to behold if not for the high quality graphics and stellar animation. If you've played P.N. 03 then you know what this game looks like but for those who haven't expect a lot of bright, white sterile environments. As the game takes place on a space station it's all very clean and high tech looking. Enemies and environments alike have a very smooth, metallic look to them that gives the game a fairly uniform appearance. But the animations of your character as he slides, leaps, rolls and shoots his various weapons are just a thing of beauty.
But you didn't come to a game like this to hear about silly things like "Plot" or "Story" or a discussion of how good it looks. You're here to shoot some robots in their stupid robot faces and Vanquish gives you that in spades. Ah, the good times to be had slaughtering hundreds of robots...
On the surface Vanquish controls just like any other third person shooter you've got cover you hide behind, the ability to roll around to evade enemy gunfire as well as the aiming and shooting mechanics that are so familiar to these games. Playing the game is incredibly easy as the controls are super responsive, allowing you to escape from just about any situation. At first it doesn't feel like anything special but then you have Boost. That's where the fun times begin.
Your Boost ability allows you to perform the superhuman feats the game will be so well known for. Using the basic Boost button you can slide along the floor at high speed; dashing across an arena in record time, sliding into cover or evading dozens of missiles trying to bombard you all at once. Hell you can even shoot while sliding, slowing time down while you move so that you can more accurately hit enemy weak points. In addition you can activate this time dilation, called Advanced Reflexes or A.R. here, by simply diving forward or leaping over cover, before activating your boost. This allows you to carefully aim your shots while stopping enemies from being able to really fight back.
Really it almost becomes like a ballet at times. You boost away from cover, evading a power laser that penetrates your cover, before leaping to the side and slowing time down so you can literally shoot down the enemy's incoming missiles and grenades. It's incredibly exciting to know that you have so much control over the battlefield thanks to your abilities.
Of course no system is without its own flaws and this boost system is no different. For an ability that controls the best, most important of your offensive abilities, your ability to use it is severely limited for 99% of the game. Not only does this one meter control how far / often you can slide around or use Advanced Reflexes but it's also your emergency meter. If you take too much damage your AR kicks in automatically, letting your whole bar drain away. This means that if you take too much damage then your bar empties leaving you with no offensive abilities afterwards.
But the most aggravating aspect of this multi-tasking ability and its slow charging meter is that it also limits your ability to use melee attacks. Any time you use a melee attack your enemies are torn apart as it deals severe damage but your energy meter empties completely. Yes, that's right; the same meter that allows you to move around the battlefield at high speed or saves your life in case of emergency also governs your ability to use melee attacks. This means only one attack every so often and that more than one enemy rushing you is a death sentence. Each weapon in the game has its own unique melee attack, some better than others, and one of them does allow you to use melee attacks with impunity but this weapon basically stinks for any other purpose so it's an aggravating trade off.
Your hero, Sam, carries a unique weapon called a BLADE that can assume any form you need. At any one time it allows you to have three weapons on hand in addition to the two different grenade types you can carry. These three weapons must be chosen from two different machine guns, a shotgun, rocket launcher or more exotic weapons. Unfortunately most of these weapons are only marginally useful in very particular situations. The LFE Gun, a wall penetrating energy ball, is fairly useless when you first get it but later on can knock around larger enemies with ease. The Lock-On Laser is quasi-useful for hitting enemies from extreme range but does little to no damage. The aforementioned Disk Launcher fires saw blades that bounce around between nearby enemies but they don't deal quite enough damage to be useful. Only its melee attack makes it even worth carrying around.
The various weapons show their weaknesses even more when you fight some of the incredibly awesome boss fights. Much like every other enemy in this game you're fighting a variety of giant robotic enemies that will be attempting to blow you to pieces. All of these bosses have glaringly obvious weak points but the trick is actually hitting these locations while dodging the waves of missiles and gunfire that they fire at you. Ironically enough the first boss is probably one of the hardest ones in the game as he's immensely challenging long before you might expect it. Later on they even let you fight more of these in more dangerous situations so the excitement never fades.
What does get a bit repetitive is just how few enemy types there are in the game. About ninety percent of the game is spent killing Gorgies, human sized bipedal robots that carry the same weapons you do. There are a few varieties of these guys, such as ones that use jetpacks to outmaneuver you and the dangerous ones with missile launchers. Then there are the upgraded Gorgies that use sniper rifles or the more mobile ones with a bucket load of health that will regularly attempt to bash your face in. The only other enemy you will fight is known as a Romanov, a gigantic bipedal robot that comes in a variety of flavors, such as a flamethrower type or one that fires a mortar.
The sad part is that there are many different types of enemies in the actual game you just don't get to see them. Giant walking mines, known in game as Jellyfish, are only seen in one level while their smaller minions appear once or twice more after that. A boss type monster, the Buzzard, appears twice while another boss known as the Argus appears at least four times. Essentially while there are a lot of enemy types in the game they're all repeated numerous times, some more than others. This leads to it being very possible to forget about some enemies having even been fought in the game, such as the very dangerous Crystal Viper boss.
But perhaps repetition is a flaw that the developers knew the game might have and that's why it's so short. If you're good at third person shooters then it's possible to clear Vanquish in about four hours while someone who isn't so good, or dying a whole lot, can take up to six or so. Due to the uneven difficulty it's quite possible for even veteran gamers to get murdered by an unexpected one-hit KO from a random enemy attack so it's always something you have to be aware of and can force you to replay some rather lengthy portions of the game.
Honestly for a game that appears to be a successor to Shinji Mikami's earlier, less well received, title P.N. 03 this is a fantastic game. Vanquish is fun, it's exciting and it's a fresh take on the cover based shooter that breathes a bit of originality into the genre. Unless you're some sort of little pansy that can't handle a bit of a challenge, or just loathe the genre entirely, there's no reason not to add this gem to your library.