Review: Vanquish


Vanquish immediately has three things working against in most gamer’s eyes.  First is the fact the game has received little if any marketing, so most gamers don’t know much about it and often wrongly assume that it means it isn’t any good.  Second, is that it is a third person shooter, a genre that many gamers unfairly disregard if it doesn’t have the word “gears” in the title, and third, it has the name Sega on the cover which quite frankly doesn’t mean what it did once long ago.  But does the game, directed by gaming legend Shinji Mikami, deserve the lackluster welcome it received by gamers, or does it vanquish its’ competitors? (Sorry, last name-based pun in this review, I promise.)

Vanquish takes place in the future where Earth’s population growth has had devastating effects on the planet’s resources.  The United States has alleviated some of these issues by building a massive solar powered space station that has become America’s 51st state.  The story begins when a group of rebels who have forced a coup of the Russian Government, led by Victor Zaitsev take over the space station and direct the solar energy into a microwave blast that practically destroys San Francisco in mere minutes. The Russians threaten to target New York City next if the United States does not immediately surrender, which triggers a race against the clock for an army of marines who storm in the space station Normandy style in an attempt to recover it.  The story follows a DARPA agent/researcher/test subject named Sam Gideon who is equipped with an Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS), a specialized battle armor.  Sam joins the assault along with what seems like thousands of marines all led by decorated war veteran, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Burns, who is as much machine as he is man in an all out war full of brutal combat and political intrigue.

And thus, minus a brief tutorial level, begins Vanquish.  From the moment your ship crashes and you begin to storm the space station in a D-day like fashion the pace is, in a word, intense.  The game almost never slows down as you and countless marines face off against legions of robot enemies.  Bullets are constantly flying, and robots and marine alike are constantly being torn to shreds in the incredibly well designed levels with an atmosphere that is, in my mind, currently not matched this generation.  Vanquish does the difficult job of being a mostly well-lit, yet still gritty game.  I’ve often commented that we’ve come so far with game graphics to almost always make games where you spend half of your time in the dark; Vanquish mostly does away with that.  A space station of this size and home to thousands of citizens would likely be well lit, and as such, most of the fighting takes place in bright open areas.  The design team deserves credit for making this choice.  Most importantly the colony feels lived in and expansive despite being on a single path for most of the game. The marines are all big bulky men, the biggest and bulkiest of them all being Burns, and are well rendered and most importantly not completely useless in a fight.  Their appearance is obviously an intentional disparity compared to the relatively smaller physique of Sam, who’s suit does most of the actual fighting, and initially is not well received, and looked upon as an outsider, by the marines he has been placed with.

The suit. We can’t discuss Vanquish without talking about the suit.  The ARS’s Battlefield Logic ADaptable Electronic Weapons System (BLADE) can hold up to three weapon types at a time, actually “scanning” and storing perfect replicas of the guns’ design in the suit and shifting BLADE into the weapons. (You don’t carry a rocket launcher on you back, essentially your arm switches from a sniper rifle to a rocket launcher with a push of a button) Basically you don’t pick up guns you pick up amo, which leads to one of the more interesting upgrade systems in a game, where-in any time you pick up a weapon/amo when you have a full supply of that amo (i.e. you have the max amo for the rocket launcher and then pick up a rocket launcher), the pick-up will “upgrade” the gun.  Upgraded guns have an increase rate of fire, increase in damage and an increased clip size. Also an interesting design choice is that what weapon you have equipped will alter your melee mode. For example, having the assault rifle equipped will enable a quick burst of blows, the rocket launcher enables a powerful uppercut move, and so on.  In addition to firepower, the user can trigger Augmented Reality mode (AR Mode), which essentially slows everything down to a point where you can fire more shots and land more blows in a shorter period of time; or use it to dodge the giant missile about to greet your face.  The AR Mode is also triggered when you have taken severe damage, and it is the game’s main way of informing you that you are low on health. The last main function of the suit is the slide mode, where in you drop to your knees and basically have a series of rockets propel you like a bat out of hell. The blade system and its upgrades work well, and you will likely find yourself having three favorite guns that you almost always set. (For me it was the assault rifle, the sniper rifle and the rocket launcher)  So long as you don’t vary between weapons constantly you will also find upgrades come fairly easily and often. The AR Mode is fantastic when triggered manually, but glitchy when triggered by damage.  On several occasions I found myself having taken some damage, had AR Mode triggered, and rather than making it easier to dodge an incoming missile, the missile, which had already been launched and did not slow down with the rest of the game including myself, slammed into me at what seemed like a billion miles an hour (and I’m fairly certain it also muttered something about my mother). This was only really troublesome in some of the fights with giant enemies, as they were the ones most likely to fire the house-sized missiles (with enough accuracy to trim your nose hair). The slide-mode makes an already fast-paced game even faster. It is both an incredibly useful combat tool and fun way to navigate the hectic battles; dodging from cover to cover or turning an open area without cover in front of you into a fistfight in mere seconds. Overall the suit is incredibly fun to control, easy to use and gives you the impression of being very powerful.  The design causes a very fluid and dynamic fighting experience not typically found in games with this many bullets flying bout.

The story is by no means phenomenal, as in it won’t be winning awards, but it’s an undeniably good time.  It is over the top adventure, full of the classic take on the crazy American cowboy soldier character type that would be quite fitting of John McClain himself.  Sam is a chain smoker (side note: you can throw lit cigarettes to confuse your robot enemies into drawing fire away from your position) adrenaline junkie who just wants to finish the job so he can go get a beer, Burns is the classic military bad-ass who on more than one occasion communicates with nothing more than raspy baritone grunts.  The dialogue is cheesy but in the best, action movie style ways, and the voice acting fits this style perfectly.  It’s like the intentionally bad acting in the scene of The Expendables when Stallone, Bruce and Arnold are all together; you know everything is intentionally bad to a degree, and you love it for that exact reason.

That game’s faults mostly result from some of its’ successes, which may seem odd, but to keep up the action flick analogy, they are a product of the games style, and to be expected. The story is cheesy and over the top, but it was meant to be, and while at times you will laugh that “really? Did they just do that?” sort of laugh during the course of the game, the mechanics are so solid you will immediately accept it, likely embrace it even.  The health system is frustrating at times, mostly because you will often have no idea that you are so close to death till as stated before, the AR Mode triggers (and unfortunately most of those occasions will result is the before mention missile to the face).  Melee attacks are at times difficult to properly pull off, and use your suits’ power so that if you fail to do so properly you likely leave yourself very vulnerable to attack and death. Both of these issues often result from the furiously fast pace of the game and the dynamics of the in-game suit that also make it so much fun. (i.e. it is easy to unintentionally rocket into a group of enemy robots when you are doing 100mph on your knees or go from healthy to near dead in the blink of an eye) Also a victim of the fast pace, action packed gameplay you are bound to love also means that the game passes by at an incredibly quick pace and the overall game, which is already relatively short, feels even shorter as a result.

Difficulty also varies wildly, with large segments going by rather simply, than an insanely difficult part, followed by several significantly easier parts. This isn’t so much a fault, but gamers expecting a steady increase in difficulty will ultimately see that, but will also experience intense punctured burst of difficulty throughout levels.  Most of the game’s amo drops are completely random, meaning that quite often you may not get the gun best suited for the enemies you are facing, while other times you’ll have an over abundance of it.  For the most part the game didn’t leave you stuck without plenty of amo, but it does happen, and those are the times that the lackluster melee attack mode really hurts the game.  The last “fault” that turned many people off from the game, especially with its’ overall length, is the lack of multiplayer.  While certainly true the game does lack any multiplayer support, the only real mode that might have worked would have been co-op.  Even then, I’m not entirely sure it wouldn’t have damaged the story (as well as the one many army style of the game).  Odds are you can thoroughly enjoy at least two play-throughs of the game though (not to mention achievement hunting), significantly expanding the game’s value.

In short, Vanquish is an exceptionally well-made single-player experience proving that games don’t have to be multiplayer to be a fantastically good time.  It is a fast paced, high action, adrenaline pumping full out war that rarely slows down, and even then for those brief moments it only serves to add excitement for the pending insanity.  The game’s design and visual style is superb and the fighting mechanics are fluid and obviously crafted with meticulous care.  Vanquish has some faults, but overwhelming out shines most games you could compare it to in terms of game play, style and just plain and simple good old fashioned video game fun.  It is a must have for any gaming library worth the title.

Final Rating: 9/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Approximate Time to Completion: ~8 hours
Gamer Score Earned: 835G
Price Bought at: $15
Recommend Purchase Price: Anything $30 or under is worth it

Can’t get enough Vanquish, or simply wish there were more guns to blow robot heads away with?  Well you are in luck.  We have ten, yes ten codes for the Tri-Weapon DLC pack for Xbox 360 which adds the Boost Machine Gun, Anti-Armor Pistol and the Laser Cannon to your already impressive repertoire.  Want one?  Easy enough, and there is even a bonus entry.

Simply comment on this post and tell us your favorite single player only game.  That simple.

If you would like a 2nd shot at winning, simply follow us on Twitter and “Tweet” the following message:

@ClearanceBinRev is giving away 10 Vanquish Tri-Weapon DLC Packs for 360! Details here: http://bit.ly/ea4dUM

If you enter via twitter make sure to include your twitter name in your comment below.

Contest will go until Friday at 6pm CST.  A pool of all eligible entries will then be randomly selected from and the winners will be notified. CBR reserves the right to disqualify any entry we feel either violated the rules or spirit of the contest, including attempts at duplicate entries. Winner selected with no twitter name provided will be notified by email and have 24 hours to respond.

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About Tristan Rendo

I’ve made movies, written and performed music, and in January of 2011 got bored and started the awesome gaming site you see before you. My gaming roots began with the original NES, and endless hours spent spilling quarters into machines at the local arcade. I have a personal collection of over 200 Nintendo 64 games, and for many years it was the only system I owned. I re-entered the modern generation of gaming consoles when I decided to purchase a 360. I typically prefer the single player experience of games, so I’m usually playing through some single-player campaign, but can occasionally be found doing some damage in Halo Reach.