PS3 Review – Vanquish

“I hope you all get sucked in and have a blast playing Vanquish” said Atsushi Inaba producer of Vanquish. Inaba-san has achieved much more than just allowing us to have a blast. In fact, the producer and his team have created an experience every bit as engaging, entertaining, and thrill-a-minute as a Hollywood summer blockbuster. As you play through Vanquish, you get the sense there was a singular focus: action, action, action.

The story begins with a dramatic event that takes place on U.S. soil. As citizens go about their day-to-day lives, they suddenly find themselves pawns in an extremely brutal chess game. Devastation, violence, loss of innocent life, and destruction of a U.S. icon set the stage for why the President launches a military offensive.  DARPA  uses this as an opportunity to field test bleeding edge technology on the battlefield…but is that their only reason for being there? The opening trailer sets the stage to pull you into what your goals are right away and why they are important. More on the overall feel of the story later.

The area Vanquish shines is in its gameplay and design. Sam Gideon and has DARPA battle suit allow you to carry out some amazing things; sometimes without even really trying. The Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS) is designed to interact with your sympathetic nervous system, and allow you to focus with heightened senses—bullet time style—on enemies and target with precision accuracy;which you need if you plan to survive. The Battlefield Logic ADaptable Electronic (BLADE) Weapons System is arguably one of the most exciting weapon systems I have ever used in a third-person shooter. The ability to “scan” weapons and replicate them in real-time at will is savior in one of the most hectic environments you’re going to find yourself in.

Initially, I wasn’t sure about boosting around the environment—the implementation just wasn’t clear to me and I wasn’t sure it would be cool.  After utilizing boost in battle, not only is it cool,  I can’t imagine not having it. The ability to quickly move from place to place, exit difficult situations, and use that speed to dispatch enemies gives you the advantage you need if you’re going to stop your nemesis Zaitsev. The third-person shooter presentation lends itself well to the vision Shinji Mikami, the game’s Director, wanted to present of “…seeing how much fun you could have shooting robots.” Combine this with well placed first-person shooting when taking cover, and you have a combat experience that just works…extremely well. Control wise things take a little getting used to. Movement, activating various weapons, and traversing the landscape are simple enough but you may need to rearrange your buttons for optimal usage.

Graphically, Vanquish is a tour de force for Platinum Games.  From a design perspective, it seems everything came together. Mikami-san’s Casshern inspiration, translated to Yoshifumi Hattori’s character models are represented on-screen in the detailed—and hella cool—ARS worn by Sam Gideon.  The number of friendly forces, Gorgies, debris, and action going on at any one time is maddening. It doesn’t take much to get lost in the elements of the moment and find yourself restarting from your last checkpoint. Sam’s movements are fluid, fast, and frenetic, yet, graceful in execution. In one truly vast moment, friendly forces, fight Gorgies, while enemy troops are dropped shipped in as you attempt to evade manned giant walking robots intent on killing you. During all this action on-screen, I didn’t detect a hint of slow down. It could be because I was using my ARS quite heavily, or I was simply trying to stay alive. Either way, that moment will stay forever etched in my mind. Equal attention to detail is given to everything that appears on screen—nothing seems to be have been ignored in the presentation by Platinum Games.

Sound. If done well it can enhance a game. If done poorly it destroys any sense of envelopment you might have had. Again, this is the second area Vanquish distances itself from the pack. A good score should put you in the moment of that scene or event;implying what’s coming next or making you fill ill at ease about what to expect . Erina Niwa, Vanquish composer, and team have created a soundstage that tells a story on it’s own. I can’t remember the last time I played a third-person shooter that used music in such a dynamic way. From tense moments, to techno beats, to a few eerie emotionally evocative moments, the score delivers. In many ways, the score felt more movie-like than game-like which is a nice surprise. Ippei Shirak, Sound Designer,  and his team did an exceptional job of making the game effects sound alive. From the clang heard when  Sam lands after a jump, to the out of phase type noise during the ARS effect, to the way his gun changes form, all these sounds added a reality to what it would be like if all this was real. Spatial effects, surround transitions, and LFE effects were all exceptional their 5.1 presentation. From time to time I did notice that center channel dialog, was extremely light. Although dialog leaves much to be desired, I did have to compensate a time or two to keep things balanced. As an aside, it’s hard to think that just a few short years ago, 5.1 sound in a game was a rarity versus the norm. Minor gripe aside, Vanquish should be a tutorial for how to use music in a third-person shooter. It’s no wonder then when you look close at Mikami-san playing Vanquish, you can see that he is in the moment.

At this point, I like to think back on how the game made me feel; a game should be more than just an aggregate of numbers in my opinion.  Despite what was done to the U.S., and a plot twist or two, I didn’t really feel any want to bring those responsible to justice. The characters were rather bland, and a bit typecast in your typical sc-fi epic: the unlikely hero, the grizzled war veteran, the evil dictator, and the brilliant scientists all make an appearance. Elena Ivanova—who had some of the better voice work in the game–did make me feel she cared about me wanted me to succeed in the field—at times. And Sam Gideon gave me a few moments where I felt the desire to rally behind him, but those moments were rare. In Sam’s case, I don’t blame the voice actor Gideon Emery for his work (or any of the voice actors for that matter)—he just wasn’t given a lot to pull emotion from. In the instances where he can interject emotion (and the script doesn’t force it), he’s on point. Zaitsev, although campy, did his job at making me hate him. When I finally got a chance to “take it outside” with him, I was emotionally engaged and wanted to see him fall. The Japanese voice work is done very well, and there is greater breadth to the script delivery.

In this day and age, I think English subtitles with the original Japanese voice actors should be the standard and gamers should be able to choose. No matter how good a translation is, the original feeling in many cases is lost and that definitely is the case with Vanquish. More than anything, Vanquish made me feel a sense of empowerment. Weird but true. Even with all the devastation going on at any one time in the game, I never felt like I couldn’t stop the enemies for one reason: I was Sam Gideon. When I died (quite often), I wanted to restart from my last checkpoint immediately because I felt, it wasn’t that the game was too hard, I just wasn’t using the tech right. It was feelings such as these along with an outstanding presentation that kept me returning again and again to finish the game.

Vanquish isn’t perfect. It has story problems, it’s not as long as it could be (roughly 6 hours for me), and there is no multiplayer to speak of. The combat, mechanics and action are so innovative, and are done so well it’s easily one of the best games to grace consoles this year. The action in Mikami-san’s title plays out like a cross between John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop and Kazuaki Kiriya’s Casshern all rolled in to one. The new genre of Japan-style action games with Western-style shooting has been born; if you’re a fan of third-person shooters, over the top action, and enjoy a good challenge Vanquish is an excellent fit.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ High-octane action.

+ Unique take on third-person shooting.

– Campaign length is not long enough.

6 out of 10