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Vanquish (Xbox 360) artwork

Vanquish (Xbox 360) review

"Vanquish keeps the player too busy for him to stop and wonder if maybe he's seen this all before."

Vanquish, the latest release from SEGA and developer Platinum Games, is a beautiful game that embodies everything that the third-person shooter should be in 2010. Fast-paced, gorgeous, addictive, challenging and tightly-constructed, it has an unrelenting but entirely welcome tendency to put the player through his paces as that player explores a terrifying and credible future in which Russia and the United States are at war on Earth and in a celestial body populated by giant battle cruisers and robot armies.

It should by now be apparent that I really, really like Vanquish. I started playing it yesterday in the early afternoon, took a break when circumstances forced one, then returned to the game and didn't stop playing until around 5AM this morning. It's a good thing I'd beaten it by that point. If credits hadn't rolled, I might still be going, thumbs aching and eyes crying for relief.

The experience that eventually consumed me didn't put its best foot forward, though. First the game presented me with a tedious tutorial sequence. Most of it can be skipped if you choose, but the on-screen diagrams that depict button configurations and button functions make it pretty clear that you should let the game walk you through everything at least once. It's a shame that actually doing so is such an awful way to kick off an otherwise great experience.

When the tutorial concludes, the game treats you to a rather lengthy cutscene. That scene once would have blown my mind, but these days amazing cutscenes are a dime a dozen. Fortunately, Vanquish features an artistic direction to the visceral proceedings that does a wonderful job of homing in on the sheer brutality of the events depicted--the obliteration of a future San Francisco with a mass weapon that radiates heat sufficient to cause people's heads and limbs to burst in geysers of blood--an artistic direction that feels distinctly Shinji Mikami (as it should, given that the Resident Evil alum directed). As a reward for enduring the tutorial, you are shown a few minutes of polished art direction that you know can't possibly last.

Except that it does. Vanquish made me sit up and take notice because once I started playing, everything still looked amazing. There weren't the close-ups of crimson explosions, just long corridors on a space station. Long corridors that I can't recall ever looking better in a video game. I can't describe any one element and make it sound as exciting as it is, but I hope you'll take my word for it when I say that somehow the bunkers and hanging, sparking wires, the view of distant architecture and soaring battle cruisers and foliage along the planet surface... it all comes together in an organic manner that I found truly satisfying.

Vanquish is a game with stunning set pieces sprinkled liberally through the eight hours or so that most are likely to spend clearing its campaign. I remember clearly the moment I was walking down a corridor rather early in the game, my squad members trailing behind me in phalanx formation, blasting robots while I pushed forward through the smoky haze and bullets whizzed around me. Suddenly, through the mist, a huge gray wall emerged. I cussed and rolled out of the way, just as a massive cruiser struck down against the platform, metal grating against concrete. The controller was going nuts in my hand, shaking like it meant to explode, and on screen my character just barely missed total obliteration. There wasn't time to pause to catch my breath, though, because Vanquish is also a game about intense firefights.

There's probably no way to describe how combat plays without comparing it to Gears of War, and I hesitate to do that because we've all seen what happens when someone tries to copy Epic's cover-centric masterpiece and fails. The results are a mess. Vanquish isn't a mess, though, and it doesn't feel like the product of a Japanese developer trying to copy a terrific idea that someone else had first (even though that's exactly what's happening). The elements here are familiar: you hunker down behind lockers with burly space marines who have arms the size of a Mini Cooper, everyone swears a lot and there's plenty of banter while you run down corridors. Somehow, though, it doesn't feel like a cheap replica. I'm going to go ahead and blame that on the forward momentum.

Vanquish keeps the player too busy for him to stop and wonder if maybe he's seen this all before. The developers have invested fully in the concept of the cover shooter while somehow mixing it with run-and-gun action. There's no shortage of places to hide, which is a good thing because the constant explosions and the presence of the aforementioned battle cruisers mean that often you have to keep moving as a barrage of missiles renders multiple forms of shelter quite useless. The need to constantly move about prevents the game's pace from ever moving at a crawl. Even during the slower moments, when you're escorting a tank through an underground bunker with walking turrets or you're riding along a twisting monorail where up and down are changing place in a vertical game of musical chairs, there's always the risk that bullets or machines or gunmen will come at you from a new direction. You're never quite safe.

The amount of firepower that the game throws at the player is astounding, but you'll be equipped to deal with it. Your moving suit of armor makes Iron Man look like an amateur. You can boost around for seconds at a time, a fact that allows you to quickly cross any battlefield, and when you need to you can slow the flow of time as you speed around the battlefield, firing at suddenly-illuminated target reticules that highlight the weak points on enemies the size of buildings. Then you'd better hope you're good at dodging and strafing or your overheating armor will take one hit too many and you'll light up like the cigarettes that main protagonist Sam Gideon smokes any time there's a new cutscene. Mobility is almost as valuable a weapon as the numerous upgradeable guns that you'll find throughout the campaign, squirreled away in lockers, lying next to corpses or floating in supply booths that line the edges of the military complexes you have taken it upon yourself to destroy. You might spend much of the campaign going up against the same few robots and machines, but the number of ways they come at you and the number of ways that you can respond with lethal force keep it all from getting old.

So yeah, I stayed up until 5AM and I'd do it again. The campaign feels just short enough that I can imagine myself happily revisiting it on different difficulty levels and with different tactics. The beautiful cutscenes can be skipped and the action scenes sandwiched between them are the sort of thing you'd never want to skip. Platinum Games hasn't crafted the perfect game here. There are minor flaws throughout, but it's amazing how little they matter once Vanquish has you in its grasp. The ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel. Let's hope that possibility becomes a reality.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 19, 2010)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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If you enjoyed this Vanquish review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Suskie posted October 23, 2010:

Okay, Jason, I've got a question for you. This game sounds awesome. I want to play it. None of the rental stores around me seem to have it in stock, so would you say this game is worth buying? $60 is a lot to spend and I like getting my money's worth out of the games I buy. Does Vanquish offer enough content to justify its entry fee? Is it so fun that the price shouldn't even be a factor? Or should I wait for a price drop?
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bluberry posted October 23, 2010:

this game is tits. buy it.
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Suskie posted October 23, 2010:

Yeah, I've pretty much already made the decision but if it's a really bad idea I'm giving people one last chance to talk me out of it.
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zippdementia posted October 23, 2010:

You and me Suskie... let's buy it this weekend.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 23, 2010:

I want to buy it... but I'm broke. Oh well, time to make sad faces at the wife until she buys it for me.
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honestgamer posted October 23, 2010:

It's a great game and if I had the time, I'd probably play through it again at least once during the next week or so. I don't know how many times I'd realistically play through it, honestly, but it's not the sort of game where you finish it once and say "Well, that's it, I'll never play this one again." At least, I wouldn't say that. There's no multi-player mode, but as I recall that's not a problem for you, anyway. Good stuff. Totally took me by surprise. I expected rather generic fluff with sloppy execution, but instead I got fluff with such polished and enjoyable execution that... I'm going to stop typing now. I really want to play it again now and I just can't. There's too much other stuff I have to get done this week.
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Masters posted February 28, 2011:

Nice review Venter. You and Zig convinced me.

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