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Vanquish is a strange game to discuss. This may sound obvious, as it comes from Platinum Games, developer of the bizarre Bayonetta, but rather than calling Vanquish 'strange' based on its actual content, it's stranger on what one may think of the game. Let's cut to the chase here - Vanquish is explosive, fun and innovative. It's definitely a new breed of shooter, and a fun one at that. But, and this is a major but here, the game can easily be completed on the lower difficulties in no more than 3 hours. While pushing it up to harder (and the higher difficulties are extremely difficult) you may be able to quadruple that time, but if not, Vanquish leaves as quickly as it came. So, based on the fact that it's so short, the gameplay had better be damn good, otherwise it's not worth anyone's time.
Unfortunately, Vanquish does not give a good first impression. The game starts off slowly, with a good 15 minutes of cutscenes opening up the game. The player will assume that this game is story-based, rather than what it actually is. And this isn't helped that Vanquish's storyline is rather bad. You play as Sam, a member of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. Being in the company comes with, instead of a company car, an Augmented Reaction Suit, which is a key component to Vanquish. Anyways, San Francisco is attacked by a satellite, which is used to give energy to the population, but is turned on themselves by a Russian rouge group. Despite being under threats from these forces, the President sends in decorated war-vet Robert Burns. He, along with several other military personnel, takes Sam to thwart these terrorists. But Sam is quickly given a secret objective to save a scientist who is trying to stop the threat himself. It's very cheesy, very bland and very predictable. It's just something to drive the game forward.
Moving first impressions aside, Vanquish becomes very exciting very quickly. Once you face your first fight, it's an uphill struggle through enemies pinned in on turrets. This is what makes Vanquish fun - it's extremely fast-paced action. Rarely is there time to breathe between fights, instead you're catapulted to each gunfight from the next. It's not a varied structure, but it's also not overly repeated thankfully. Missions last around 10 minutes each, meaning the brisk nature puts adrenaline into your blood as you brush through each confrontation quickly.
Vanquish is a third-person shooter, and while it shares a cover system to something like Gears of War, it's definitely not in the norm. On the harder difficulties, cover can become a necessity. But if you play on lower difficulties, then the games true nature can be unfurled. Taking cover is boring in Vanquish - the fun comes from using Sam's AR suit. This comes with special rockets on his boots, and with the press of the LB you can zoom around the level. This is coupled with a slow-motion system, which is triggered either by shooting while skidding around the level, diving and aiming, or if you're shoot to the point of dying. It sounds like its copying Max Payne, but Vanquish uses this to merely increase the excitement of the game. Sliding around the level while killing enemies in slow motion, or diving around a corner and blowing away multiple enemies, is unashamed fun.
You can take advantage of the game's AR System or not, seeing as the game doesn't penalize you for shooting in a more tame style. Each level does track stats, such as completion time. You also earn a general score for kills, but it's not a key part of Vanquish. However, the game is considerably more fun when you take advantage of this. This is helped by the game's weaponry - mixed with the standard assortment of assault rifles and shotguns are special weapons such as the Disk Launcher which throws razors and cuts up enemies to shreds and the LFE gun which explodes anything in its path with a giant pulse sphere. You can level up these weapons by either finding upgrades or collecting ammo when you're already full. These upgrades increase ammo capacity and other aspects such as the accuracy with sniper rifles or rate of fire. Its worthwhile finding your comfortable weapons and sticking with them, as upgrades are lost when you drop them. Weapons definitely pack a punch, and in conjunction with the AR system, are incredibly fun.
The enemy types also add variety to the game. You have your standard grunts, which can be killed with any means. But many other varieties show up. One specific level carries Jellyfish, which explode if you stand near, changing the pace of the level from fast to a more tactical stance. Romanov's show up semi-frequently, and come in different forms. Most carry a huge red target on their back, but other strategies including robotic dismemberment can assist. And then there are the boss fights. A frequent fight is with the Argus giants, which come in two forms and require destruction of highlighted orange limbs. Other bosses include a Silver-surfer style Crystal Viper, Buzzards which are enlarged UAVs essentially, and 'Unknowns' which morph using objects around them. Each boss requires different styles of play, and adds some variety to how you approach missions.
The only problem is that Vanquish is completely brisk - you can complete the game on lower difficulties in a matter of 4 hours. It takes longer on the harder difficulties, mainly because it's ridiculously difficult, but if that's not your thing then you can cap Vanquish in not even a day. You can get some replay value from retrying levels to find collectable Pangloss statues and unlock any achievements you may have missed, as some levels have specific achievements. But there are no extra modes, aside from an insanely difficult tactical challenge mode. There are 6 challenges in this mode, and it is likely that most people will end up with all but one achievement unlocked, which requires you to complete this mode. Whether you can look past this or not depends on whether you can look past this and take Vanquish as an experience, rather than something longer.
Vanquish also looks really good. Graphically, it runs at a smooth clip while maintaining a high level of detail. Sam's suit in particular is amazing looking - all the individual fans, pieces and other parts are immaculately detailed. The animation is also great, especially the animation such as Sam sliding across the floor or performing one of his moves. It's very satisfying to watch these unfold while killing everything in your path. Explosions are also very, well, explosive. They look particularly more powerful than most games, giving satisfaction to blowing up anything trying to kill you. The game's environments are pretty sterile to be honest, consisting of mostly whites and straight-edged backgrounds. But, it arguably helps the explosions and other effects stand out even more. The only disappointment is that the lip synching in the game's radio-cutscenes is pretty awful.
Sadly, the sound isn't quite up to shape. The good thing is the sound effects - guns pack a great punch thanks to their great sound effects and the game doesn't drown you down with over-the-top explosions, but has just enough to keep you awake. Unfortunately, the rest of the game falls pretty flat in terms of its sound. Voice acting, in particular, is appalling. This could be because essentially because it's transferring a Japanese game to other markets, but it is all rather corny and lame. It kind of creates a vibe of a B-Rated movie, but instead of being so bad it's awesome, it's just really bad. The techno music used to complement the action also somewhat falls flat, feeling out of place.
Vanquish is a game which you're going to have to consider before you buy. Are you looking for a game which you may blow through quickly, but you'll have a blast playing while it lasts? Or are you looking for something more substantial? If your answer to the latter question is yes, then it's safe to move away from Vanquish and forget it even existed (though I say you're missing out). If you said yes to the first question, however, then I'd honestly recommend you buy Vanquish, especially seeing as it is pretty cheap these days. The game is extremely fun, shot-gunning you through each scene at an incredible pace. It's not going to last a life time, but I'll be damned if it's not fun while it does last.