Review: Vanquish

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After 7 years, Vanquish has finally come to PC, thus allowing so many people to try out what is supposedly, according to many, one of the best cover shooters ever released up until this day. Following the extreme success of the PC release of Bayonetta on Steam, Vanquish was also met with great success and enthusiasm by most people, even despite the crippling framerate bug which has since then been fixed.

Vanquish is an extremely fast-paced third-person shooter with a heavy focus on a cover system, that’s published by SEGA and developed by both Platinum Games Inc. and Little Stone Software. You play as Sam Gideon, a researcher who works for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and who’s currently testing an Augmented Reaction Suit, which provides the framework for the many game mechanics, such as bullet-time and boosting.

In terms of actual story, even though it appears that the game features the usual plot involving modern-day USA and Russia fighting each other, it does provide some interesting twists which spice things up a little bit. In any case, the story is not the game’s strongest suit by any stretch of imagination. The game exhibits what appears to be little tidbits of information regarding the universe of Vanquish and its characters during the loading screens but, at least on my system, the loading screens barely take more than a second so I never manage to read any of that. Making the player have to press a key in order to proceed would’ve been very suitable here, since reading speed tends to differ a lot from person to person.

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The gameplay is where Vanquish really shines. Moving around and shooting handles perfectly with keyboard and mouse, and the game offers the option to rebind keys and individual mouse sensitivity options for looking, aiming and zooming, so that you can configure the controls to make them more suitable for you. While the game is strictly a corridor shooter, the gunplay and movement system are heated enough to always keep you on your toes. In terms of movement, besides the obvious running around, the game relies heavily on boosting and evading in your to remain alive. Amongst other things such as the laser cannon, boosting, which involves you using your suit’s thrusters to slide around at high speeds, overheat your suit. Whenever your suit overheats, you’re more exposed to incoming damage and you have to wait for it to cool down. With that said, when boosting you can trigger your suit’s AR mode, until your suit overheats, which slows down time and allows you to better react to your surroundings, even allowing you to dodge bullets and other projectiles. Likewise, whenever you receive a lot of damage, your suit will automatically trigger its AR mode.

In regards to the actual shooting element, it wouldn’t feel as good as it does if it weren’t for the bullet-time element and the cover system, since both are vital for you to succeed, run and gunning is not going to get you anywhere. As far as weapons go, you can have up to three different weapons on your inventory at any given time, as well two types of grenades. In any case, you’ll be able to switch weapons if you ever come across a new one during missions, and equipping the one you’ve just found will replace the one that you had on your hands. In the same sense, the game also features weapons upgrades that you can pick up, and these will also upgrade the weapon you currently have equipped. As for weapon variety, the game has a wide range of weaponry at your disposal, such as a rocket launcher, a disc launcher, an assault rifle, a heavy machine gun, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a laser cannon, amongst many others. Unfortunately, while grandes tend to be pretty useful in certain situations, it’s a shame to see that there’s not that much variety to them, since you only have access to fragmentation grenades and EMP emitters, which temporarily disables enemy units. You can also resort to melee if the need arises, which despite being extremely powerful, also overheats your suit.

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Considering this was originally a console title, I was very glad to see that a pretty decent amount of effort was put into the PC version. The options menu offers separate audio sliders for music, sound effects and voices, the ability to use inverted controls, as well as subtitles, which as someone who has English as a second language really appreciates. Overall it’s a pretty good PC version, at least right now, given that the famous bug where you’d take increased damage if your framerate was very high has been fixed. Besides that you have a pretty extensive graphical options menu, with a series of anti-aliasing, texture quality and filtering and shadow quality options to choose from, amongst some others. Last but by no means least, you can also choose one out of four different difficulty settings, plus an unlockable one called God Hard, which you can get once you beat the game in Hard.

While some might argue that the game looks dated, I personally find that this visual style, which is very characteristic to asian developers, tends to age pretty well, and, to that end, Vanquish still looks fairly good in today’s day and age. As far as the overall audio and the soundtrack go, I didn’t find them particularly special nor worth giving praise, they’re decent enough and get the job done. In addition, the voice acting feels extremely corny at times, while, for the most part, it’s just serviceable. On that note, while each character is unique on its own, they fall under the category of cliche type of characters you’d expect to find on an action shooting game, especially one that puts the USA and Russia against each other.

Despite taking into account that this is a run & gun game, with a cover system of course, the missions don’t offer that much variety in terms of objectives. Pretty much all you’re going to do is go from point A to point B while killing everything in your way, which I guess is fine if it’s done in a way that it’s enjoyable, and Vanquish most certainly is. I played the game on the Hard difficulty setting and the difficulty felt just right, I’m pretty sure had I played it on Normal it would’ve been a lot easier. I thought it provided the right amount of challenge in order for it to be enjoyable. Even though the game takes place in this huge space station colony, which you can see in the background in pretty much every single level, and despite the fact that the game is a corridor shooter at its core, the levels offer enough variety for it to feel unique, and it’s easy to remember a level based on your experience with it.

On the other hand, while it might seem that the game also suffers from a lack of enemy variety at first, this is compensated by the use of the various different types in simultaneous encounters. You’ll often find yourself fighting a bunch of weaker enemies who then are reinforced by bigger and better equipped enemies, which can either take a lot of damage, or which can be easily dealt with if you hit them in their weak spots. This is how bosses are also dealt with, they usually have a bunch of weak spots that you have to shoot in order to be able to strike at their energy core, rinse and repeat.

In the end, Vanquish kind of disappointed me, but I’m sure that’s mostly due to my high expectations which were a result of continuous praise from hardcore fans over the years. Still, it’s a good game overall, but one which enjoyment will vary a lot from person to person. If you’re into third-person cover based shooters, or score based games with multiple difficulty options, you’ll most likely find something to enjoy quite a lot here. Sure enough, it took me about 9 hours to beat the game on the hardest difficulty the game offers for a first playthrough, which feels alright considering the game’s price tag.

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