You remember that scene from the Transformers movie (the only movie, from the 80's) when Optimus Prime decided that it was about to get real and he had to put his foot in someone's ass? Then he rolls in to the Autobot base, transforms in slow motion IN THE AIR and shoots 3 Dececpticons before landing on the ground and then shoots like another 4 Dececpticons in about 10 seconds. Remember that? Well, that's what Vanquish is like, except it last about 7 hours.
When I first heard about this game, I almost pooped my pants. I mean the action looked absurd, the game play looked ridiculously fast, and it was visually beautiful. Plus this was a Shinji Mikami game, maker of not only Bayonetta, but my personal favorite; God Hand. For the uninitiated, Vanquish is a futuristic 3rd person action shooter set in a not too distant future where America (San Francisco to be exact) has been attacked by Russian terrorist. The terrorist want complete surrender of America or they'll make a repeat performance on New York City. The main character, Sam Gideon, is basically the test subject of a prototype suit that allows him to do all kinds of acrobatically impressive nonsense. He is sent in with the (Space) Marines to stop a second attack from the terrorist. The Marines, especially the guy in charge Robert Burns, don't like and Sam couldn't care less. He's a badass, but a badass with a soul and conscience.
So let's get into it. So, by now, I'm sure you've heard this game is short. It took me 6 hours and 28 minutes to play through on normal. I know, it sounds like a really short game, but it kind of has to be. The game takes place in real time and at the very outset Burns announces that in 8 hours NYC is going to get blasted and that's not about to happen, not on his watch. I don't know what would happen if you took longer than 8 hours to finish the game, but I doubt you could even if you wanted to. The game offers very little (read – none) in terms of side quest or trials during the main story. You're here to save America, not hunt for treasure.
The game play should be familiar to anyone who's played Gears of War or anything similar. Run, take cover behind objects, and shoot around corners. You should know the drill. Where Vanquish gets creative is in the abilities of the ARS suit. You carry up to 3 different guns at once and your gun TRANSFORMS when you switch weapons. Not really a game play mechanic, but it's one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Also the suit lets you boost slide to get out or in to sticky situations quickly. There are also amazingly strong melee attacks that change depending on what weapon you have armed. The suit is also what keeps you from getting killed and takes the brunt of all damage. And finally, there's the slow motion which will be referred to as Bullet Time or BT from here on out. In BT you can do things like shoot robots in mid air while dodging enemy fire. Or better yet, shoot enemy fire out of the air. Seriously. You can shoot down rockets in BT. It's pretty sweet. All of the suit functions are determined by a heat gauge that depletes as you do crazy stunts. Once the suit overheats from the gauge being emptied, you have to wait a short bit for it to recharge. Melee attacks deplete the entire gauge. Enemy attacks chip away at the gauge unless you get hit with something strong, like a grenade, a suicide robot, or a rocket to the face. Heavy damage puts you in critical mode, which essentially means auto BT so you can get out of the way of whatever is about to kill you. It's actually pretty annoying. I'll get into why later.
The weapons are pretty standard. Light machine gun, heavy machine gun, shotgun rocket launcher, sniper rifle. You know how these guns work and really there's nothing new about them. The interesting weapons are the Blade Gun which launches discs that can bounce off objects, the Lock-On-Laser which, well, shoots lasers that lock on the enemies and the LFE Gun. This is by far the most interesting weapon. Imagine a shotgun whose shell was a 6 foot sphere of energy that could push enemies back before killing them. Pretty cool, but not that effective. It's a shame that the interesting weapons aren't all that useful. You only really need the machine guns and the rocket launcher to go through the game. Oh, and the sniper rifle helps sometimes too.
The enemies didn't come for tea. They came for a fight and they bring it in hot and fast (Valkor's Note: lulz). During the first boss encounter is the only time you will fight a single enemy by itself. Every other time there will be multiple enemies you will have to contend with. That isn't to say that you can't just kill them off before tackling the boss, just that they will be there at the beginning of the encounter.
While the game doesn't feel repetitive, the enemies do. With the exception of one boss fight late in the game, you fight EVERY enemy at least twice if not more. The first boss you encounter (also the one from the demo) you encounter another 4 to 5 times in the game. Grunt soldiers are supposed to feel like you've seen them before because they're cannon fodder filler, but for almost every boss to show up multiple times seems kind of lame.
Getting back to the use of BT. It's great because you can activate it whenever you want. Just dodge in any direction and hold the aim button/trigger right after and viola! Instant Bullet Time. The problem is when you get seriously hit and put into auto BT. When put into this critical state, your suit's gauge is already depleted from protecting you and then gets thrown in BT, leaving you with a best of 2/3 of a full gauge. Plus you can not exit or cancel this auto BT. You have to let your suit's gauge run out before you can go back to normal. So basically since you're in slo-mo running isn't an option and since your suit's gauge is rapidly being depleted you can't really boost slide anywhere. What you're left with is not being able to move to safety until BT ends and not being able to fire fast enough to shoot all the bullets/missiles coming at you.
The characters are likeable and not super annoying like I was expecting. Case in point, Robert Burns, the cartoonishly gruff commanding officer. When I first heard his voice, I asked myself who let Christian Bale's Batman get into doing voice over work? His voice is seriously that ridiculous. The banter between Burns and Sam quickly goes from two rams locking horns to two brothers picking on each other. And I have to say, the best line if the entire game comes from Burns. I really wish I had written it down when he said it. Or at least been able to go back and re-listen to that and everything after because I fell out laughing and missed the following conversation. I won't ruin the quote by trying to recall it, but it's about a Roomba. You'll know it when you hear it.
Sam is a likeable character. He's got morals and is obviously not a soldier in terms of how they think. Letting men die just to complete a mission doesn't sit well with him. He's slightly cocky, but only when provoked; usually by Burns. He's also a smoker. A heavy smoker. I did wonder where he kept his smokes and why the suit didn't have a lighter built in. Hell, it could do all that other fancy stuff like have a transforming gun, but couldn't light a cigarette? C'mon.
Every other character is forgettable. From the (female) President of USA, to the Russian terrorist leader, to your eyes in the sky and I guess the fan service of the game, Elena. All of them aren't really bad, but none of them are worth noting. Would I play this game again? You bet! Just to see the action again, I'd spend another 6 hours going through it. Speaking of going through it, when you complete the game, you unlock the "God Hard" difficulty. I can't make this stuff up, people. That's what it's called. The God Hard difficulty is exactly what it sounds like. I tried it right after playing through the entire game and the first grunt I encountered killed me. The very first grunt that in normal mode isn't even worth noting, dropped me on my face. It felt like God Hand's hard mode all over again and I didn't have the patience for it.
There is no multiplayer for this game and rightfully so. No one would want to play as anyone but Sam. Why play as anyone else, when Sam can roll dodge bullets, go into Bullet Time, change from machine gun to rocket launcher and shoot someone in the face? Why play as a peasant when you can play as the king?
If you have even the slightest inclination of wanting to try this game, get it. It's action how it should be done; visually spectacular, a little bit ridiculous, and not taking itself too seriously. Out of TOV 5 stars, I'm giving this a 4.5 out of 5. I can't wait to see if we get a sequel.