Vanquish Review
Xbox 360 | PS3
Vanquish box art
System: X360, PS3 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Platinum Games 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Sega 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Oct. 19, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Under Heavy Fire
by Steve Haske

When Mega Man and Dead Rising creator Keiji Inafune said that Japanese games in development today were “awful,” and that the game industry was “five years behind” at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, he was referring to the seeming lack of innovative ideas coming out of Japan today.

Vanquish screenshot

Inafune has a point; these days it’s no easy task to ignore the near-endless waves of cookie-cutter action titles, blasé anime-inspired niche strategy games, and JRPGs that saturate the shelves of game shops both domestically as well as overseas. Of course, as a counter-argument I would posit that Western games are often just as set in their ways. As of late, the would-be solution that most Japanese developers try is to either appeal to a very specific Japanese niche market or simply take a Western approach to series both old and new. The common result of such thinking—outsourcing well-known Japanese series to western development teams—is generally a noble attempt to breathe new life into stagnant properties, not to mention create a diversified market from which Japanese gaming giants can theoretically cull new financial lifeblood. But it’s often largely a business decision over a creative one, and the quality of these partnerships seems to be pretty hit-or-miss. It should come as no surprise then few games that make an honest attempt at breaching the cultural divide between East and West game design, making hybrids that draw from the best of both styles rare, to say the least. Instead we see creatively bankrupt imitations of Western design, without so much as a single original thought put forth as to how this Eastern knockoff could possibly differentiate itself culturally or innovatively from its decidedly western template (Quantum Theory, I’m looking at you).

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Vanquish, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of this kind of game. In an industry where Japanese developers seem desperate to try to tap into Western design sensibilities, Vanquish’s one-of-a-kind take on cover shooting—quite possibly one of the most static (and often bland) iterations of Western action game design to come out of the past half-decade or so—isn’t just a Japanese game masquerading in Western clothes. It’s Western game made by a Japanese developer. From its style to its breakneck pace, its hybrid philosophy is as much Robotech as it is Gears, borrowing some basic western shooter tenets and sprucing them up in a way that arguably only a Japanese developer could. Vanquish is the result of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami’s desire to make a pure action game, and it really is a product of two worlds.

Vanquish screenshot

On the surface, Vanquish probably most closely resembles a cross between Gears of War and an anime-influenced Halo, given the sleek, cybernetic suit worn throughout the game by Sam Gideon, a highly-trained DARPA operative. But it’s not really a cover shooter, or even a standard one. You’ll have to make use of cover from time to time, but the frenetic pacing here means you’re going to be zipping around aboard a massive, war-torn space station using a slide maneuver that’s something like a cross between in-line grinding in an extreme sports game and continuous dashing as seen in mech titles like Virtual-On. Sam can slide across a battlefield in a matter of seconds, making wide swaths around enemies while targeting them or flying into cover practically on a dime. While the slide will make your suit overheat, you won’t be running around like a normal soldier very much—at least not if you want to stay alive. In terms of pure control, Sam’s suit feels closest to the orbital frames in Zone of The Enders, specializing in fluid maneuvers that give Vanquish a high-octane feel. All the anime influence is still layered on top of pretty standard run, duck, and gun mechanics, but the fast pace of the battles here barely resemble the comparative plodding pacing of most cover shooters.

Speed is only half of the equation, though. Sam’s Augmented Reactive Suit (ARS) also lets him distort the battlefield environment around him, essentially slowing down time. This so-called AR mode is basically Vanquish’s version of bullet-time, but Mikami and company designed Vanquish so that you’ll need to use it in conjunction with your speed-based evasive and tactical capabilities, giving the mechanic a distinct feel. You can activate AR mode after performing a dodge roll, leaping over cover, or sliding in any direction. Being able to slow time to a crawl while jetting across an open path in battle (while gunning down a host of enemies in your wake) is as effective as it is a blast to perform (or even just to watch). When it comes to action, Vanquish will spoil you: you’re just going to want to slide around with the speed and agility you have here in every other action game after you play this one.

Vanquish screenshot

Screenshots / Images
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