Friday, 12 November 2010

Game Review - Vanquish

Formats: PS3, Xbox 360

Western developers had been dominating the gaming industry of late. With heavy-hitters such as Rockstar, Epic, Valve and Electronic Arts consistently pumping out AAA titles, our friends in the East must try new ideas in order to win back our hearts (no, another Monster Hunter game will not suffice). Vanquish represents Platinum Game's (the creators of Bayonetta) crack at a genre that is already flooded with great games from the Western World: The Third-Person Shooter.

Vanquish certainly feels different from any third-person cover-based shooter I've played. The main character, Sam (a chain-smoking stubble-sporting tough guy, who is a bandanna away from being called Solid Snake) moves with a fluid zippiness that is a pleasure to control. The aesthetic design moves away from the dirty browns and greys and instead incorporates shiny whites and neon blues, similar to Konami's giant-robot-em-up Zone of the Enders.
In fact, Vanquish shares a lot in common with Hideo Kojima's 'not-metal-gear' game. The horde of Cyclopean enemy robots, the fireworks display of neon lasers, the maneuverability of a guy in a rocket-boosting robot suit and frenetic, chaotic combat.

Unfortunately at times it can be a little too chaotic. At many points in the game, I found myself dissatisfied with certain sequences because of how boringly I performed during it. You see, Sam's ARS (read: fancy robot suit) comes equipped with lots of abilities, such as unique melee attacks from each weapon you can equip, a Max-Panye style dodge and slow-motion technique and of course the much-publicised boost ability. All these techniques are best used at medium-to-close range for the most dramatic effect, allowing the player to nimbly boost from enemy to enemy, dispatching them one by one in a deadly ballet of bullets and fists.

Or so I thought. The game's level design and enemy placement however forces you to hang back and pick off enemies from afar most of the time and punishing more gung-ho tactics (for example, landing a successful melee attack completely drains your suit's power leaving you exceptionally vulnerable). The over-enthusiastic friendly AI also ruins it slightly by rushing in and eliminating enemies before you even get a chance to plan an attack. I often felt that the game would be improved if your AI allies were left out, but perhaps this was Platinum's attempts at making the player feel part of a larger army, an atypically Japanese approach.

There were moments when Vanquish did really shine. The huge boss fights were incredible (the Dr Manhattan-esque Crystal Viper and mysterious Unknown were particular favourites) and some of the more over-the-top sequences were really breathtaking, showing a sense of scale and verticality not seen in other shooters. Certain shoot-outs did work perfectly, when the level design provided enough cover for me to get creative with my moves but enough enemies to present a challenge. And it has to be said, Vanquish looks spectacular throughout, and never stuttered once despite the carnage onscreen.

Vanquish is a strange beast. At once a very Western-inspired game (check out the Gears of War 2 sequence in the darkened tunnel) but also quintessentially Japanese. It is these opposing impulses that create the conflict within Vanquish, a character that wants to get in the enemy's face, but a gameplay design that prevents it. If Platinum learns from this and creates a sequel that marries the concept of cover-shooting and melee combat, they may have a hit on their hands. As it is, with its short length, lack of online and replay value, Vanquish may drop off most people's radar. But I hope this is not the last we see of East-meets-West video game design. First-Person-Shooter Pokemon, anybody?

Lukao gives Vanquish 7 guyver suits out of 10 Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
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