PlatinumGames has had a bit of a rough ride since their formation back in 2006. Despite delivering a number of high-quality titles, none have achieved the unit sales they deserved. MADWORLD may have been hampered by lack of interest in its host format from the target audience and Bayonetta undoubtedly limited its own potential due to a very definite cult appeal, while Infinite Space may have always been destined to exist under-the-radar. Vanquish could well be the title to change all that, with a launch on high-definition systems and a much more western appeal in its Science-Fiction presentation. But in a market where original and inventive titles such as Ninja Theory’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West fail to perform against more established franchises despite gleaming review scores, it’s clear that nothing is certain.
Vanquish delivers high-octane shooting action in a futuristic world where wars are no longer fought on the Earth’s landmasses, but instead on a space station high above the planet. High-quality cinematics and some well developed characters provide a basis that Bayonetta sorely missed; a grounded that offers greater appeal to a mass market western audience and yet retaining the strength of it’s Japanese heritage. For those in the know, there are a number of key components that make Vanquish unmistakeably Japanese, but to the casual observer it appears very Star Wars, very Halo, and very Gears of War.
These are lazy comparisons however, as while Gears of War is founded on the same third-person shooting, waist-high cover mechanic, that’s where the similarities end. Vanquish is a fast-paced game that has just as much in common with Epic Games’ high-profile series as it does with Crackdown 2. Players are given cover to lock too, but are positively encouraged to spend their time moving around the battlefield, stopping behind walls and crates only for a minute, breaking the opponent’s line-of-fire before charging forward once more. In Vanquish, players are always on the aggressive side, taking down enemy forces swiftly and brazenly, as they move towards their next target.
Thankfully, a well devised tutorial presents the basis for Vanquish without overstaying its welcome. Taking stabs at the traditional tutorial presentation while only tying the player to the learning of basic commands only briefly, players can opt to get straight into the action after little beyond the decision of inverting the axis and changing the control layout on the pad; the player isn’t kept form the actual game any further, though of course there are further training options available for those who wish to be fully prepared.
Though the tutorial provides an immediate explanation of the acrobatics available to the player, it only skims the surface when discussing weapon types and monitoring. Likely to prove the most confusing aspect of Vanquish for inexperienced players, only three weapons can be held at any one time, selectable on the D-Pad. Collecting a weapon already held will increase the amount of ammo available, and when full will offer an upgrade to the capacity or firepower of that weapon. However, it’s never explained whether those upgrades remain with the weaponry if the player chooses to swap it out for a different firearm (they do), nor whether re-equipping a previous weapon will retain its full ammo quota (it won’t). Most players are likely to overlook this perhaps unnecessary confusion, being the only minor irritation in an otherwise incredibly well designed shooting system.
One of the most surprising aspects of Vanquish is the camera system. Controlled as with near-any modern third-person game, Vanquish is unique in that in the heat of battle players can rely upon the software to interpret their needs without demanding unnecessary caution with the right analog stick. The elegant camera moves in-and-out of a scene with little prompt, and rarely offers less than the perfect viewpoint. Undoubtedly one of the most precise and well designed camera systems third-person shooting games have ever seen, Vanquish will be an inspiration to many future titles in the genre.
In Vanquish, Acts are broken down in a similar fashion to Bayonetta, delivering mid-level stats and giving players the opportunity to improve their scores at a later date without having to replay entire Acts. Given this score system and the leaderboard set-up, it’s obvious to see that Vanquish is a game that’s intended to be played not once for its story, but as a high-score challenge in the same way as Bayonetta. Sitting side-by-side with this replayability is the longevity issue. Prior to launch there was some discussion about the length of Vanquish, suggesting that the game could be completed within a startlingly short period of time. While Electronic Theatre has no doubt that expert players will be able to speed-run the game in only a handful of hours after a great deal of practice, to suggest that the average player would complete the game in a less-than-average timeframe is not simply disingenuous, but in fact an outright lie. Even on auto-casual difficulty, most players while find a couple of evenings worth of entertainment with just a single playthrough.
In an effort to appeal to a larger audience Vanquish has sacrificed much of the hidden depth that Bayonetta presented. Despite having a well designed shooting mechanic, there’s far less flexibility in the combat and a much less elaborate series of boss fights than PlatinumGames’ previous action game efforts. Vanquish isn’t necessarily a poorer game for it, but perhaps could be considered diluted in an effort to attract a larger audience. Vanquish most definitely continues the developer’s string of fantastically designed games, and has certainly benefited from the lessons learned with previous releases. If ever PlatinumGames were to reach the audience they so obviously deserve, Vanquish would be the title to do it.