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bebopsamurai in 24_hr_gamer

If John Woo made "Iron Man" (Vanquish Review)

Game: Vanquish
Rating: M
Platform: Xbox 360/Playstation 3
Developer: Platinumgames
Publisher: Sega
Released: October 2010

If there's a two-word distillation of what I've determined Platinumgame's development philosophy to be, it would have to be 'player empowerment.'

Sure, the narratives are at least always fun and the characters are likeable (if not exactly unfamiliar) interpretations of time-tested archetypes, but every one of their works have been about making you feel like the coolest motherfucker on the planet no matter how you play it, combined with plenty of freedom as far as individual approaches/playstyles are concerned.  They're about you walking into a room and putting all the tools out there for you to make it your hyperstylized little bitch... if you're up to it. 

And so this trend continues with "Vanquish," the first-ever Third-Person-Real-Time-Strategy-Spectacle-Shooter.


First, stop me if you've heard "Vanquish's" setup before-- In the future, an evil group of Russians has attacked Ameri-- oh.  Yes, if you've played pretty much any shooter in the last three years, the game's narrative skeleton isn't exactly going to wow you, but just like with "Sonic the Hedgehog 4," we're not exactly here to get our story on today.  In fact, a passing similarity to "Modern Warfare 2" and the fact that spending too much time in the open will get you perforated are about the most "Vanquish" has in common with those other shooters. 

But then you hit the 'Boost' button and it's suddenly clear that you're not in Kansas anymore.  And even speaking as someone who enjoys a little "Call of Duty" now and then, thank God for that shit.

The biggest thing that separates "Vanquish" from other shooters this year-- and frankly, nearly every shooter currently out there-- is the fact that it is face-meltingly fast.  We're talking Sonic-Meets-F-Zero-Meets-Crank-Meets-Equilibrium-Fast.  We're talking, do not try any of the reckless (or even 'safe') tactics that can get you through "Gears of War" or "Rainbow Six" or any other third-person-cover-based-shooter or the game will kill you dead faster than you can say "who the fuck shot me?!"

This isn't to say that "Vanquish" is all about forcing you to play a specific way, but there is an underlying order to the absurd degree of chaos going on around you at practically any moment that's definitely to your benefit to understand.  Once you do, the game opens its doors wide, and the mental transition from a horde of enemies as a vicious unit to a sequence of deadly puzzles to be deciphered is key to what makes "Vanquish" not just faster, but smarter than most of its gun-loving brethren.

Compounded by your multipurpose melee/boost/slow-mo energy bar (a decision that initally struck me as odd but with hindsight is more of a deliberate strategic element), there's a degree of depth in "Vanquish's" gameplay beyond the basics of 'run/shoot/hide/reload'. 

Weapons are color-coded for easy recognition.  Grabbing another of the same type, if you're already on full ammo, adds to that weapon's upgrade ladder (a utilitarian approach so brilliant and so simple I'm literally astounded no one else has thought of this).  Boost from cover-to-cover, going into bullet-time on the way to take out a few pesky robots in a fortified position.  Boost-kick a larger enemy back, then hit slow-mo at the apex of your flip to rack up extra damage.  Toss a grenade for decent splash-damage, or shoot it in midair for a more devastating radius.  Like "Bayonetta" from earlier this year, "Vanquish" is a take on an established genre that doesn't seem like much on the surface, but once you crack the shell it's a real treat for anyone looking for richness in terms of design.

However, I must stress that-- while "Vanquish" is absolutely one of the best games of the year-- it's just not as good as Platinumgame's other title from earlier in 2010.  Weighed against others in this genre, Shinji Mikami's newest IP literally leaves them in the dust, but it's a bit of a letdown if you're looking for "Bayonetta but as a shooter," especially in terms of goodies.

"Bayonetta" gave you plenty of reasons to keep coming back, from new difficulty modes to new weapons to secret bosses to hidden characters and combat-boosting accessories, not to mention that it ended so completely and on such a bang that it practically killed the notion of a sequel because there was just no way to top it. 

"Vanquish," to be fair, does at least have the absolutely brutal God Hard Mode and five lengthy challenge rooms, but that's really about it.  And that's ignoring the rather unsatisfying ending and some eyeroll-worthy 'twists' that remind you rather rudely that why yes, this is indeed the guy who made "Resident Evil," after all, and don't you forget it because we sure as fuck aren't going to let you.

But these are all minor nitpicks against a game that is utterly sublime when it is being a game-- which unlike some, is pretty much all the time.  True, clocking in around 8-10 hours it's not very long but again I'm reminded of my personal philosophy that I'd rather have a short great game than a long boring one, and few embody this nearly as well as "Vanquish."

If you feel like the the shooter landscape has become rather monotonous of late, or even if you're looking for something different between "Reach" and "Black Ops," this one that practically demands your time.

The Good: Remarkably deep gameplay, excellent visual design, fun characters, speed and bullet-time done right

The Bad: Some bosses are frequent repeat-offenders, energy bar feels too damn short, lackluster sequel-bait ending

The Ugly: "HA HA, robot, I cut off your legs!  Whaddaya think about tha--" *SUICIDE BOMB* "FUCK"

Rating: Q/% Explosive Hits of the 70's For the Custom Soundtrack

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