The third-person shooter has largely been thought of as being related to only a few titles. The Gears of War series comes to mind, with Ghost Recon and the SOCOM series being other well-known titles. Despite the setting, all play largely the same, follow a very similar mission structure, and feature very similar multiplayer action. Even the most hardcore third-person shooter fan would have to admit the game play is becoming a little stale: Run to the next objective, shoot some enemies, take cover, rinse and repeat.
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Vanquish for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 requires players to do largely the same things: take cover from enemy fire, utilize different weapons for different tactical advantages, etc. But the things it does differently are striking, taking the well established third-person shooter formula and injecting it with a sense of speed, adrenaline, and urgency all but absent in other shooters, whether they are third or first person. I say with no hyperbole that has been one of the fastest, most enjoyable shooters I’ve ever played, and will undoubtedly be remembered (at least from a game play perspective) for a very long time.
Game play-wise, Vanquish is essentially Gears of War meets Devil May Cry, with a little Zone of the Enders mech-on-mech action thrown in for good measure. You control Sam Gideon, ex-college football player now employed with the DARPA agency, and the wearer of the ARS Battle Suit, a mechanized exo skeleton which enables him to perform amazing feats of physical strength and agility impossible for a normal human. Within a few minutes of playing, you’ll soon become used to Sam’s bag of tricks and be pulling feats of daring you’d never even think of trying in other third-person shooters. The game controls much like any other third-person shooter, with a cover and shooting mechanic similar to anyone who has played Gears of War. However, the game play difference comes in with the addition of your boost button and your AR mode. With the simple push of your left bumper (or L1 for PS3 owners), you can quickly boost across the battlefield from one area to another. This is one part of what makes the game play so fun. Need to quickly get behind cover? Boost there. An obstacle or object quickly coming your way? Boost out of the way. Need to target an enemy’s weak spot? You guessed it: boost away. The AR mode allows the player to slow down the time for a brief period and take advantage of slower moving enemies, making it easier to hit them in their weak areas or avoid their attacks. Both of these mechanics come with a price: use them too much, and your suit overheats, making you vulnerable to enemy attacks. This introduces a nice risk-reward system, allowing the player to take risks with his arsenal of moves but not letting him go overboard, which always runs the risk of making the game too easy.
Another interesting mechanic is the weapon upgrade system used to level your weapons. You can pick up various weapons and use them against enemies, but when you pick up two or more of the same weapon, this not only adds to your ammo count but adds to an upgrade system that allows you to upgrade your ammo count and the weapon's power. Once again, this is a nice mechanic which goes beyond the vanilla assault rifles and rocket launchers found in most shooters.
The enemies you face in Vanquish are fast and come in a variety of different types, from hulking behemoths that carry huge drills to flying ones which transform from bipedal humanoids to helicopters within seconds of surrounding you. Even the boss fights are massive, with giant robots which transform numerous times during the battle and tower over the player, Shadow of the Colossus-style. Never once did I go into a boss fight expecting a simple outcome, as each time, I was constantly tested in my combat skills.
Vanquish's story is another bright point in the fact that it does not take itself too seriously. In fact, it seems more like a parody of some famous shooters recently released. The plot is straight out of a cheesy sci fi action flick with the city of San Francisco being destroyed by Russian extremist forces and their massive robot army located in a giant floating space station in orbit. Your commander has the rough and gruff tough-guy voice, and even some of the soldiers' one liners would easily fit in any action flick. The story is hokey, the voice acting cheesy, the bad guys ridiculously over-the-top -- Vanquish is a game with a sense of humor. With tons of serious shooters released with glum heroes in dark gray and brown color palettes, it’s nice to osee a game not take itself too seriously and try to have a good time. Like a good summer popcorn flick, it’s enjoyable and lot of fun to be a part of.
One could point out the relatively short length of the game and the lack of multiplayer options, but in reality, would it have worked? If the game was any longer than it was, it wouldn't be as fast paced -- the game's momentum would have been ruined. Multiplayer could have been a bunch of players running around shooting one another, but first off, how is that any different from any other third-person shooter multiplayer, and more important, how the AR system and the boosting would have worked without being ridiculously broken is beyond me. Vanquish follows a very old school design at heart: play the game, get high scores, and repeat as necessary. It shows that games don’t need multiplayer or tons of options to just be fun, something sorely missed from many modern games.
Vanquish is all about carnage and violence at 100 MPH. For those who love shooters, action, mechs, anime, robots, cheesy villains, over-the-top plots, or girls in short skirts, Vanquish is your game. Have fun and enjoy. There probably won’t be another one like this for awhile.