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    REVIEW: Vanquish

    Space marines, cover-based battle, and quick-time events are some of the most clichéd ideas in the action genre. Vanquish attempts to build on the mundane by allowing you to spring out of cover and slide a hundred meters forward on your knees, while skillfully picking off your opposition with sniper rifle headshots, and at the end of your jet-propelled dash, breakdancing into an evasive roll, before dashing up a 30 foot tall robot, to punch his head off, clean. Sure it sounds good in theory, but can Vanquish pull it off in practice?

    Set in the not-too-distant future, Russian ultra-nationalists have hijacked American technology, harnessing its power to completely level San Fransisco. They threaten to strike New York City next unless the USA surrenders unconditionally. This is your cue. You assume control of DARPA agent Sam Gideon, operator of two experimental military weapons; the Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS), which allows you to pull off super-human feats, and the transforming BLADE weapon system, which can scan 3 different weapons and keep them in memory, allowing you to switch freely between. Under the President's orders, Sam is to accompany an elite squad of Marines to quell the Russian threat and repossess the stolen technology by any means necessary.

    Vanquish moves fast and expects you to keep up. Think Gears of War meets F-Zero, completely over the top and exhilarating. The sliding boost is a maneuver taken straight from the racing genre, yet works incredibly well on a guy brandishing a big gun. You move so quickly, it's almost impossible to properly aim. Fortunately, when you enter precision aim during a slide your reflexes heighten, in essence slowing time, and making Sam nigh unstoppable. The system has a bit of a learning curve, but once you get it right, the action is almost unparalleled. There's a balance to be found though, as you can only slide for so long before your suit overheats, and you're without your trump card. The system is tactically implemented, so actions such as firing after an evasive roll slowly drains your Augmented Reaction (AR) gauge. Delivering melee attacks overheats your ARS instantaneously, punishing the overly aggressive with an undignified death.

    While I do appreciate having to appraise the situations Sam slides into, one melee attack before overheating is not enough. I felt like the pace of the game was limited by not allowing you to mix close quarter combat more effortlessly with high speed movement. For such a stylish and cinematic experience, not being able to slide at an enemy, put him out of commission with a right hook, and jet onward to your next target feels like a faux pas. 

    The BLADE system can memorize any three weapons you find, allowing you to switch on a whim between your weapons of choice. It's a clever way of carrying multiple armaments, stymied only by the lack of weapon variation. Providing you don't have the pre-order DLC weapon pack, Sam is limited to the same 8 guns. The weapons are all pretty varied and even tie into the type of melee attack you perform, but adding a little more variety and choice is never a bad thing. 

    That said, BLADE is implemented well. It's not a stretch to jump out of cover into an AR slide to snipe a distant enemy, switch to your heavy machine gun to dispatch the closest foe, then toggle to your launcher and fire a rocket at the mech just ahead of you, immediately before rolling into a comfy new spot of cover. It creates cinematic action scenes that are quite entrancing and fun when played correctly. Unfortunately, it seems some of the best action occurs during cut scenes, or segments where you're not in complete control of Sam, such as quick-time events during the gigantic boss battles.

    Art Design
    Though the graphics aren't revolutionary, the art is generally well done. The backdrops are a nice mix of flat, sterile futurism and bright, beautiful colors. The character designs are simple, yet done well enough to bring the personalities to life. From the scruffy, chain-smoking Sam, Burns' hulking cybernetic frame, and Elena's near-upskirt moments, each character has his or her own endearing nuances. The weapons too, seem to pulse with life, especially when you watch the BLADE system transform from one weapon to another. I found myself wishing there was an unlockable art gallery, where I could better appreciate the pleasing aesthetics that are almost impossible to admire at Vanquish's breakneck gameplay speed. 

    The maps are fairly linear and lacking diversity, though I guess you don't really have much to work with when the majority of the plot is set within a space colony. The level designers made a couple of questionable decisions, such as limiting certain segments to an area no bigger than an apartment in Tokyo, which completely nullifies the slide, one of Vanquish's defining mechanics. It would have been nice to see the developers embrace the speed and style element more often, littering tons of enemies and environmental obstacles on far-stretching straightaways, where you just slide, shoot, and look like a boss in the process.

    As a side, creator Shinji Mikami has said he took much influence from Casshern, but I wonder if some of the game's designs are an homage to the Gundam universe. There were a few separate occasions that reminded me of Gundam, such as the O'Neill Cylinder colony design, a character's cybernetics appearing similar to the Gundam GP-02, and another character's armor taking a few nods from Gundam Wing. As a fan of the classic anime series, seeing some of its elements in Vanquish was a very pleasant surprise.

    Sound Design
    The heavy electronic soundtrack seems to fit the world nicely, though that doesn't mean I was grooving along with it. There is not much musical artistry to be found, but that's not to say it was needed either. A good chunk of the game is played in AR Mode, where the slowed time nullifies the music anyway.

    As for the voice acting, thankfully you have the option to switch to different languages, as the English option was just awful. Hearing Sam talk to Burns sounds like an old man with throat cancer having a conversation with himself. Yes, it was that bad. Switching the spoken language to Japanese (or French, or Spanish, or German) saved my ears from bleeding. I know these guys are supposed to be grizzled marines, but that doesn't mean they should have voices like grizzly bears.

    Because the sense of speed in Vanquish cannot be captured through screenshots, here is a random speed run video 

    Though a bit on the short side (I got through it in a shade under 6 hours), Vanquish is a lot of fun for the gamer who appreciates speed, style, and the shooter genre. The story is a bit on the muddled side, but the pulse-pounding action does its best to make up for it. Without multiplayer, or any promised support via DLC, Vanquish may feel like a bit of a one-and-done, but I'll be damned if it doesn't have one of the greatest credit rolls I've seen at the end of a game.

    Buy it if: You love stylish action and speed runs, you're competitive on leaderboards, you find it on sale
    Don't Buy it if: You need multiplayer, you prefer a slow paced experience, you're paying full price
    The Score: 7 outta 10 blasters!

    Reader Comments (1)

    Review Civ 5!!! I need a gangsta review!

    December 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Proofmeister

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