Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami takes aim at the American gamer with an over-the-top third-person shooter that reeks of bravado, second-hand smoke and gunpowder. But Vanquish is mostly flash.
- A rare mix of American bravado and Japanese robot fetishism.
- Nifty and imaginative shooter mechanics.
- The best use of cigarettes since Metal Gear.
- Very little replay value.
- Big action set pieces can't save the homogeneous campaign.
- The plot talks loud, but says nothing.
Vanquish, the new third-person shooter from Shinji Mikami and Platinum Games, is a strange beast. On one hand, the game has been crafted to appeal to Western audiences. The entire affair is a prolonged gun fight starring a pair of grizzled military men with more gravel in their throats then ten miles of freeway; however, it’s still profoundly Japanese. Vanquish brims with silly cut scenes, giant robots and transforming space ships. It's also completely devoid of mutliplayer – competitive or otherwise – meaning you'll probably be done with Vanquish in a weekend.
Shooters aren't known for their strong single-player stories. Some, like Gears of War, pull their chins above the very low bar for narrative. Vanquish just barely avoids clocking its forehead.
It’s the not-so-near future and the economically ravaged Earth has sent a hunk of its population to live in a giant (totally not inspired by Halo) space station. An evil Russian, aiming to challenge America's supremacy, hijacks an orbital super-weapon and fries San Francisco. Our hero, Sam Gideon, joins a team of space marines (led by the laughably bulky Lt. Col. Robert Burns) on a mission to stop the Russians and their army of robots from destroying New York. Gunfights and boss battles ensue.
The meat and potatoes of Vanquish is a hearty meal. The gunplay is damn good. And unlike the COGs in Gears of War, Sam Gideon moves like he has someplace to go and his version of the “roadie run” is a jet-propelled power slide that feels all kinds of awesome to execute. Gideon's arsenal of weapons isn’t anything to write home about, except for the fact that they slowly upgrade as you play. Grab ammo when your weapon's clip is full and it'll rank up. It's a clever little mechanic that makes you pause to think for the half-second breaks between firefights.
Vanquish is full of many similar nifty tweaks. Gideon, ignoring centuries of Surgeon General's warnings, can light up a cigarette when in cover. Flicking his smoldering butt will distract some enemies, allowing Sam to get the jump on them. With his high-tech armor at full capacity he can roll out of cover into slo-mo, shooting missiles out of the air and dodging individual bullets as they whiz past. Sadly, all these insanely cool parts don't add up to a cohesive whole. Rather, Vanquish's action unspools across five barely discernible acts, punctuated by several ambitious, but ultimately forgettable set pieces.
Extreme But Empty
When the curtain closes on Vanquish there's a palpable feeling that something is missing. Where Gears of War has killer co-op, Vanquish has only single-player tactical missions. You've got to really be in love with this particular brand of pop-and-stop gunplay to find that much replay value in this package.
Beyond this disappointing oversight there's something else lacking in Vanquish – a heart. The game rides the knife's edge between parody and guileless bluster so well that its impossible to tell exactly what the game has to say about anything. If Vanquish is poking fun at Solid Snake, Master Chief and every gun-toting videogame hero that has come since it does so with nary a wink. It's more likely that Shinji Mikami and company are like a cover band, rocking their shooter in the style of their favorite American hits. They may have the chops, but they can't write a tune to save their lives.