Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review: Vanquish

It’s not often you’re faced with a game that features a chain-smoking protagonist and plenty of gratuitous upskirt camera shots but Vanquish combines the two with aplomb. It’s refreshing in a world that demands excessive political correctness that Shinji Mikami - the brains behind the acclaimed Resident Evil series – has been able to get away with such things and create this fantastic title; a game that is not only massively entertaining but one that enhances existing elements of the traditional third person shooter genre. SEGA and Platinum Games’ latest sci-fi epic is a must-buy game.

So what do you get for your money? Robots. Big, bad-ass robots. The biggest bad guys since Lost Planet 2. And guns, lots of guns. And explosions. Oh, and a plot that’s as daft as it gets.

Population growth has gone haywire and the planet is bursting at the seams with the population now in excess of 10bn. Resources are dwindling. The canny US government thus decided to enter the final frontier and set up some funky solar-harvesting space station in the stratosphere. Unfortunately, the Russian government is overthrown and replaced by an extremist group ominously called the Order of the Russian Star - which is intent of taking some of that solar goodness for itself. Cue an attack on aforementioned space station, the launch of devastating energy waves that raze parts of the US to the ground and the dawn of yet another war between the old enemies.

Clearly, the US government isn't going to take this lying down and responds to the threat by sending hardened war veteran, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Burns (no, not Scotland's favourite son!), and his crack team of marines skyward to go and sort things out. But they're not alone - oh, no, they've got lovable rogue and our overall good guy Sam Gideon along for the ride. And he’s wearing a funky robot suit.

Sam isn't your typical former-American football player turned hero, Sam's a chain-smoking researcher from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) - and he doesn't like Russians. In fact, he likes nothing better than to don his rather high tech armour suit (or Augmented Reaction Suit - ARS) and dive, boost and blast his way through their ranks without a care in the world. As you may have gathered, he’s got a pretty great “ARS”; the integrated jet packs allowing him to scoot about the place at speed for a limited time, while the suit is also capable of scanning nearby firearms and morphing into them to give Sam huge amounts of firepower. As an aside to despatching those pesky Russian Star guys, Sam also has to rescue missing scientist Professor Candide - helped by the short skirt-wearing Elena.

And so the scene is set. It’s not surprising that the story is pretty woolly – or that the stars of the game are caricatures. Afterall, Platinum Games’ deal with Sony has already brought us the likes of Bayonetta and MadWorld – so these guys have got form.

But ignore the stupidity and the machismo and you’ll discover an amazing title that takes the benchmark set by the acclaimed Gears of War and racks it up a notch.
The ARS is a device that’s used very well by the developers; not only does the shiny utility suit help you dart about the place to avoid incoming fire or duck into cover, it also acts as a last gasp shield – providing a brief period of protection should you receive too much damage. This sees the action slow to Matrix-style bullet time, allowing you to take evasive action and recuperate.

Graphically, it’s all very impressive. The environments are colourful and sprawling, and don’t degrade when a lot is happening onscreen or when using your super-fast jet packs. Aurally, it’s equally strong – with decent voice acting and suitably raspy weapon sounds.

The AI is decent too and the range of enemies offers plenty of variety, requiring players to adjust their tactics, fighting style and weapons accordingly. Besides the red footsoldier robots that succumb easily to a well-placed headshot and the smaller ball-like machines that roll about and then pound you with gun fire, there are plenty of tougher adversaries too. Not so long after starting your quest you’ll face the massive Argus robot – a four-legged beasty that soaks up your gunfire before transforming into its taller two-legged guise. It’s an absolute behemoth but seeing it explode after numerous attempts proves hugely rewarding and drives you on.

As you may have gathered, this game is a firm favourite – it is, however, woefully short, coming in at around 7-8 hours even on the hardest setting; those among you who opt for Casual difficulty will complete the game in half that. However, I doubt whether there’s much of a replayability factor beyond the separate challenge missions and mopping up any left over achievements. One of these is awarded for making it through the game without dying once – an achievement that may prove elusive to this reviewer seeing as I died a staggering 74 times on the first level alone (your kills, deaths and mission time is shown at the end of each mission).

To maximise your enjoyment, we’d definitely recommend tackling this on Hard the first time round – after an initially steep learning curve while learning your suit’s abilities, you’ll soon master the controls and be sliding and shooting with ease.

This is a fantastic title – and, even better, it’s now available in most stores for an absolute pittance. Highly recommended. Just can’t wait for a sequel!