Saturday, June 18, 2011

Alright, maggots. Let's kill some space Russkies.

Hi again! We're back for another episode of Everybody Loves Sho- wait, you mean I haven't been posting? Oops. I guess I forgot. My sincerest apologies.

I'm sitting at home, and am not yet working. I'm also taking care of a friend's PS3. And the collection of games that come with it. So I pick up one that I thought looked interesting while he was playing it.

Yes, it's time for... [cue over-dramatic gravelly voice] Vanquish.

The first thing you notice, on starting Vanquish, is that it is very pretty. It is a very pretty game. I don't know if it's just the magic of being on the PS3 that makes it gorgeous, but it is - environments lovingly crafted, robots and armor and weapons with thousands of tiny parts all moving in perfect synchrony... Suffice to say, it's exceedingly pretty. However, the game seems to have a very minor case of what I've come to call "Elder Scrolls Syndrome": the models are completely beautiful, but the animations fall a bit short. It's certainly not nearly as bad as Morrowind and Oblivion's awkward single-frame jumping animations, but all the lip-syncing in the game was awkward and subpar, despite the gorgeous character models (and they are pretty). Aside from that, the only problems were the timing of some of the combat animations. The main character's breakdance stylings as he gets out of his rocket slides looked just bit too fast for me, although that's out of necessity for smooth gameplay.

The second thing you notice is just how ridiculous this game is in every way, and simultaneously how seriously it takes itself. This is really the source of Vanquish's charm, in my eyes - it's very over-the-top, and plays it all completely straight. Without spoiling too much: For the entire game, you fight (in space!) alongside hyper-American marines (in space!) against (and it should be stressed that I am not joking in the least here) SPACE RUSSIANS (in space!). The plot is pretty much the blandest thing ever written, from the introduction of the hyper-manly (space) marine commander, to the sequel hook at the very end. The main character is smarmy, snarky, and other words that mean the same thing. The pleasant thing, though, is that it never tries to be more than the pulp that it is. Vanquish's story is like the wrapping around a present of gameplay and graphics - the wrapping needs to be there, or half the joy of present-getting vanishes, but you ultimately throw in the trash once you're done with it.

A list of just two things to notice is deeply unsatisfying, so there's gotta be a third. What else but gameplay to fill out the holy triumvirate of reviews? Vanquish can't decide whether it wants to be a pure run-and-gun shooter or a straight cover shooter, and it's incredibly fun. I'm a little lost on this point, actually - I can't tell if it benefits from its mild case of multiple personality, or if it would have been better if it committed more purely to either one.
The cover mechanic is a little frustrating; a near-continuous stream of complaints about latching and unlatching from the right cover tells you that much, and enemies have a frustrating habit of either using one-hit-kill attacks that completely bypass your cover or simply running around your waist-high wall to shoot you from the back where you can't aim.
Run and gun, on the other hand... Well, you're pretty much screwed if you go out without the bullet time magic supersuit system running. If you run out in slow motion, though, then it's perfect - you get the chance to try for awesome shots, you zoom across the room on your rocket-powered thighs, and generally wreak havoc in the most awesome ways possible. This was the thing that really made me want to play the game - when Jem, in literally one of the first battles of the game, leaped over his cover to headshot an evil robot in mid-jump. And proceeded to repeat this trick several times.
Vanquish is an awesome game.
But here's the thing - for all the fun you have rocketing across the rooms, your system runs out really, really fast. And then you're stuck with your suit farting out cooling gases for nearly as long as you were superhuman, and, let me tell you, without the suit helping you out you're far from superhuman. It's intensely frustrating.
In the end, though, I think I have to come down on the split gameplay issue. Both the cover and bullet time run-and-gun aspects have their flaws, and it's tempting to say that they were trying to do too much - but ultimately, the game feels frantic and fast-paced in spite of your relatively powerful weapons and insane super suit, and that sense of speed and hectic combat comes from the ever-present danger the player finds themselves in. The drawbacks in both sides of the combat force you to, no matter, what, switch up your play style - and that's what keeps the game from being boring, in spite of the cookie cutter plot and characters.
Aside from the gameplay dichotomy (which, for all that I've made it sound jarring, is really very well integrated), Vanquish is really well-polished. Shooting is smooth and easy - a little slow in the aim, maybe, but overall quite good. Nothing in the game (with the possible exception of the super-suit sliding slow-motion) is innovative, which it benefits from - this game draws on the industry's years of experience making shooters. Vanquish is a game in the direction of a perfect twist on shooters, with neither the boring superpowered combat of Halo nor the boring "hide, shoot, hide, shoot, hide, shoot, don't move" combat cover shooters are plagued with.

So what's the takeaway? If you want to look at a pretty gruff guy shooting gorgeous robots with an array of very pretty guns in a breathtaking space station environment... Well, you get the idea. If you're looking for something deep and questioning that will make you engage in hours of soul-searching about the nature of war and the divisions artificially imposed on us by nationalities, and how space colonization could affect those issues... You really should go pick up another game - may I suggest Shadow of the Colossus? I'll ignore your answer to that question and recommend it anyway. It's in no way related to this game, but I would marry it if possible. Most importantly, if you want some very solid hectic shooter gameplay, with enough change and good enough overall design to keep you interested the entire time - this is definitely your game.
I probably wouldn't have purchased this on my own, because I'm a broke-ass college student with serious financial problems, but I definitely recommend that other people do so. This game was, as the kids these days say, HELLA FUN. I super recommend it.

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