In a future Earth, overpopulation has limited Earth's livable space. The Marin Headlands are blanketed with Skyscrapers, Hillary Clinton's clone is president and a country-sized satellite floats above the planet. Communist robots wage war on the United States and a bionic-armed commando engages in ridiculous banter. Yes, this game is Japanese, and yes, it's a Hideki Kamiya game. It's Vanquish, and it is the most creatively gleeful shooter to come out of Japan since Kamiya's own Resident Evil 4.
Hideki Kamiya is one of Japan's most beloved game-directors, rivaling the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima. The mastermind between Resident Evil 4, Phoenix Wright, Viewtiful Joe, Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, Kamiya's games are renowned worldwide for their sheer uniqueness and style. Vanquish, much like his previous projects, is a Japanese game intended for a Western audience. Kamiya's latest game is an Eastern take on a decidedly Western genre, the third person shooter.
Vanquish, being developed by a Japanese studio, bears a considerable uniqueness from its Western third-person cousins. Where Gears of War and Army of Two focus decidedly on moderately-paced movement and strategic cover, Vanquish has more in common with classic 2D shooters of the 8-bit era. Pattern recognition and bullet dodging rule the day here and are controlled by mechanics similar to those of other Kamiya games.
Besides the prerequisites of moving, shooting and taking cover, Vanquish features two other major mechanics, those being boosting and slowing time down. By using a constantly replenishing power meter, Sam Gideon, Vanquish's cigarette chomping protagonist, can use suit-mounted rockets to propel himself forward at lightning speeds. Boosting from cover-to-cover to behind enemy lines for a powerful melee attack only to again boost away makes for thrilling action that is incredibly fun to watch. By tapping the boost button as an evasive dash is made, Sam can enter a mode of slowed-down time, where careful decisions can be made and weak points specifically targeted. Combining these powers allows for a tactical strategy of attack-and-retreat to be preformed. Needless to say, a strong influence from one of Kamiya's previous works, Viewtiful Joe, can be seen explicitly here.
Several boss battles are impressive in scope and breathtaking to see, elevating awe at these moments to Shadow of the Colossus-levels. These battles are some of the highlights of the experience, and are influenced heavily by classic Japanese 8-bit shooters. These bosses frequently have one-hit kill moves that must be avoided or countered. Needless to say, battles against the giant Argus robots fit into the world of old-school pattern memorization, tell-recognition and reaction. The battles are fun, tense and look great.
Fortunately, as a Kamiya game, Vanquish posseses an incredible visual style that is as fun to look at as to play with. Incredible artistic touches inspired by classic anime such as Neon Genesis, Casshern and Gundam lend the game a distinct flavor of its own, its bleached colors stand it stark contrast with the saturated greys and reds of Western third-person shooters. Character models are intricately detailed, and the number of moving, glowing or smoking parts on any given robot is incredible. Awe inspiring set-pieces are massive in scope, and with thousands of bullets and rockets flying about at any given time, it is surprising that the frame rate remains steady even on 7th generation hardware. Sam's ARS suit is a particular highlight, and its many animations lend combat an intensely visceral edge despite the minimal blood effects in the game.
Speaking of animation, static screenshots don't do justice to Vanquish's varied environs. The game looks better in motion, and the surprisingly unobtrusive QTE-sequences bring some of the absolutely coolest finishing moves to be concieved since Gear's original curb-stomp. Dashing up an Argus's leg to transform into a drill and punch a hole straight through its body is exhilarating, memorable and fun, the silly approach to such a concept bringing a smile to even the most jaded gamer.
Part of the fun of Vanquish is the vast variety of locales that the game's firefights are set. A collapsing highway in the sky, a giant zero-gravity tube and the innards of a skyscraper-sized metal behemoth are highlights in the experience. The sheer joy of discovering what new crazy idea that Kamiya's team conceived is a major aesthetic in the game.
Unfortunately, Vanquish does not sound as good as it looks. Voice-acting is as generic as the character archetypes that populate the game's treaded fiction. (Intentionally?) Highly theatrical gravelly voices characterize soldiers. Evil characters speak slowly and sinisterly and arbitrary curses are flung about that battlefield. Whether or not Kamiya intended to satirize the American shooter with this auditory portrayal of characters is debatable, but highly likely. The soundtrack is comprised mostly of techno, and while it may frame the action well, don't expect to download its tracks after playing.
Despite the praise that I have bestowed upon it, Vanquish is short.
Playing on the standard difficulty level, it took me several hours to complete the game beginning to end, including the numerous deaths I suffered. Uninteresting, rote-based challenge levels offered little incentive to explore non-campaign content. There are also no multiplayer modes avaliable at all. Vanquish is still fun to replay though, numerous online leaderboards offer a competitive incentive to blast through levels as quickly as possible, racking up high scores. The high quality of Vanquish's campaign also adds to its value. While it may be short, it is very sweet.
Ultimately, the question of the game's value comes down to you. Would the brief-but-fun campaign and gleeful style be worth sixty dollars to experience? Vanquish is brief and features generic story and characters, no doubt, but its smile-inducing sense of fun makes this a game that any shooter-fan must experience at sometime, albeit, not necessarily at full price. Recommended. 4/5