Vanquish, Shinji Mikami's latest blaster, is a textbook study in why videogame maths doesn't always add up. On paper, PlatinumGames' sci-fi epic combines the ring-world setting and gurning bombast of Halo with the cover system from Gears of War, the gruff-protagonist-who-likes-a-crafty-fag from Metal Gear Solid and the sterile plastic-fantastic armour stylings of the secretly brilliant Capcom money bomb PN.0.3.
The end result, however, feels completely original: a zippy, score-obsessed blend of particle effects, techno music, and elaborate multi-stage bosses delivered at a speed that makes it all feel new. In other words, it's looking pretty good.
Using a low-orbit weapon that leeches its energy from a space station storing solar power for the entire planet, it seems that the Russians have microwaved San Francisco. What's more, they will be doing the same to New York unless America surrenders immediately.
Rather than wave the white flag, however, the US of A kits out wise-cracking handsome-dan scientist Sam Gideon with a nifty suit that turns him into a kind of deadly rollerskate. Gideon is then rocketed up to the massive cylindrical platform into which Russia has hijacked its nasty gun so he can bust some heads.
The suit has been designed and built by DARPA (if you're interested in the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, incidentally, may I recommend Michael Belfiore's entirely decent book, 'The Department of Mad Scientists'). It's called ARS. Obviously DARPA's better at inventing things like the internet and the GPS network than naming stuff.
Throwing in notions like global energy resources and international terrorism, Vanquish is pretty topical. If DLC provides a side story in which a lady jams a cat in a wheelie bin, this could potentially become the timeliest videogame ever.
None of that prepares you for the pace at which PlatinumGames' latest actually plays, however. If you're expecting Mikami, the director of Resident Evil 4, to take a fairly stately approach with his new game, you're in for a shock.
Vanquish's signature move illustrates this point quite nicely. Burst out of cover! Jet-boost into an enemy! Melee the enemy and go straight into a backflip! While backflipping, trigger slow-mo (the ARS's second-most enjoyable power) and shoot the enemy up for massive damage! Go and have a lie down.
It's great to watch and even better to pull off, but for the first 30 minutes of play or so, it may prove a little too much to get your head around. Vanquish gives you so many tools to be getting on with – and throws in so many enemies – that a fair bit of acclimatising is required.
You'd best start by getting to know the cover system. Like any decent third-person shooter these days, Vanquish allows you to snap to cover with the press of a button and vault over it with a second press. Add to that the boost function, however, and a generous snapping radius, and you have a game that encourages you to blast across the large levels at great speed, moving from one end of an arena to another in a matter of seconds, chaining cover together in wild streaks as you shoot up the enemies from all angles.
Boost takes time to recharge and the same meter also controls your ability to enter a slow-motion state of heightened awareness. Both gimmicks are fun by themselves – even if slow-mo is a pretty elderly kind of feature these days – but when you start to use them together you really begin to see Vanquish's true potential for showboating.
Melee requires the meter to be filled as well and each gun you use has its own melee twist. The shotgun, for example, offers a nice solid whack to the head, but the disc-launcher, which fires deadly Frisbees through the air when used as a distanced weapon, turns into a handy buzz-saw when used up close.
Your arsenal looks to be a thing of great joy in Vanquish, with all manner of oddball rocket launchers and weird plasma variables. Add to the mix the neat animations as each gun grows out of your suit, and the fact that there's a separate levelling system for your weapons depending on how often you pick them up, and the whole thing promises to be pretty intoxicating.
Enemies tend to be robots and mechs for the most part – they fit in well with the game's lush 360 vistas as you work your way through the tube-like space station – but they're smart when it comes to using cover and flanking.
Some – like the big jellyfish you'll encounter in a subterranean escort mission which is nowhere near as plodding as it sounds – will try to get close to you and fire off nasty little babies. Others, such as the giant bipedal mechs, can be hijacked and turned to your own advantage.
Even the common grunt has a few tricks up its sleeve: shoot its legs out and it will run towards you at double speed – on its hands, right – before exploding in your face. Nasty stuff.
Working out how to use the enemies, cover, weapons and suit powers together will likely be the heart of Vanquish's lasting appeal. Like Mikami's own PN.0.3, this isn't a game about slogging through the campaign to get to the end of the story (I'm guessing America wins, and then a sinister man with glowing eyes and a complex trench coat turns up in the distance to suggest that this was just the beginning): it's about replaying each level and restarting each encounter, until you can style your way through the entire thing without taking as much as a stray grenade to the face.
If you like combos, balletic and ballistic violence and chunky post-level stat breakdowns, Vanquish is going to be right up your alley. Right up your alley breakdancing, most probably, as it slices someone in half with a buzz-saw.
Vanquish is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 on 22nd October.