Vanquish Reader Review
It seems like something of a paradox, but games don't seem to want be called games anymore- it's all 'immersive gameplay elements', 'cinematic storylines' and 'emergent character self-personification devices'. I remember when I liked games because they were there to be played with, not just appreciated from a distance whilst stroking your imaginary beard and drinking a glass of dry scotch.
I suppose this is in part due to the fact no-one seems to want to call a kettle a kettle anymore- everything has to have catchy title or overly pompous descriptive phrase now. The chair I sit on for example is not a desk chair; it is an ergonomically designed piece of fluid seating paraphernalia, and my ham sandwich, well, that's a delicious selection of smoked ham slices specially formulated into a crusty batch bap, picked from local sources. The point I'm making is that it is still just a ham sandwich and my chair is just a chair, so why are games constantly trying to pretend that they are more than games?
Vanquish is a game. Sure, it has a story of sorts and some vague pretensions towards dealing with political issues (no matter how clumsily it handles them) but most of all Vanquish is a wonderful no nonsense game. Hoorah!
You play as Sam Gideon, a guy in a cool robotic suit and you go around shooting various robots to stop global war or something and smoke cigarettes whilst hanging in precarious positions. There's no moral choices you need to make, no multiple endings, no long-winded game-world history that you must research in order to enjoy the game and the only thing that levels up is the power of the guns you use to create destruction. It's a breath of fresh air that Vanquish requires none of these things to create something wonderful. The game itself is a Japanese take on the cover-based shooting seen in titles such as Gears of War and Uncharted, but then pumped with steroids to the point of it being blisteringly fast and wonderfully intense.
The sliding mechanic in particular employed through the boosters built into Sam's suit makes for fabulous entertainment, and using it to outflank and gain position on enemies is intensely satisfying. The slides are particularly noteworthy in that it actually takes a bit of skill to use well- at first, all that most gamers will manage is sliding from one piece of cover to the next, but as the game develops and enemies start to have more cunning tactics and more obscure weak points, the use of the slide-boost becomes ever more important and nuanced. It's testament to good game design that such a simple mechanic can be used in such a myriad of ways and indeed define the gameplay to such an extent- like Max Payne and its Bullet Time, Vanquish really takes the boost-slide and runs with it, utilizing and morphing what would little more than a gimmick in other games into something much more integral to the experience.
It's also rather a hard game, which is again a refreshing break from the norm. Whereas most new games now slowly dip the player into the action like a child gently plopping a marshmallow into velvety melted chocolate, Vanquish throws the player straight into the deep end with nothing but your wits and the most basic of tutorials. Within the first couple of levels, you face swarms of enemies and a multi-transforming boss fight that most games wouldn't dare put in until the closing third of the game. The difference is that whilst most games would like to be your friends, giving you a helping hand and littering you with sweets, Vanquish punches you in the stomach and tells you to man up.
So, Vanquish is basically the antithesis of the modern game- uncomplicated, challenging and most of all, bloody good fun. But is it better than the modern games because of it? In terms of pure gameplay, this is one of the most visceral and exciting 3rd person action games I've had the pleasure to play in years, but is it better than the Uncharted's of the world? Perhaps I've been desensitised from quaffing too many frothy latte's and scoffing free range ciabatta rolls, but I would still opt to play Uncharted over Vanquish; Vanquish is, despite the superb gameplay, a little one dimensional compared to the multi layered atmosphere and adventure aesthetic Uncharted. There is, however, a balance to be struck- videogaming needs more games like Vanquish to keep it honest and fun, and to stop disappearing up its own derriere with dramatic posturing and faux-artistic pretensions. If the world is truly about variety and compromise, then we need more games like Vanquish to remind us what else games can do apart from ape the Hollywood model.