Yahtzee reviews Vanquish.
It's been a long, confusing journey, hasn't it, PlatinumGames, which, funnily enough, also describes most of your fucking releases. There have been some strange turns: Bayonetta 2 exclusive to Wii U springs to mind; that was like a fucking modern art installation being exclusive to the Etch-A-Sketch. But PlatinumGames has finally joined us in the sun; first, Bayonetta 1 gets a Steam release and everyone went "Oooooo-kay, bit weird. Wouldn't particularly mind that being a console game 'cos it made it slightly easier to furtively hide when our mum burst into the room."
Why don't you bring out a Steam version of that shooter you made? The one that became a bit of a cult hit and that's now also hard to find? "What, you mean Anarchy Reigns?" Ha ha ha ha ha ha! No. Obviously, we're talking about Vanquish, which is highly suitable for release on PCs partly because it's a high-octane cover shooter, and partly because the main character spends the entire game wearing one. Obviously, no one told the Vanquish dude not to wear a pure white suit of armor to a grimy battlefield; by rights, it should have ended up looking like the floor of a sharehouse bathroom.
The plot of Vanquish concerns Russia being evil; it was a little bit quaint at the time the game first came out, but has since somehow come back around being relevant again. They take over an orbital death ray station with an army of death robots and blow up San Francisco in a humanitarian effort to combat rising housing costs in California. But America take it the wrong way, as always, and refuse to surrender, dispatching a bunch of marines to the death ray station to take it back. The main character is not a marine, but an employee of DARPA wearing a very expensive, DARPA-developed suit of armor, 'cos it's not like DARPA develops tech to be used by the military. No, that's why every tank and fighter plane has to be piloted by the nerd who developed it.
Shush now, everybody! The thing is, we're not actually supposed to be taking this plot seriously, so it is a shame that the Russia aspect has gotten itself all inconveniently relevant. There's always an undercurrent of irony in PlatinumGames' stuff, although it's admittedly slightly subtler here than it is in, say, Bayonetta, the woman who routinely has to clean small children out of her armpits after they mistake her for a roller coaster.
The main character smokes constantly, to maintain the stereotypical "grizzled badass" image, but I think he only does so so he can dramatically flick cigarettes away when he's about to do things, 'cos I don't think he ever got through more than a quarter-inch of one. He's partnered for most of the game with Robert Burns, famous Scottish poet and author of "Auld Lang Syne", here reimagined as a nine-foot shaved bear of a man who's so grizzled, he can peel potatoes by rubbing them on his chin, and as for badass, his ass is so bad, it denies the Holocaust and fraudulently uses disabled parking spaces. So the two of them spend the entire game having an incredibly insecure grizzle-off; the flashy, young newcomer in his go-faster stripes versus the cynical old-timer wearing an entire double-decker bus, down on their knees, competing to see who can suck the most gravel into their throats. There's also an attractive female support character, and whenever she's onscreen, the camera always seems to be one flicked cigarette away from pointing right up her skirt. It's all immensely silly stuff, and par for the PlatinumGames course; what makes Vanquish interesting is the combat mechanics.
So obviously, Vanquish set out to make a cover shooter, but after looking at what those were, it asked, "Do we really have to plop ourselves down behind little walls so much? We exclusively make fast-paced games, 'cos we have the attention span of a moth at a fireworks display." Then, after they were firmly told that, yes, plopping down behind cover is a pretty essential part of a cover shooter, Vanquish went, "Could we maybe have the character break-dance behind cover rather than plop? Oh, and, weird idea: rocket skates!" Yes, apparently, DARPA's jetpack research went nowhere, so they repurposed the tech to let you scoot along the ground, like a fast-forward video of a dog with an itchy bum. And most of the combat takes place in big, wide-open arenas, so the emphasis is less on plopping down and more on dodging, changing position, and managing your suit energy.
Here's a little tip I discovered: if you switch weapons midway-through a reload animation, the first weapon will be reloaded when you switch back to it, in accordance with the principles of homeopathy, I think. Whatever; it keeps the pace up, but speaking of pace, one thing I could do without is the way you automatically go into slow motion when you're near-death. Yeah, I know it's to get yourself out of danger, but once you are, there's no way to turn it off again, so all you can do is let your suit energy run out, then pop a plop while you wait for it to come back. It's a bit of a pace-killer; I thought we were avoiding plop. The last thing you want is for your game to become ploppy. I very much enjoy saying the word "plop". Plop aside, though, Vanquish's combat is generally a speedy and interesting take on the genre. What else has it got? "What else?! Dammit, we weren't prepared for this part of the interview! Quick, spawn 500 million identical robots!"
Yes, sadly, like a severely poorly-maintained harp, the game's kind of one-note. The entire thing takes place in the same environment, a probably oversized space station city that can't be bothered to so much as throw a carpet down every now and then, and you fight 10 million copies of the same robot that looks like a Transformer that turns into a pink dildo. Everything that passes for a boss fight happens again at least twice, the story somehow gets from A to B while standing completely still. I sort of grasp that Burns doesn't care about individual soldiers dying and the main bloke does, but demonstrates it another six or seven times just to be sure. At least he cares in cutscenes; not in gameplay, 'cos he's busy plopping. But hey, don't worry that the game doesn't evolve much, 'cos it's also really short, so it won't bother you for long.
All in all, if you're planning to buy Vanquish, then make doubly sure you don't need the money for anything really important, like medicine or a donation to the Republican party, 'cos it kind of feels more like a proof of concept than a complete game. A concept proved, certainly; you can have a fun cover shooter while you glide around on your back the whole time like a prostitute on a highly-polished dance floor, but the time to develop the concept into something a bit meatier has long since passed, and now the game only exists as a sort of glimpse into a parallel universe where triple-A shooters remember that video games are supposed to be fun.
That aside, Vanquish is also a PC port of a last-generation game, so let's take a moment now to share our favorite bugs! That one where you took double damage if the game was running 60 fps must have been a nightmare for hardcore PC gamers, for whom playing at 30 fps is apparently like trying to breathe with a plastic bag on their head. The measure I was given to correct the bug added a whole bunch of exciting new ones, like in one level, I kept falling through the floor and dying before the screen had faded in. Loading screen, pause, hideous dying scream, reload, repeat; it was like playing a blunt dramatization of stillbirth.
- Wearing a dustbin: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Not sure what the power source is for the suit of armour in this game but I suspect it might be friction burns
- So why doesn't anything in this game get vanquished