Strap on your power armor, light up a cigarette, and join Sam Gideon as he attempts to kick the assembled video game critics in the face in the Vanquish Frankenreview.
Can Sam Gideon keep a despicable Russian military leader from turning New York into the next San Francisco? That's just silly. New York will never be the next San Francisco, unless of course you mean the future San Francisco that was just destroyed in a blast of solar energy thanks to Victor Zaitsev in Shinji Mikami's Vanquish. That could certainly happen, but not if our shiny armored friend has anything to say about it.
But Gideon can't save New York if he doesn't make it past the game critics.
Vanquish is a quintessentially Japanese attempt at creating a game that appeals to Western audiences - and falls into nearly all the traps that rather generic description might conjure. First, there's the perfunctory story. The game takes place in the far-off future, where the human population has reached overwhelming heights and energy consumption has exploded. The US has resorted to harnessing solar power to keep up with demand - launching a space station for this purpose. Russian Ultranationalists - led by gender-confused Victor Zaitsev - have overthrown their government, hijacked the space station and used it to destroy San Francisco. As DARPA operative Sam Gideon, you are tasked with supporting the efforts of war veteran Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Burns and his marines, as well as rescuing the kidnapped scientist Dr. Francis Candide. It's a forgettable plot; the sheer lack of originality makes it feel more like it was written to facilitate the visual style, rather than to involve you in its narrative.
Because of his suit, Gideon has some fantastic moves. There's a spark-generating knee-slide that zips him out of harm's way, along with a slow-motion mode that triggers when he takes heavy hits, or which you can initiate by evading when in first-person mode. Both of which cause his suit to overheat after a while, so they must be used judiciously. He can carry three weapons and two types of grenades – the weaponry, much of which is from the realms of sci-fi, is notably excellent, especially given that you can upgrade it as you progress. Gideon is also an inveterate smoker, forever taking a time out for a puff in cut-scenes after particularly full-on sequences – and when behind cover, he can light a fag, then chuck it away, in order to draw enemy fire away from him.
The animations in Vanquish are beautiful to watch and never miss a beat as Gideon zips around on screen. The ARS lets you dodge bullets, slide from cover to cover and slow-down time to seamlessly take out a dozen bad guys with grace and style. The gunfights are epic and you'll seldom get a chance to blink with the ceaseless action on screen at any one time. Gideon even has an impressive array of martial arts moves for close-quarter combat as well. But despite the manic carnage, Vanquish never threatens to become a button-masher. The controls, although taking a little while to get to grips with, are smooth and responsive letting you string together a masterful combo of deadly moves that even your significant other will appreciate watching.
Vanquish's original mechanics wouldn't have the same impact if the game didn't also deliver the basics, but the essential gameplay elements are as good as you could hope for. For example, the cover system has exactly the right degree of stickiness, which is an important factor in ensuring that you always feel completely in command. In fact, considering the amount of chaos surrounding you and the speed with which you rocket ahead, it's a wonder that you rarely feel out of control. Regardless of which platform you prefer, the controls are tight and responsive, and the asymmetrical levels practically guarantee that you never feel lost. As a result, even the most challenging sequences never feel unfair, because you are always in control of your own destiny.
Devoid of any multiplayer content, Vanquish relies on its scoring mechanic to introduce longevity. Every action in the game is scored, while restarts from checkpoints incur point penalties to encourage careful progression. While a 'God Hard' difficulty unlocks on competition, there's little incentive to keep returning to the game beyond climbing leaderboards and, at a push, trying to find the single hidden statue in each stage. This is perhaps the only area of the game which lags behind its Western counterparts, requiring the player to fully subscribe to score rivalry for any replay value.