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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: May 25, 2017


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PC Review - 'Vanquish'

by Cody Medellin on July 21, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Vanquish is a sci-fi shooter where you take control of DARPA operative Sam Gideon, who has been assigned a mission to battle legions of future-tech enemies using a vast arsenal of weapons.

Buy Vanquish

With Bayonetta and Valkyria Chronicles getting near-definitive editions on the PC, fans of many Sega games are eagerly anticipating the next port from the company. One of the titles to get lots of vocal support is Vanquish, which fans love because it features Platinum Games' signature fast action — only with guns instead of melee. Those same fans could tell that the systems at the time (Xbox 360 and PS3) didn't have the power to do the game justice. Seven years later, the game has made it to the PC, and much like Sega's earlier re-releases, the PC iteration is the definitive version of the title.

The story sounds like it came out of the 1980s, when the Cold War was still a big deal. In the future, a military group known as The Order of the Russian Star has staged a coup and taken over Russia. The group has also taken over the Providence space station and used its microwave array to decimate San Francisco with a giant heat ray. They demand that the U.S. surrender, or New York City will be the next target. As expected, the government isn't considering surrender, and instead, there's a large-scale assault on the station. One ship breaks through and gets inside the defensive perimeters of the Providence has a secret weapon aboard: Sam Gideon, a co-designer of the Augmented Reaction Suit and a soldier who's trying to stop the rogue Russians and rescue his colleague.

The tale is workable as a basic framework for the game, and the dialogue is as cheesy as you'd expect from a B-movie. That can usually be ignored if the characters are memorable, but that's certainly not the case here. Both Sam and the commanding officer have the same gruff attitude as many heroes of that time period, and since they have similar-sounding voices, you start to think that Sam is talking to himself. Beyond a smoking habit, there's nothing distinct about him, and his supporting cast has the same issue. In a way, the game becomes better if you ignore the characters.

If you keep in mind that Vanquish was released when third-person shooters were big, you'll understand some of the gameplay design decisions. Sam can carry up to three weapons at any time, but that doesn't include his grenades, which vary between explosives and portable EMPs. You're vulnerable out in the open, so you're encouraged to hide behind cover, which mostly consists of waist-high barriers instead of full walls. You can perform expected moves, like darting between cover or clambering over cover, and you can also take over turrets, though those come with a limited ammo cache.

One of the more unusual things about the game design is that you don't gain more powerful weaponry as you progress. In fact, the arsenal you see in the first few levels is all you'll get for the rest of the game, so there isn't a big mega-weapon near the end. You get to upgrade those weapons by picking up more of the same type if you already have a full ammo count on you, so you can increase the ammo capacity and power. Interestingly, the upgrades are downgraded if you restart from a checkpoint, so there's some incentive to stay alive.

While the shooting is fine on its own, the real appeal of Vanquish is the suit and the powers it gives you. The first is the ability to slow things down after a dodge. It's pretty much the same "bullet time" mechanic popularized in quite a number of games, but the effect never seems to get old. The effect also occurs whenever you're low on health and about to die. It kicks in automatically, and much like the effect in Borderlands, achieving a ton of kills in this mode means returning with full health.

The other major power you gain with the suit is super speed, which the game handles with as much pomp and silliness as you'd expect. At any point in time, you can move in any direction at speeds fast enough to let you flank enemies before they realize you've moved. You slide instead of running, and whether you're sliding with both knees bent or doing a baseball slide, you'll leave showers of sparks in your wake. The sliding mechanic isn't infinite, since it takes a good deal of energy to execute and the cooldown time can be significant, but you'll be encouraged to use it very often since the environments give you plenty of room to pull off stylish slide kills.

Governed by the shooting, slow motion, and sliding, the main gameplay loop is addictingly fun. Although you never gain new powers or upgrades to gameplay mechanics, the activities remain enjoyable enough to overpower any issues people may have with the title. Even by today's standards, the game feels short; the leaderboards and increased difficulty levels are the only other incentive to continue playing after the credits have rolled. Though the bosses are nice to fight, they get repeated so often that their charm is lost early on.

On the presentation side, the score is decent electronic stuff that keeps the player primed for action. The sound effects have the right pitch you'd expect from a storm of explosions and bullets. Graphically, the environments look a tad stale, but that's due to the color scheme, so the clean white and steel look just isn't as striking as you'd expect. When you slide around and move in slow motion, the blur effects are attractive, and while the textures and models haven't been updated, they still look fine by modern standards, and the chaotic battles look much prettier than expected. The biggest improvements in this area are also the most expected ones: 4K resolution support, HDR, and a bump to 60 fps. When compared to Bayonetta, Vanquish needs more horsepower to achieve these graphical improvements.

Compared to Bayonetta, Vanquish has some catching up to do. The story and characters are forgettable, the environments quickly get stale, and there's no progression in weapons and powers. At the same time, the gameplay remains brilliant, with solid shooting that melds well with some very fast action; it's enough to overcome any visible flaws. With the improvements in frame rate, Vanquish is a good action shooter for anyone with even a mild interest in the genre.

Score: 8.0/10

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