Thanks to Gears of War, cover-based third-person-shooters have had a rampant resurgence on the PS3 and 360 for the past five years, and for the most part it has become a major staple in many shooters, whether they be third or first-person. Some, like Hydrophobia, concentrate too much on outlaying factors and crucial aspects of its gameplay so that a cover system becomes frustrating, while others, such as Rainbow Six Vegas, largely rely on the mechanic, where if you don't hug the walls and bunkers you won't find much fun to be had.
Vanquish, SEGA and Platinum Games' follow up to uniquely crafted Bayonetta, looks to find a happy medium between the two extremes, and combine the superb flare that we've come to expect from Platinum Games to create a thrilling experience with an unrivaled, captivating style.
Sometime in the near future, the world's population has exponentially grown to the breaking point, where resources are scarce and alternative fuel sources must be sought out in order to ensure survival. Just like you'd expect from the most awesomest country in, like, EVER, the U.S sets off for space to harness the power of the sun more efficiently via the O'Niell Cylinder space station. Thanks to a coup d'etat by a group of ultra-nationalists, Russia is overthrown, and like Boris the Blade and the "sneaky f***king Russian" he is, they overthrow the O'Niell Cylinder and vaporize San Francisco with the redirected power of the solar energy.
Enter Sam, a DARPA operative wielding both the Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS), an exo-skeleton that grants superhuman capabilities, and his BLADE, a device able to duplicate any material weapon and morph into it. With its futuristic spin, Vanquish's story proves entertaining through a series of highly stylized cutscenes where Sam is essentially depicted as a modernized Ninja. The voice acting hits some rough spots at times, especially with Sam's overly hoarse, smoke-ridden voice, yet the rest of the work is pretty decent to say the least. Besides the occasional small hiccup, the plot carries the action very well, and performing a one-man massacre of thousands of robots and sneaky Russians depicted by superb cutscenes is some damn good fun.
Combat flows in the same manner that the story does; completely over-the-top with a lightning quick pace. It follows a fluid control scheme which is similar to most other cover-based shooters, yet with some tweaks to accompany the added abilities granted by the ARS. First, the slide boosters let you zoom around the space station with great speed (and ease), making movement from one bunker to another a breeze, which both keeps the importance of cover and gives more freedom of movement that I found largely gratifying. Second, adding to that freedom is the ability to slow time. Though I wasn't particularly impressed with it at first, it's definitely quite handy when facing the humungous bosses and throngs of enemies, especially since it kicks in automatically when you're at death's doorstep. Having a choice of how you want to tackle every encounter proves to be more engrossing, and provides more of a challenge if you want to remain in the open.
Although Vanquish's gameplay packs a mighty punch, it's not due to the weaponry. The BLADE is technically well done and it's a creative twist on utilizing multiple weapons, but the variety and originality are definitely lacking. Most of the weaponry is typical of most shooters, complete with rocket launcher, sniper rifle, and lock-on laser, with only a couple of futuristic weapons in the armory. Needless to say, though the fighting is good, amped up fun, it gets a bit stale with the limited amount of weapons at your disposal, even with the upgrade system and unique melee attacks specific to each gun. Upgrading weapons is fairly simple, as you'll have to collect or "scan" the same weapon multiple times or find green boxes dropped from enemies, giving you bonuses to clip size and rate of fire. While it's not too involving, it flows well with the rest of the game and doesn't derail the action, but it still doesn't help much to improve the average weaponry. Yet, because of its 60 mph pacing, particularly due to the ARS, it manages to remain engrossing throughout the 6-8 hour campaign, despite the tedium.
Adding to the game's velocity are equally intense visuals and music. Every character and each level sports a subtle metallic sheen that feeds into its overall style. Watching Sam shoot across the screen in-game and during cutscenes is crisp and flows beautifully, and will surely impress the more graphically-inclined gamers. The soundtrack also bolsters Vanquish's tempo with some truly fantastic beats that blend perfectly with the game's intensity, straying from the typical power-riffs that flood the genre, and is definitely some of the best synth work to grace a game in quite a while.
As good as Vanquish is, it's not without its shortcomings. Because of the lack of weapon variance, but mostly due to the fact that there's absolutely no semblance of multiplayer, combat tends to get repetitive after some time. Repeat boss fights also don't help, as within the first couple of hours you'll face two of the same humungous robots more than once without so much as a change in strategic location. Yet this isn't even that big of an issue compared to not having any cooperative or competitive multiplayer, which seems like a no brainer when you're competing with the likes of Gears of War. As engrossing as the singleplayer experience may be, it feels rather archaic without any form of multiplayer, especially since there are ample opportunities to employ it, not the least of which is the supporting cast who are primed for coop roles that simply aren't utilized.
However, if you were following Vanquish's development, then the absence of multiplayer in favor for a richer, more involving singplayer experience isn't exactly news. Even with its repetitive nature and lack of weapon variety, Vanquish solidly delivers a stylish, intense adventure that provides a decent 6-8 hour campaign and a wide array of challenge missions that benefit from remaining in the singleplayer realm. Yet, without any well-crafted multiplayer options, it's hard to justify a $60 expenditure for the more competitive gamer, and it prevents a great game from becoming one of the best of the year.