In my second entry on video games that should get sequels, I present to you another outstanding but under appreciated title: Vanquish.

Time to suit up.

Vanquish is a third-person shooter from the mind of Shinji Mikami, the creator of the Resident Evil series, and was developed by the ever-talented folks at Platinum Games. The game is set in the future on board a large space station orbiting Earth that has been taken over by a Russian extremist group. These evil Russians (the only type that exist in entertainment) have weaponized the station’s massive microwave energy generator and used it to devastate San Francisco. They are now threatening to do the same to New York City unless the American government surrenders. The Americans send their space fleet to fight the Russian space fleet around the station, and while that is going on an American ship full of space marines manages to board the station in order to retake it.  On that ship is your character, a DARPA operative named Sam Gideon. Sam is tasked with rescuing Professor Candide, a DARPA researcher, who can shut down the station’s microwave weapon but has been taken prisoner by the army of Russian robots who have occupied the station. Over the course of the game’s campaign you fight your way across the station, wiping out any Russian robot foolish enough to get in your way.

Bullets, explosions and robots. What more could you ask for?
From I’ve written so far, most of you can guess that Vanquish’s storyline isn’t its strongest element. It gives you sufficient reason for what you’re doing and will move you from one action set piece to the next, but not much beyond that. During the loading screens you’re given bits of text that give more back-story on the characters, locations and tech involved in the storyline, but the game loads new levels so quickly that you can’t read them in their entirety. This gives Vanquish the strange honor of being the only game I’ve ever played where I actually wish the load times were longer. Vanquish’s characters include the tired bunch of gravel-voiced space marines, evil Russians and hordes of robots that need killing. The voice acting is decent for the most part, but slips into the corny and campy on multiple occasions. The characters also never really grow over the course of the game, which is unsurprising given the story being told, but still disappointing because some relationships, like that between Sam and his support operative Elena, could have been much more interesting.
Space marines to the rescue… again.
In spite of all this, Vanquish’s outstanding gameplay makes the preceding issues with storyline and characters nearly irrelevant. Rock-solid shooter mechanics combined with a strong cover system and inventive weapons gives Vanquish many of the same qualities as Western-style shooters such as Gears of War. However, if you approach this game in the same manner as Gears of War you have completely missed the point and wasted Vanquish’s potential. Vanquish places a heavy emphasis on speed, style and skill (a common emphasis in games made by Platinum) and dares you to try and see just how over-the-top you can make its action. Your character Sam goes into battle wearing the ARS battle suit, which allows him to rapidly boost across the battlefield and slow down time. Your suit has limited amount of energy that recharges after a few seconds, but part of the fun is experimenting to see what and how much you can do before the suit overheats and needs to cool down. Should you take a lot of damage, slow motion instantly kicks in, giving you one last chance to either get to cover or to take down the enemies shooting you. In addition to your suit, Vanquish has Sam employing a variety weapons that range from your standard rifles, shotguns and rockets to more fantastical weapons like a gun that locks onto targets and then fires a volley of lasers at them. Throughout the game you can find item pickups to improve your weapons, giving a sense of progression to Sam’s combat prowess. Sam also has a different melee attack for each weapon he can carry. One last thing of note regarding the gameplay is a hilarious little mechanic where Sam can stop in the middle of a fight to take a smoke. While in cover he can pull out a cigarette, light it, take a puff and then toss it, which serves to distract nearby enemies.
Boosting around is not only cool, but also helps dodge enemy fire.
The slow motion survival mechanic is bound to happen multiple times as you play through the campaign, because Vanquish is not an easy game, even on normal difficulty. While most games give you an easy opening level to practice in before going up against harder scenarios, Vanquish throws you into the fire in its first mission. You’ll quickly realize that the cover system and the abilities of the ARS suit are not just gimmicks, but necessary tools for victory. Enemies are out to kill you and bosses present a real challenge. On a side note, I loved the boss fights in Vanquish. Many of the bosses have attacks that will kill you with a single hit, but they are always telegraphed, giving you a chance to escape and making these encounters hard but fair (the way boss battles should be).
One of the boss fights of Vanquish.
Complementing Vanquish’s superb gameplay are its fantastic visuals. The sci-fi cityscapes of Vanquish provide a fitting backdrop for the game and levels are well designed. In one of my favorite sections of the game, you are frantically rushing across a collapsing bridge, while fighting your way past Russian robots with no self-preservation instincts. The only times I thought Vanquish’s visuals and design weren’t so great were the few times where you are in more organic environments, such as when you fight your way through a park. But what Vanquish does better than most other games, regardless of the setting, is battlefield chaos. Every set piece engagement is full of bullets, explosions and moving enemies; all at the same time and for the most part running at a smooth 60 frames-per-second. For a fun little diversion, get into a firefight and try to keep track of everything that is going on. For an even bigger visual treat, go into slow motion where you can clearly make out bullets whizzing past you. Sam’s suit by itself also deserves some mention, as the sheer number of lights and moving parts is impressive. Your gun is itself an extension of your suit, and changes into each of the three weapons you can carry in a cool little morph animation that happens in real-time during gameplay.
Robots everywhere, and not one of them is your friend.
The singleplayer campaign of Vanquish will last you about seven hours depending on your skill and the difficulty level you play on, but is worth replaying. As you move through a level you are given points for things like taking down enemies with style, finding item pickups and completing the level under a certain time. At the end of each section of the game you are given a rating for your performance, encouraging you to go back and try to pull off more stylish kills and complete the level in a faster time. Your score can be uploaded to online leader-boards where you can see how you stack up against your friends and the world. Though I personally didn’t care too much about the scoring system, I did feel a certain satisfaction whenever I earned a good score. There is also a challenges mode, which allows you to take on various scenarios and go for high scores. Vanquish has no multiplayer, and that is the way it should be. Many games over the years have suffered from tacked-on multiplayer modes that were nothing more than checkboxes for marketing material, but Platinum had the sense not to waste time and resources on it.
Just like mechs in anime, the Russians sacrificed plausible mechanical designs in order to store a ton of missiles.
Rounding out Vanquish’s strong features is its audio. Despite everything that is occurring onscreen, the sound from all the gunfire, explosions and collapsing structures never overwhelms the senses. Going into slow motion sounds exactly like you would imagine with low-pitched rumbling and the clanking sounds of moving mechanical parts. The electronic music goes well with the futuristic look of the game and stays at just the right level so that you can hear it but are not distracted by it. Vanquish also comes with multiple language tracks that are fun to try out. After beating the game once, play through a second time but see what it’s like for everyone to be shouting in French, German or Japanese.
Take cover. You’ll need it.
So with all that said, what would I like to see in a sequel? More of the same, for the most part. Platinum came close to nailing it with Vanquish, so any sequel could follow much of the same formula as the original. Still, there are a few adjustments I would like to see.
Russian robots are like Pokemon. Gotta kill ’em all.
The biggest item that needs refinement is, you guessed it, the storytelling. Vanquish’s gameplay was so awesome that it could be forgiven for its weak story and bland characters, but it will be harder to overlook this shortcoming a second time. Any sequel will of course have to work within the universe created by the original, but at the same time the lack of storyline and mythos surrounding the Vanquish universe should give enough leeway for any future writers to craft a more interesting tale.
One way to clear traffic.
In the same vein, more fleshed out characters and more character development over the course of the game would help further address Vanquish’s major shortcomings. Just as with the overall storyline, writers of the next game will be hobbled by some of the original material they will have to work with, but the problem is far from insurmountable. Sam and Elena would likely return, and a sequel could explore them and their relationship, as long as it doesn’t turn into a forced romance (completely unrelated to all of this; the Elena in Vanquish is sadly not the same Elena from the Uncharted series, but I like to pretend that she is her descendant). We could learn more about who they are and their work at DARPA, and maybe there could even be a level where Elena gets her own ARS suit and kicks some Russian robot @ss. The leader of the evil Russians could also use some work, as he we didn’t learn much of anything about him and he was portrayed as the old evil just for the sake of being evil cliché. A few more cool female characters that are not just eye candy or token romantic interests could help too.
We WILL be your typical space marines.
Obviously, having a slightly longer singleplayer campaign would be a good addition to any sequel. Vanquish is admittedly more like a sugar rush than a filling meal, but lengthening the campaign by two or so hours is well within reason. I would suggest Platinum aim for roughly the 10 hour mark with any sequel. Lastly, Platinum, please don’t ever add multiplayer.
Slow motion allows for some stylish kills.
At the end here, we again pose the question of whether or not an actual sequel to Vanquish is likely. The answer is no. Although a sequel to Vanquish is not as absurdly improbable as a sequel to Split/Second, the game in my previous post, Vanquish simply did not sell well enough for Platinum to feel confident about making a sequel. I don’t think we’ll ever see a sequel to Vanquish, which is truly a shame because the original set a strong gameplay foundation for future games to build on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s