As a gaming enthusiast I’m always interested in new gaming experiences, but every once in awhile I feel compelled to go back and put in some serious time replaying some of my favorite games from the preceding years. In that spirit, I have created a new series of writing pieces titled Replaying the Classics, wherein I discuss the games that I have replayed recently. Unlike my Late to the Party series, my goal with these writing pieces is not so much to give a strong analysis of a particular game, but rather to give an informal recounting of a game and to try to convey to the reader why it’s one of my favorites. I do not come to you this time as a game reviewer, but merely as a friend wanting to have a casual chat about what he’s been playing. Today, let’s take a seat in our comfy chairs and talk about Vanquish.
Sometimes you play a game with an incredibly deep and engaging story that leaves you thinking hard about the narrative for days or even weeks after you finish it. Other times you play a game with a very basic plot that only exists as a pretext for a really fun game about shooting robots. Vanquish, in case you hadn’t guessed, is the latter sort of game. For me, Vanquish is the quintessential game for demonstrating how great gameplay can allow a game to overcome deficiencies in the story department and it holds a special place in my small collection of PS3 games. On top of that, Vanquish also has the distinction of being one of the very first games that I ever wrote about on this website, with a writing piece that I published all the way back in February 2013. I discussed the game in detail in that post, and it’s going to be hard not to repeat a lot of what I already wrote, but I’ll do my best not to just copy and paste my old work into the writing piece. Also, I didn’t have any screenshots of my own for this writing piece, so I had to grab some from the Internet. Apologies in advanced for any unintentional copyright infringement.
In the distant future the United States has constructed a massive space colony called Providence that orbits the Earth. Unfortunately, a faction of evil Russians have taken over Providence and used its giant microwave energy array to devastate the city of San Francisco. The US military sends in the Space Marines to retake the Providence, and along with them is a DARPA agent named Sam Gideon who is on a secret mission to rescue Professor Candide, a DARPA scientist who has been captured by the Russians on Providence. Outfitted with the experimental ARS exosuit, Sam blasts his way through hordes of Russian robots, looking very cool in the process, and in the end uncovers the terrible truth of what’s actually going on in the war between Russia and America.
So, yeah, like I said, Vanquish isn’t a game you play for the story. Don’t get me wrong, the premise isn’t bad, but the plot that unfolds leaves something to be desired. It’s best to just roll with story you get and focus instead on what makes Vanquish great: the gameplay. Vanquish has some of the best third-person shooter gameplay of any game that I’ve played, period. Sam’s ARS suit is the foundation of this gameplay, with its ability to slow down time and boost him around at high speed. While you could play Vanquish similar to other cover-based shooters like Gears of War, if you choose to do so you are completely missing the point of the game. Vanquish is not a game about slowly working your way forward from cover to cover—it is a game about moving quickly and trying to kill enemies as stylishly as possible. In just one fight you could find yourself vaulting over cover, triggering slow-mo and killing the two enemies in front of you, then knee-sliding across the floor to a new firing position, (maybe blasting an enemy along the way) tossing an EMP grenade to paralyze nearby robots, side-rolling and triggering slow-mo again to shoot them, and then closing with an enemy to melee it before dropping into cover for a moment while your suit recharges. When you push the limits of what Sam’s suit can do in battle then you truly see why Vanquish stands out from its contemporaries.
Having said all that, while you’re rushing around putting bullets into Russian robots, it’s worthwhile to slow down at times to appreciate Vanquish’s visuals. The interior of Providence is a highly detailed futuristic cityscape and although Vanquish doesn’t look nearly as good as modern games it still can be admired. This is especially true in chaotic firefights, since you can activate slow-mo and see individual bullets lazily passing by, enemies gently moving, and explosions slowly blooming. Considering how much can be going on during frantic parts of the game, it’s impressive that Vanquish runs at a steady 30 fps for the vast majority of the time. There were a few scattered moments where the framerate dropped for half a second during my playthrough, but these instances are rare and hardly detract from the experience.
This was my fourth time playing Vanquish, and even though I knew exactly what was going to happen I can say that I enjoyed this playthrough almost of much as my first time. Part of this might be due to the fact that the last time I played Vanquish was about three years ago, but another part was that I tried to mix things up and intentionally focused on using weapons that I had largely overlooked in previous playthroughs, such as the shotgun and lock-on laser. This most recent playthrough also reignited my desire for Vanquish to get a sequel, which will probably never happen. But hey, a man can still dream, right?
Wow, that chat just blazed right past us, like Sam boosting to his next fight, but I’m glad we got this chance to talk about Vanquish. Earlier this year Vanquish got a port to PC that runs at 60 fps so if you’re interested in the game but don’t have a PS3 or Xbox 360 you could possibly play it on your computer. Even if you’re not interested, however, I hope you still enjoyed our time together, and I look forward to seeing you again to discuss the next game in Replaying the Classics.