Ugly duckling: Vanquish

Ugly duckling reviews usually cover games that have a potential to be something amazing, but for one or the other reason fail to reach that goal. Which might leave you wondering – why am I covering Vanquish under this category? Well, there are reasons for that.

Vanquish, finally released on PC with proper resolutions and framerates way above the often sub 30fps on consoles it”enjoyed” 7 years ago, is quite a strange beast. On one hand, it has the potential to truly innovate TPS, and shooter action titles in general, on another it’s a clearly very low budget and deeply flawed game. And judged as a whole it leaves a very hard to describe taste in the mouth.

But let’s start with what it can do and does wonderfully. Released during the age of stick-to-the-cover third person action titles, where Uncharted 2 was the fastest paced and craziest take on that wave so far, Vanquish completely breaks away with the amount of abilities it gives to the player. While, amazingly enough, it can be played almost entirely like a by the book cover shooter, what it can also be played as is by sliding on your bum at incredible speeds while shooting enemies in slow mo, kicking them into the air, juggling them a bit, throwing grenades, shooting those out of the air, dodge rolling everywhere and rocket punching big enemies to death. It’s quite insane what you can do in the game and ever since Vanquish release we’ve yet to see anyone else attempt to truly mix the standard shooter gameplay with things you’d see in melee-oriented PlatinumGames titles.

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All that said, it has to also be mentioned that this is a Shinji Mikami-directed game. And Mikami-san just loves to go out of his way to make games non-user friendly, extremely limiting to the player and killing you before you can blink. Vanquish, being probably the easiest of his games to get into and not die, still has the usual limitations that feel to go a bit too far. All the crazy moves you can do are limited by the energy bar of your suit (it’s actually the bar before the suit overheats). Melee, overheats the suit immediately, for some reason, usual slow-mo drains it at a reasonable pace, while sliding slow-mo, for some reason, noticeably quicker. There’s story explanation for that, but gameplay wise it feels like there’s no rhyme and reason for some of the choices and it feels like some of the limits are imposed not as much for fun and tense strategic gameplay, but rather to fuck the player over unexpectedly if they make a mistake. But still – this Mikami title is actually easy to get into and not die, it’s no God Hand.

What breaks the game isn’t the main gameplay, but rather everything but the main gameplay. The story and characters are outright terrible. No one is likable or interesting, nothing makes any real sense and it all feels as if it was a low budget 80s anime parody of your average budget shooter from late 2000s, except it’s not even funny. Visually the game is an amazing example of how truly fantastic designs (no really, the transforming suit and the location the game events happen on are amazing in concept) can be ruined by how uninspired and boring they’re actually made within the game. Everything just looks boring with only few rooms of the entire game being at least somewhat memorable. And the music is mostly forgettable, despite having a brilliant basis of some Japanese take on trancey drum n bass electroclash tunes. It’s like “cinematic orchestral score” but electronic.

And because of that, the overall experience of the game is much more garbage than the core gameplay mechanics deserve. At least on PC (and after initial patches that fixed several annoying little issues) the experience is consistent and lacking the framerate issues that plagued console releases. In fact, I’d even say that apart from the QTEs which were not visually adapted for PC (so the “rotating” motion actually means press the button a lot), keyboard and mouse controls feel much more natural to the game than the original gamepad ones.

It’s worth checking, if you like action titles, mostly due to the fact that there’s still nothing really like it. And because the core gameplay on its own is very fun. I just wish it was tied to a different game.

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