March 25th, 2013
It only took about half an hour of play for me to realise that Platinum Games is one of the world’s best game developers. Vanquish is a supremely well-designed action game that deserves more time than I’m about to give it. Consider these dot points as preliminary commentary for when I get back to Australia and can explore the game more thoroughly on its harder difficulties.
- The slide boost and slowmo functions are tied to a visible cool down meter, which forces the player to carefully consider when to use these mechanics and for how long.
- When the player’s health is low, the slowmo function is automatically activated. This makes it easier for them to dodge attacks and quickly retreat into cover, where their health can regenerate.
- The player can only manually activate the slowmo function after rolling, slide boosting, jumping out from cover, or slide kicking an enemy. This limitation forces the player to strategically consider their plan of attack so that they can use the mechanics in tandem to turn the tides of a fight. More specifically:
Rolling – Access to the slowmo ability encourages the player to identify the enemy’s weak point (observation, knowledge), determine when they can roll around the enemy to get a clear shot at its weak point (space, knowledge), and then execute (dexterity, reflex).
Sliding Boosting– Because Sam Gideon slides so ridiculously fast, the slowmo is activated any time the player shoots in this state, allowing them to cleanly target enemies. If it weren’t, shooting when slide boosting would clutter the game design. By joining the two mechanics, the player’s presented with a meaningful strategic choice: use the boosters to get behind enemy lines and then keep going forward or flank the enemy with a few melee moves or shotgun blasts (less cool down juice) or slowmo as you slide in, picking apart the enemy line (more cool down juice). With the former, the player risks being caught off guard by a pack of enemies. With the latter, the player risks being caught with their suit overloaded and nowhere to hide. Depending on the composition and layout of grunts and larger foes, you’ll want to vary your strategy accordingly.
Jumping Out From Cover – Access to the slowmo ability encourages the player to identify their targets (observation, knowledge), wait until they’re open (timing), and then leave the cover, line up the crosshair, and shoot (dexterity, reflex).
After Slide Kicking – The slowmo ability allows the player to follow up the slide kick with some close-range shooting. This can destroy decimate grunts and take large chunks of health off larger foes, but comes at the expense of a lot of cool down juice.
- When in slowmo, the bullets move slow enough for the player to manually dodge them. This makes the chaotic bullet-hell sequences manageable. It’s quite the spectacle.
- When slide boosting, the camera pulls back to give the player an optimal view for targeting enemies.
- Walking/running in a shooter is often a low engagement action, especially once the conflict has died down. By sliding boosting instead, the player can keep the game moving at a rapid pace.
- The red/blue colour palette of the enemies distinguishes them from the detailed environments.
- Unlike Resident Evil 4, which often allows the player to play for long stretches without being interrupted by a cutscene, Vanquish’s various battles are strung together through cutscenes which, perhaps unnecessarily, set up the next confrontation. This is a pity as these sequences lack the gameplay’s finesse, never mind the “McCheeseMo” script. Over time the expository melodrama becomes tiresome.
- Despite the innovative slowmo and slide boosting mechanics, and all the enemy and level design that works in with it, Vanquish lacks legs. The inventive gameplay scenarios keep the game going for a while, but there’s simply not enough enemy, weapon, or level design variety in the game’s second half to maintain the initial momentum. Blue-coloured grunts which cut Gideon down with their shotguns, a morphing particle boss, and sequences where the ARG suit is disabled are noteworthy exceptions.
- Vanquish shares many similarities with shmps, both in terms of aesthetics and gameplay. All of the player’s actions contribute to a high score tally, the enemies spawn in waves, some enemies let loose with a bullet-hell-esque hail storm of gun fire, and most bosses are introduced with a “warning, enemy ships approaching” alert notice, as in most shmps.
Hopefully, there will be more for me to say in the future.