Vanquish is a really dumb game and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The recently rereleased version of the game came out in a bundle with Bayonetta, but is also available as a standalone. This new version sports 4K visuals and runs at 60 fps on the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, but aside from that, it’s essentially a straight port of the 2010 release for the PS3 and Xbox 360. This means there are no new bells and whistles, nothing outside of the base game and its horde mode-like time trial challenges.
This isn’t a bad thing either as Vanquish is being released as a budget title, $40 for the combo pack including Bayonetta. Aside from its reasonable price, it’s also not bad because so few people have played it, the original release sold less than a million copies. Finally, it’s not bad because, again, it’s a dumb game. Sure, it may have been nice to get some commentary on the influence of its peers like Gears of War and how the gameplay design came together, but we certainly don’t need any additional insight into the game’s lore and story.
As best I can put together the sparse story, it’s this: A DARPA supersoldier tries to save the world by intervening in the WMD-fueled economic stimulus war between Hillary Clinton and Space Putin while smoking cigarettes. There’s maybe an ounce more nuance than that, but really, the story is a waste of time. The meat and potatoes of the game is finding fun ways to fun down an army of Russian robots.
It doesn’t have to make sense.
Vanquish borrows a lot from Gears of War, from the chest-high walls and cover mechanic to a d-pad enabled weapon loadout where picking up the best gun for the situation is encouraged. Where it diverges heavily is that instead of being a lumbering brute, you’re more agile, with the ability to perform a rocket-powered knee slide across the various battle arenas (the lumbering brute still gets a role as your pseudo-partner in the game).
It’s fun enough that you’ll be using it constantly, and even makes looking through the various weapons scattered throughout the area more enjoyable than a chore. From a slide, you can attach to cover, perform a dropkick melee attack, or aim your weapon to slow down time. This time-slowing mechanic depletes the same energy bar that powers your slide but has a reasonable cooldown when completely depleted, so you’re never without either ability for long.
The time-slowing mechanic also activates automatically when you’ve taken too much damage, so outside of one-hit kills you always have a bit of an escape hatch. That being said, the one-hit kills will happen from time to time and it can take a little bit to adjust to them. Some are just carelessness (“oh, I can’t walk through that shimmering wall”), but others surprised me a bit and forced a gameplay style adjustment. After deciding to tackle a close-quarters section only using melee attacks I quickly learned that despite being able to take multiple rockets to the face, a single enemy swipe would end my run.
Despite needing to adjust to the rules of the game in this regard, deaths never really felt unfair, and were pretty rare throughout my run. Deaths even reroll the contents of the gun crates in an area, which can turn a boss fight from something daunting into three quick shots of a rocket launcher.
The penalty for death is a hit to your score and a single-level downgrade to your weapons, which rarely makes a substantive difference, and is quickly regained by picking up a duplicate copy of a weapon with full ammo. This mechanic definitely had me running around already cleared rooms, playing an odd match-game to secure upgrades to weapons I probably wouldn’t even use.
There’s a decent variety to the weapons, and your three weapon slots are type-agnostic, so you can arm yourself with only high capacity automatic weapons or just the special weapons that tend to pack a bigger punch. Regardless, you’ll probably always find yourself with either the heavy machine gun, assault rifle, or both, as they’re not only some of the most commonly available guns, they’re great default killing machines for the grunts in your way.
That’s the core of the game too, mowing down waves of these enemies whose health bars usually drain very quickly. There’s not a ton of variety in the situations presented to you, but it’s satisfying to play. You gradually becoming adept enough that you don’t need to take cover, know that slowing time will give you enough of a window to destroy a larger enemy, or slide around a barrier to finish someone off with a dropkick. It all works together to make you feel both agile and powerful, which seems to be the aim of a shooter like Vanquish.
It’s fun to play, but could really use some variety. Once you’re through the first act, you’ve really seen all the options the game can throw at you. You’re largely seeing rearranged set pieces and different enemy combinations until you hit the ending. The core gameplay loop doesn’t quite get stale, but that’s because the game takes about five hours to finish if you’re not rushing.
For some mindless third-person shooter action, you really can’t go wrong with Vanquish, but it’s unlikely to leave a lasting impression.