Hullo! You may recall my promise last month to play games outside my comfort zone as a sort of personal challenge, and I thought it was high time I wrote about my experiences exploring the strange frontier of personal taste.
I finished VANQUISH a few weeks ago, and in accordance with Game Criticism 101 I thought a proper review was in order. Then I remembered that product reviews are silly and I’m usually rubbish at them anyway, plus the game went on sale months ago so I’m obsolete to boot.
But we are playing at being Serious Game Journalists, so here is my complete review of VANQUISH for the XBox 360 console with no spoilers, a buying guide and a final score.
VANQUISH IS a game about guiding an emaciated cyberdog of war as he blasts and buttslides his way through a human space colony overrun with homicidal Russian robots. Meanwhile, you hover about five feet behind him mashing buttons, which is great because this is a Shinji Mikami joint and pretty much every button makes protagonist Sam Gideon do something awesome.Have you ever played a game called Gears of War? It’s a bit of a cult classic that inspired a rash of surprisingly similar games about guiding grunts through impossible battles by hovering about five feet behind them mashing buttons, and the lead developer made a point of citing Resident Evil 4 as inspiration. Thus the similarities between all three games (Resident Evil 4, Gears of War and VANQUISH*) is perhaps not so surprising, and perhaps the fact that playing VANQUISH on Casual feels like playing Gears of War with the turbo button taped down and the gamma blown is a bit of playful one-upmanship on Mikami’s part.
I like to imagine Mikami reading that Epic interview and raising his fist to the heavens in righteous anger. “They think they can improve my unique camera-perched-above-shoulder-of-bland-buff-dude-in-brown-wasteland masterpiece by simply making it blander, buffer and browner? I’ll make a game that proves narrative and nuance means nothing as long as your camera is perched above a sufficiently grizzled and badass shoulder! BRING ME ALL YOUR ROBOT ANIME AND COLD WAR PROPAGANDA, STAT!”
BUY IF you love the idea of playing through a beautiful level until your eyes bleed trying to beat your previous high score, or if you have a soft spot in your heart for combing said beautiful levels for every last completely nonsensical golden statuette. Also, take a moment to hearken back to youth and the feeling of delayed gratification that came with waiting until the cookies were finished baking before you snagged one; did overcoming temptation make the fully-baked cookie that much sweeter, or did you risk salmonella to snag a gob of raw cookie dough as soon as possible? If the former is true, you’re a patient kid who’ll get a kick out of the weird weapon upgrade system in VANQUISH which encourages you to avoid using a weapon in order to make it more powerful.
RENT IF you want to turn your brain off for a weekend and blast some badass robots to smithereens in a most satisfying fashion. There’s something indescribably sensual about the colors and sounds that accompany Sam as he zooms around the space station destroying giant robots, and I had a blast switching VANQUISH to Casual difficulty and cruising through without having to think too hard. To the ever-expanding game genre catalog (mobile, PC, console, MMO) I’d like to add another entry: podcast games are those that feel fun and engaging without requiring much attention to the narrative, freeing the player to listen to a more appealing audio track. VANQUISH is a great podcast game.
AVOID IF you can’t stand the idea of destroying a pair of Communist robots with one well-placed shotgun blast before backflipping behind a piece of conveniently-placed concrete, taking a long drag on a short cigarette and leaping over the wall to powerslide between the legs of a giant rocket-spewing robospider while peppering its vulnerable nether regions with nanomissiles. In slow motion. Also, you should probably steer clear if you want a game with length, depth or a multiplayer mode. VANQUISH has none of these, but it’s still a damn fun game.
SCORE: Two bananas and a can of Coke Zero.
* I am going to print VANQUISH in bolded caps because that is how the protagonist melodramatically mutters it every time you boot up the game, and it’s awesome.