While I might look back fondly on Vanquish as one of the best PlatinumGames experiences, it means something else entirely to look at the game from a critical perspective rather than a nostalgic gaze. As a remastered port on the PC, time has made Vanquish an interesting relic and a new critical look unearths some interesting findings.
Vanquish was released in 2010 at the tail end of what I like to consider Platinum's early period, which I feel ends with the release of Anarchy Reigns in 2012. Basically before Platinum began partnering with other studios to make Star Fox, Metal Gear, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games.
Early Platinum titles like Bayonetta, Vanquish, and MadWorld excited gamers who wanted uninhibited style and panache, even if the execution was ultimately flawed. In most cases, the unique experience was enough to justify those shortcomings. Seven years later, that same experience is no longer enough to take the spotlight from the same shortcomings of the original console version.
Vanquish joins Bayonetta as another remastered PC Platinum port and the first thing I have to say is that the PC version looks amazing. The unlocked framerate and HD resolution improves the look of the game in almost every way. When Vanquish first came out on consoles, the flashy style and beautiful art direction overshadowed the muddy textures and "chunky" looking graphics. On the PC, the game shines even better, and while the textures are still weird looking, PC visuals elevate almost all parts of the Vanquish's presentation.
As for the story, Vanquish is a perfect example of what would happen if Hong Kong action maestro John Woo directed a sci-fi film a la John Carpenter. It almost feels like a foreign country's rip-off of Iron Man, but in a good way. Vanquish wields its American hero, DARPA agent Sam Gideon, like a B-movie sledgehammer, every bit as hammy as Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken in Escape From New York, or a sassy Nic Cage back in his action hero days.
A quick overview: Vanquish begins with Gideon flying towards an orbiting space colony overtaken by cyborg Russians who have kidnapped a DARPA chief named Candide. Aided by his DARPA co-worker Elena Ivanova, Gideon throws his lot in with a company of grizzled space marines, to save the U.S.A. from Robo-Russians.
The proto-Iron Man armor (which looks way cooler than the Iron Man armor) that Gideon wears is armed with an ability to slow down time briefly thanks to the Augmented Reaction Mode (AR Mode). It's a beautiful system that lets players speed across whole levels before slowing down time to kill bad guys with the elegance of some kind of mechanical murder bird. The only downside is the suit overheats occasionally, totally killing the buzz you get from using its wonderful features.
There's a whole bunch of strange details that I love about Vanquish. Like the fact the players are constantly reminded that Gideon is actually a brilliant researcher (MIT gets name dropped every now and then) or that soldiers complain when you rescue them from electric torture machines because those shocks "felt good." I could spend a good chunk of time just watching Vanquish as a film. Which is actually what playing Vanquish feels like due to one of my biggest complaints about the game.
Cutscenes appear in the game at nearly every step of the way, making an already short game feel even shorter. While the cutscenes are beautifully rendered and show off some cool setpieces, it begs the question why players aren't simply allowed to play out some of the cutscenes themselves—though in hindsight it's clear that the game's budget probably had something to do with it.
Those same cutscenes also contribute to problems with the game's fluidity. Since movement and shooting are clearly the game's strong suit, the cutscenes feel like a very regular speed bump. Worse yet is that no matter how much fun I've had with Vanquish's story, it's still B-movie quality, meaning it doesn't actually require as much exposition as its given.
The constant cutscene interruptions are actually indicative of a larger problem, which is the game's pacing. Vanquish relies heavily on a stylishly fast glide-and-gun gameplay that is constantly under threat of being derailed. During the actual game the clunky melee combat shattered the good pace I built up running-and-gunning in slow-motion. Strangely enough, the quick-time events don't suffer from the same problem because they usually occur during, you guessed it, cutscenes. So there's no need to worry about them intruding into game time.
It's a shame because other parts of the combat are pretty good. Weapon options are quite varied in Vanquish, even if you'll probably end up sticking with two or three favorite guns. Also, you haven't lived until you snipe a robot in slow-motion. The only problem here is the consistency of these weapon drops. I spent around half an hour without ammo for my basic assault rifle because the game kept dropping Heavy Machine Guns in front of me. It's a weapon I barely used, but one that Vanquish must think is the most important weapon ever since I saw more Heavy Machine Guns than any other gun in my playthrough.
There's also the matter of difficulty. Vanquish isn't a hard game per se, but let's put it this way: If the first rule of a cover shooter is to always take cover, the first rule of Vanquish is to always take cover, but in slow-motion. Gideon can't handle more than a few shots and can even get one-hit KO'd when facing really big bosses. While AR Mode gets triggered when Gideon's health runs super low, it's kind of a toss-up whether or not escaping enemies in slow-motion helps. Definitely feels cool though.
Ultimately the core complaints about Vanquish are carry overs from the console version of the game. The PC's graphical improvements aside, Vanquish is short and feels even shorter when you account for all the cutscenes. The gameplay is hampered by weakening its strongest aspect—fluid third-person action—with different impediments, including cutscenes, melee combat, and other small hindrances like having to climb ladders or revive fallen teammates. Lastly, while I don't believe in needless bonuses like multiplayer or extra modes when they don't need to be there, the PC version offers no additional in-game content other than graphical enhancements, if that's something you're curious about.
Plays like a dream, I wish I could slide around the whole game forever.
Good sound design, but I barely remember the soundtrack.
Exceptional PC graphics bring out Vanquish's true graphical potential.
Vanquish is a fun, dumb game that feels good to play when you get into a zone. If you're a fan of Escape From New York or other B-grade action films, Vanquish will appeal to you as well. While I wish that Vanquish would let me fully indulge in the many joys the game has to offer, budget and time added roadblocks to the experience. For 20 dollars, I can certainly recommend this to new players or true fans of the original. But if you didn't like Vanquish the first go-around, there's not a lot here other than a prettier looking version of the same game from the previous generation consoles.