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Critical Consensus: Vanquish

Reviews of Platinum's latest praise pace and spectacle as Sega achieves 84 per cent Metacritic

Platinum studios has had a fearsomely busy release schedule in its short lifetime, releasing MadWorld, Infinite Space, Bayonetta and now Vanquish all in the last 18 months.

Trademarking spectacle, ingenuity and often controversy, the Japanese studio has flaunted the celebrity and talent which the ex-Clover studios staffers have attracted. The latest in this all-star line up is Shinji Mikami - creator of Resident Evil.

Vanquish borrows heavily from Western shooters, taking lessons from a genre in which Western developers such as Epic and Bungie have lead the way and adding a massive dose of Platinum's unmistakable excess. So far, the game has met with critical success - with one or two exceptions - maintaining an 84 per cent Metacritic rating at the time of writing. Here, GamesIndustry.biz examines the critical response from both ends of the spectrum - in both specialist and mainstream press.

First up is Dan Ryckert's 7.75/10 review over at GameInformer, which draws an immediate parallel between Vanquish and fast-paced but mindless action flick, Crank.

"Vanquish moves along at a breakneck pace, briefly stopping on occasion to offer blink-and-you'll-miss them scenes that push along the barest possible skeleton of a plot. While some of the action is exhilarating, the game's generic characters and one-note gameplay keep it from reaching the high standards set by Shinji Mikami's other works," writes Ryckert.

While Ryckert seems unimpressed by Vanquish's narrative, he does praise the game's sense of action, although in the end it's not enough to put the title into the 'must-buy' category.

"If a dozen enemies are coming down a staircase towards you, it's hard to not feel like a badass when you rocket-slide away from them in slow motion while throwing a grenade over your shoulder. The game is at its best when you're using these abilities during one of the many giant set piece moments.

Vanquish has seen almost blanket recognition for it's visual achievements.

"However impressive the action is, the game is a one-trick pony. Boss fights start recycling early on, the weapons aren't particularly impressive, and you won't care about the story for a second. Outside of a 'snipe the spotlights' section and a ridiculously brief zero-gravity area, most battles are of the 'stand here and survive until the elevator is ready' variety. The game is also very short. Don't be surprised if you finish your first playthrough in four hours or less."

"If Vanquish had been fleshed out with better characters, more variety, and a more substantial campaign, it could have been great. As is, the awesome suit amounts to little more than a fun toy in a forgettable world," Ryckert concludes.

Eurogamer's Simon Parkin is more positive, awarding the game 9/10 in a review full of adulation for Vanquish's breakneck pace and stunning set-pieces, acknowledging the game's creative nod to its Western influences as he does so.

"Platinum has extracted the best elements of Western gaming's totem shooters: the cover mechanic from Gears of War, the squad-based progression of Modern Warfare, the environmental degradation from Bad Company and the psychics-bending weapons of Half-Life," writes Parkin.

"Then it whisks them up with a host of less obvious ingredients. The recurring hail of tracer gunfire is taken from Cave's 'bullet hell' shoot-'em-ups; the gigantic boss battles are borrowed from a Metal Gear Solid cut-scene; the constant score-attack incentives are lifted from Geometry Wars."

But it's the sheer speed and innovation of the game which seals the 9/10. For Parkin, Vanquish is simply too spectacular to ignore.

"Time rarely moves at a constant rate, instead slowing to a crawl before accelerating to fever pitch and back again, combat taking on a dreamlike quality as you dash from cover to cover before slowing the world around you to line up the crucial headshot."

"These interactions are interesting in themselves, but in the context of Vanquish's wider world, they become thrilling. Enemy designs have all of the creativity of Treasure's best output: tortoise-like tanks that can click-clack into humanoid infantry; portable cover that sprouts legs and scuttles, crablike, across the battlefield before setting itself down in front of rows of soldiers; a tiny orb-headed sprite that can attract any metal debris around it to take on the form of a robotic tiger."

Eurogamer's review concludes in uncompromising fashion, singling out Mikami's influence as a key factor.

The fusion of Japanese and Western design elements makes for some interesting juxtapositions.

"It is a game of astounding creativity and polish, exhilarating on the ground in the moment-to-moment thrills of high-speed-to-slow-motion combat, as well as in its wider, twisting trajectory. Doubtless the best third-person shooter ever to come out of Japan, Vanquish builds on Western developers' triumphs to push the genre in new, interesting directions, shifting the balance of power, and cementing Shinji Mikami's position as one of the best directors working in videogames today."

In the mainstream press, both the Guardian and the Telegraph have heaped plaudits on Vanquish, giving extremely positive reviews to what many may consider to be a game with largely 'hardcore' appeal. The Telegraph's Nick Cowen, who doesn't offer a score but recommends a Vanquish purchase wholeheartedly, writes:

"The gameplay's mix of person pop-and-cover, bullet-time, power-sliding and mêlée feels smooth, slick and ridiculously over the top at the same time. The level-design is off the charts; just when you think you've found the game's limit, Vanquish introduces an epic new boss battle or massive action set-piece which cranks the excitement up a notch. The whole experience feels like a massive sensory overload, and this is only compounded by the soundtrack - an overpowering audio cocktail of gunfire, explosions and fast-paced techno."

Cowen does has reservations about some aspect's of the game's design, however, pointing out that many of its mechanics are somewhat simplistic at heart.

"The moment the game's show-stopper veneer slips, the basic, age-old design of the enemies, and the way they are to be defeated, is thrown into sharp relief; point the reticule at the bits that look like glowing red and eyes and shoot."

It is this underlying predictability which irks Destructoid editor Jim Sterling in his 5/10 review. Damning Vanquish for what he perceives as the smoke and mirrors which obscure rather average gameplay and core structure, Sterling attacks the game's energy mechanic and use of punishing enemies as the key faults which bring it low.

"Sam's rocket gliding ability is governed by an energy meter. His melee attacks are governed by the same meter. Yes, you read that right, Sam actually needs energy to punch his opponents, and once he's landed a single successful punch, he can't glide away since the energy meter completely drains. Several times, I punched an enemy, failed to kill it thanks to Sam's inability to aim his punches properly, and was killed because I could neither defend myself or swiftly escape.

The game's length has attracted criticism, however, with little perceived replay value.

"Vanquish is just another cover shooter with shallow gimmicks that have no applicable use. Sam's glide ability is only useful for escaping (or trying to), since there's no point getting up close and killed because you have no power left. Any thoughts you had of sliding toward an enemy, murdering him in a flurry of punches, and deftly sliding away like an awesome space ninja better be abolished from your head -- everything you do in this game makes you vulnerable, weak, and ultimately dead," writes Sterling.

Destructoid's review does take time to point out Vanquish's visual fidelity, but for Sterling it's not enough to rescue the game from an average score.

"At the very least, the game is very pretty to look at. The various visual effects and explosions, not to mention the fact that individual bullets have been animated and are visible in slow-motion, all deserve praise. The bright colors make a welcome break from the dreary browns of most cover shooters, and the enemy design is especially cool. The aesthetic portions of Vanquish are very impressive indeed, so if all you care about are graphics, this is your game."

Vanquish is due to be released Friday October 22, 2010 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. More reviews are available at IGN, NowGamer and VideoGamer.

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Dan Pearson