There must be many gamers nowadays that associate Sega only with PC strategy games, a fate that would have seemed inconceivable during the heyday of the Mega Drive. It’s not as if most of those strategy games aren’t very good, but they’re as different as it’s possible to be from the arcade style games Sega was originally known for. Vanquish though is like being back in the good old days.
Recently there’s been whispers that Sega may be planning to start making new games in its old style, although we’ve had that false hope before. But they are definitely taking a renewed interest in their back catalogue at the moment, and after Bayonetta this is the second PlatinumGames title in as many months to be ported to the PC. And ported extremely well too.
Vanquish was originally released in 2010 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, part of a five-game publishing deal with Sega that included MadWorld, Bayonetta, Anarchy Reigns, and DS title Infinite Space. Vanquish is a third person shooter directed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami and shows clear influences from both Resident Evil 4 and the now almost forgotten P.N.03. Vanquish itself is barely any better known amongst most mainstream gamers, but hopefully that will change with this new PC version.
Vanquish’s rather tepid plot involves a resurgent Russia taking over a U.S. space station and microwaving San Francisco. You play the game as DARPA agent Sam Gideon, accompanying a group of marines trying to stop any more cities going the way of the ready meal. Storytelling has never been Platinum’s strong point though, and while everyone’s gruff-voiced seriousness almost seems like parody you quickly realise the plot and characters really are as one-note as they appear.
The real star though is not Sam, but his high-tech suit – which makes him look like a slimline Master Chief. But it does far more than just protect him from stray bullets and make him look cool in screenshots. For a start, there are rockets in the boots and arms which allow you to skid along the floor at high speed, zipping into cover in an instant or passing between the legs of larger enemies to shoot at them from behind.
The rockets are powered by a quickly recharging energy bar, which also powers the suit’s enhanced melee attack and the game’s core gimmick: bullet time. Not, it may seem, a very inspired feature but no game has ever exploited the concept quite like this. The slow motion effect is initiated in one of two ways, the first being automatic if you are severely injured – giving you just enough time to get to cover or deal with whoever’s attacking you.
The second method is manual, but only works when you perform a roll or dodge. Vaunting over the top of a barricade, turning on the effect, and then scoring three headshots before Sam’s feet have even hit the floor is a very special feeling, and has still never been bettered by any other shooter.
There is a cover system, but you’re gently discouraged from relying on it, as you can’t use the bullet time effect when simply ducking up and down. The game is actually very good at encouraging you to use the full range of your abilities at all times, with levels and enemies proving almost impossible if you try to play the game as a bog standard shooter.
There’s great variety in the weapons too, from a simple assault rifle and rocket launcher to a lock-on laser and a gun that fires bubbles of energy through obstacles. We were a little disappointed by the lack of bosses though, which is usually Platinum’s forte. Especially as the one in all the trailers turns up multiple times and most other encounters lack a similar gravitas.
But that’s a rare fault in what is an otherwise superbly crafted campaign mode. The real problem is simply that it’s unlikely to last you more than five or six hours. What’s there is perfectly designed, but there’s very little visual variety, and once you get a hang of the mechanics it’s not particularly difficult on normal difficulty.
There’s also very little else to the game. Higher difficultly modes of course, and some unlockable challenge levels, but nothing like the variety of extras in Bayonetta. There’s also no multiplayer.