Video game release dates are serious business. The date that a game comes out is such a big deal that many games are shipped to retailers but then held back from sale until a “street date” – a date that marketing has decided is the best moment to open the floodgates to potential players. I can think of a few reasons to do this, but perhaps the biggest is to avoid conflicts with other big-name releases.
Case in point: Sega’s Vanquish, a positively delightful third-person shooter from Platinum Games (and Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami) that had the dire misfortune to release on the same date as Fallout: New Vegas. Yeah, you can guess how that went. It’s a shame, since Vanquish is a solid experience that stands tall in its own right. Hell, I can speak to this personally: when I went to pick up some games at midnight on October 18, 2010, I was there mostly to get Vanquish and just happened to incidentally pick up New Vegas on the side. How time flies!
When Russia takes over an orbital solar generator satellite and uses it to lay waste to San Francisco, America decides it’s had enough. The army’s sent in to take the satellite back…but they can’t do it alone. That’s where Sam Gideon of DARPA comes in. He’s just one man, but he’s got the power of the Augmented Reaction Suit, or ARS, on his side. The suit allows Sam to slide around with knee-jets, slow down time for precision shots, land crippling melee attacks and more…but will it be enough to deal with both the Russian threat and the distrust of the Army unit Sam’s been attached to?
Vanquish is a cover shooter from the days when there was no shortage of cover shooters…but it’s done in Platinum style, so it twists around your expectations, namely by encouraging you to get out there and fight instead of hiding. The ARS provides a significant measure of damage resistance as well as a very cool bullet-time effect that you can activate on command. Leaping over cover, activating bullet time in midair and cutting down a horde of Russian robots is pretty satisfying, but it’s important to measure your use of the ARS’ power since running too low will cause the suit to overheat and leave you defenseless. In particular, you’ve got a bunch of impressive-looking melee attacks that can take out many foes in a single hit, but using them immediately overheats your suit, which can be a problem if they had friends.
As for weapons, you’ve got a pretty varied selection of guns to choose from; the interesting thing here is that it’s all actually one gun. The BLADE weapon system used with the ARS is able to scan weapons and automatically reconfigure itself into functional copies of them, allowing you to carry an arsenal of three firearms in one. An interesting touch that helps keep the game interesting is that weapons can be leveled up and improved; doing so requires upgrade cubes, which are fairly uncommon, or picking up additional copies of a gun. Weapons only gain levels when you pick up new copies while the one you have is already full on ammo, though, so you’ll constantly have to decide whether to use your favorites or save them in the hopes of making them even more powerful.
It all comes together strikingly well; Vanquish holds up for a game that came out seven years ago. Since you’re playing on PC, you now have access to keyboard and mouse controls, which are so much better than the original release’s analog stick-based controls that they end up making the game feel a little too easy. Veterans will want to crank up the difficulty (or just play on a controller) to compensate. The game’s graphics and sound are improved in the move to PC as well, particularly when it comes to framerates. Vanquish had trouble holding 30FPS back when it originally launched, but now it chugs along at a smooth and happy 60 (or more!) if you’ve got the hardware to handle it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the trend toward older Japanese titles making their way to a happier, more technologically advanced home on PC is a good one. Vanquish is a prime example of this; it’s a solid game that was held back to some degree by its original platform. Now that it’s got some space to roam – and, well, to power-slide all over the place – Vanquish can really shine. Action fans and fellow Platinum Games aficionados should pick it up.