Vanquish Review

The Japanese games industry is dead. It can’t compete with the action games of the west and is sinking slowly into irrelevance… or something. Apparently someone forgot to tell Shinji Mikami however, as his studios latest game,Vanquish, plays like a breath of fresh air in an industry choked with cover based shooters. It’s still very much feels like a game created in Japan, but it feels good to say that in a complimentary way for a change.

On the face of it, Vanquish is a 3rd person, cover based shooter. However, while it’s certainly possible to play it Gears of War style, it really comes into its own once you learn to use the ARS suit effectively. From the beginning of the game until its conclusion, its abilities never change and not being ‘Metroided’ is a refreshing change.

The improvements of the suit come from a growing familiarity with it rather than from incremental upgrades. The ARS suit allows the player to slide on their knees across the battlefield, chaining it with bullet time at their leisure. It’s limited by a recharge meter with reckless use of the abilities forcing it into ‘cool down’, creating a risk-reward setup in how you use it.  The ARS suit is the star of the game, and is the main reason to try Vanquish as there really isn’t anything else quite like it. If, by the end of the game, you don’t have a big smile on your face as you slide under the legs of a giant robot, dispatching the smaller enemies as you go, before flipping around and entering bullet time as you pummel the titan in the back with heavy machine gun rounds, you may just be doing it wrong.

All the sliding around would be pointless if it didn’t come bundled with some impressive firepower. Thankfully the shooting feels solid, with headshots resulting in a satisfying explosion of metal and gears. It only takes an hour to see all of the weapons and it’s likely that most players will stick with their favourite three for the duration of the adventure. However, every arena comes packed with weapons crates and there’s no such thing as a rare find so mixing up weapon types is a simple affair at every stage of the game. However, there’s a strange imbalance in the upgrade mechanics in that picking up a weapon you have full ammo for goes toward upgrading it to the next level.

Essentially, you’re rewarded for not using the weapon you’re trying to upgrade and while it does encourage experimenting with different weapons, it also means that you may find yourself unwilling to use the rocket launcher in the hopes of upgrading your clip size. Dying also sets back the levels of the weapons you carry, but it doesn’t take long to get them back to full strength so it won’t hurt too much.

While Vanquish succeeds in providing some truly unique and spectacular firefights, the same cannot be said for the story.San Fransico has been wiped out by a space station overrun with Russians and it’s up to Sam Gideon and an invading American force to take it back and prevent another catastrophe. It features the usual suspects in the cast, including the gruff war vet and cackling villain and while it does sometimes engage, its main role is simply to give an excuse for a man in a viciously fast, white suit to take on an army of robots.

The Japaneseness of the game extends into the story with a ridiculous plot twist in the end game with the credits leaving the player even more confused than they were at the start. It’s also a little on the short side, clocking in at 7 or 8 hours. Completing each chapter unlocks horde mode style challenge maps, but they’re strictly single player so those of you hoping to slide around with a friend will be disappointed. The missions are also graded and beating the game allows you to play any of them at any time, perfect for achievement hunters or those lucking to push their name up the leaderboards. Undoubtedly many players will beat this in a weekend and never go back, but if you wish to stick with it, the God Harddifficulty mode and challenges will keep them engaged for some time longer.

Although ostensibly a cover based shooter, Vanquish has more in common with the Devil May Cry series or Platinum Games’ last title Bayonetta than Gears of War. By the end of the game, the status screen informed me that I had spent a little over 2% of the play time hiding behind a wall. It pushes the player to be aggressive and to look as cool as possible while doing so. The problem is, after getting used to playing at such a lightening pace, going back to other cover titles is like being forced to crawl after learning to run.

This post originally appeared here


How the 3DS could learn from the PSP

There’s no question that, when it comes to handheld gaming, Nintendo owns the field. With the DS they did the impossible and made a device more popular than the GameBoy. The DS was like nothing the general consumer (and I use that word deliberately instead of ‘gamer’) had ever seen before, with the touch screen allowing interactions that needed no explaining or lengthy tutorials before almost anybody was comfortable with the stylus. Nintendo built on the strong foundation of the DS with a strong line up of games to support it and it is largely down to the success of games like Brain Training and Nintendogs, as well as a fantastic hardware revision in the DS Lite, that the handheld wunderkind became such a megahit.

Prior to it’s release, all signs pointed to the PSP being the future of handheld gaming. The idea of being able to play console quality games on the move seemed to good to be true. The ironic part of the story of the PSP is that for the most part, it met its claims of a portable home console experience. Unfortunately for Sony however, it turned out that most people were happy with the home console games staying at home.

To label the PSP a failure is a massive exaggeration and while it certainly never approached the success of Nintendo’s handheld, it certainly held it’s own for a number of years. It also did a number of things that Nintendo should take note of, specifically in the realm of online service. No matter the ferocity of your admiration for the DS, it’s tough to argue that it has capitalised on its wifi capabilities. With the 3DS, Nintendo has the opportunity to learn some lessons from the PSP. One of the most exciting feature that Nintendo could ‘borrow’ is the ability to share content between the home system and the handheld. The ability to download titles from the virtual console and choose to play them on the Wii or the 3DS would be a really cool addition. E3 proved that the 3DS is ideal for handling N64 ports so all of the Virtual Console titles could see the light of day on the handheld. Ideally the virtual console would appear on the 3DS separately, but if content cannot be shared, either by SD card or wirelessly, between the Wii and the 3DS, then the downloads will remain attached to my Wii.

We know from E3 that movies are coming to the 3DS and the most obvious way to get them there would be through an online store. Much like Apple, Sony has an online destination where PSP minis, movies and even full PSP games can be downloaded straight to the machine and really, if Nintendo is hoping for the 3DS to keep up on all fronts, it will need a service that is much more robust than is currently available. Following on from this, of course, is proper online multiplayer. Yes it’s available on the DS but friend codes need to be rethought. Unless it’s possible to connect painlessly with friends then my Nintendo handheld will remain a single player platform.

The online service is only one aspect of the PSP that Nintendo would do well to look at. There are certainly others and I’d love to hear what you think, so drop a comment and let me know what you think.