by Justin Snyder
previewed on PC
I prepared for most of my E3 meetings by reading up on the games I was going to be shown. Yet somehow I never got around to checking out Vanquish. Worse still, in the months prior to the E3 any and all trailers, screenshots and details of the game had managed to slip by me somehow. Now I wish I had paid more attention. This is one hell of a game that SEGA is making.
Set in a distant future, Vanquish has the US and Russia warring for the world’s last remaining and fast depleting energy resources. Players find themselves on a space station built by the US with the aim to gather and harness energy from the sun. Not to be outdone, the Russians have taken command of the structure and have used its energy as a weapon to level San Francisco. Their aim was to cause so much destruction that the US would be forced to surrender but things did not work out the way they had planned. Rather than succumb to the pressure, the US launch a counter attack on the station in the hopes of taking it back before the Russians can take out their next target: New York City.
The player takes control of Sam Gideon, an American agent equipped with a newly developed battle suit with truly awesome powers. You are joined by a group of elite soldiers that will aid you in taking back the station.
Vanquish is all about popping from cover to cover and moving around the level. In most scenes the game really feels like a lightning fast bundle of bright lights, giant robots, rocket-boosted power slides, and big explosions.
Developer PlatinumGames has found a great way to solve the ‘infinitely deep pocket’ problem present in so many games. Instead of carrying around a bunch of weapons that would buckle even the back of the world’s strongest man, Gideon is equipped with something called the Blade System Weapon. It is able to scan other weapons out in the field and replicates them instantaneously. Gone are the days of having to watch your character pull weapons out of nowhere, gone are the illogical amounts of weight one can carry. It is a small feature that requires the player to have a little bit of imagination but it satisfies detail-oriented people like myself very happy.
A DARPA-developed super suit naturally comes with all sorts of bells and whistles. The suit’s primary function is to add protection but it also carries boosters that allow high-speed bursts. There is also the Augmented Reaction System (or ARS) that enhances Gideon’s melee abilities and activates a mode similar to bullet-time. You can activate the suit’s ARS power as you vault over cover, come out of a boost, or after kicking an enemy. In the demo that we were shown the system was used in two particularly interesting ways. In one, Gideon jumped over the cover he was hiding behind, activated the ARS and was able to take out several enemies before hitting the ground. In the second, we watched as he kicked off a massive enemy and activated the ARS in mid-air before unloading his gun into the robot and destroying it in the process. Again all this was done before he hit the ground, making for a very dramatic scene.
The ARS also has a passive feature: it will activate on its own when the player suddenly takes a large amount of damage or when he is close to death. The slowdown allows the player time to react to the danger before he is overwhelmed. It either lets him get to the nearest cover or retaliate with enough force to blow away the enemy before the ARS’s effects run out.
The game’s environments and enemies feel positively huge. In one scene we saw Gideon pitted against a robot resembling nothing so much as a giant spider. The metallic monstrosity was big enough to tear down buildings while throwing chunks of rubble at its adversaries, even when those adversaries were assaulting it from all sides. Another scene showed the player taking down an equally large giant shape-shifting robot that looked as stunning as it looked dangerous.
Just like in Platinum Games’ most recent title, Bayonetta, the player will receive a score at the end of each level. Besides the usual factors that affect the score such completion time and the number of enemies killed, there are a few more interesting things that can improve your score. Healing allies on the battlefield is one example but, more intriguingly and true to the game’s fast pace, the longer you take cover the more the game lowers your score. This system is bound to add to the game’s replayability, especially for those who hunger for the highest scores and come back to try and improve their score. When asked, the developers wouldn’t confirm whether or not the game would feature online leaderboards but one would certainly hope so. The game’s typical play-through is said to be about ten hours which is fairly short. The developers were adamant about additional features to improve replayability but were not able to specify what they would be.
I saved the most intriguing – however small – feature for last. When taking cover, the battlesuit’s helmet will retract to unveil Gideon’s face. Take cover long enough and Gideon will pull out a cigarette, light it, take a puff, and toss it away. Before drawing the wrong conclusion, I can assure you that this action is not just an ‘aesthetic’ feature: it actually serves a purpose. The tossed-away cigarette will distract nearby enemies long enough for Sam to pop out of cover and take a few down before they can respond. A cool little feature that shows the kind of attention for detail required to make a great game.