Vanquish Hands-on Impressions

There's a cult-like following for beat-em-ups such as Devil May Cry or the more recent Bayonetta. These high-speed, fast-paced games have such a following because they are so quick and require such extensive knowledge of the controls that those few players who can compete on the hardest difficulties are almost part of a special group of gamers.

Those who couldn't keep up with that intense pace could still enjoy the game because it's still entertaining, no matter how difficult it is. Outside of Bayonetta, we've had a serious glut of super-fast games, but Platinum Games, who also developed Bayonetta, is giving us not only another speed demon, but making it a third-person cover shooter as well.

This combination, at first glance, seems like an oxymoron. A quick third-person shooter? Those don't exist. The aspect of going into cover should make it slow and calculating, not fast. So what gives? The answer is simple: Players get in a mech suit that's equipped with jump jets.

Set in the future, energy has become a rare commodity, and the USA is the world leader thanks to solar energy they acquire through satellites. Russia attacks to take the satellites for themselves, but instead of standard human soldiers, they use mind-boggling fast machines. It's not like Terminator, where the humans actually stood a chance. These robots kill in the blink of an eye.

Thankfully, the suit is not only strong and powerful, it also will speed up players to fight on equal terms with the machines. That doesn't mean that time goes slow for you, quite the contrary, the game is fast as any other. But you're not limited by anything, so players can use the suit as fast as they can press buttons.

Sam, the American suit pilot, has a wide variety of tools at his disposal. His gun, perhaps one of the coolest we've ever seen in a game, morphs into one of four preselected weapons, and after scanning any weapon on the battlefield, Sam can morph his gun into it too. Like the gun from the canceled Command and Conquer FPS Tiberium Wars, it does everything you'll ever need it to, from pistol to sniper rifle.

Booster rockets on the knees allow Sam to literally fly from cover to cover, all while remaining close to the ground and moving incredibly fast. Sam's also able to shoot from this position, but once he reaches cover, don't expect to be safe. Cover is destructible, so combat scenarios need to be dealt with swiftly or you'll run out of cover and become a bullet magnet.

Platinum Games assured us that Sam has many more tricks up his sleeves, like a sort of bullet-time ability when Sam's health gets low (also available on a charge at a certain point, the developers told us), specialized grenades, and smoking. Smoking, you ask? Smoking gets the enemy's attention, and you can throw a lit cigarette to distract enemies from your true location. Sneaky and clever.

My time with gameplay proved just how fast gameplay is, where there isn't time to sit back and think and plan. It's a fight or flight game, on a constant and never-ending basis. Like real war, there's no time to think once the bullets start flying, though most third-person shooters are all about finding cover than making some sort of plan. No time for that here. You think on your feet, or you die very, very quickly.

Those scram-jets on the suit's knees are one of the most exciting gameplay mechanics for a shooter I've ever used. Flying around the battlefield while still on the ground while still being able to shoot is remarkable. And the speed...as a Devil May Cry 4 junky myself, it was like suddenly getting an adrenaline rush that gamers really haven't seen in far too long, and never for a shooter.

Vanquish is set for release this holiday for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

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James Pikover
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