Like Bayonetta and MadWorld before it, Vanquish weaves an experience so wickedly over-the-top that if Michael Bay, John Woo, and Robert Rodriguez were melted down and rebuilt as a single sentient being, their collective minds would still be blown before the opening credits had even finished rolling. Well, perhaps not by the opening sequence as Vanquish’s story and cinematics are surprisingly dull. They border between comic book-esque absurdity and the most boring and cliched exposition on par with Hideo Kojima's worst, and as with Bayonetta they drag on far longer than they should. As a vehicle for the action the story does a barely passable job, but you could literally interchange any character or plot point with those of a random Saturday morning cartoon, sprinkle copious amounts of the F-bomb on top, and still end up with roughly the same outcome.
When everyone finally shuts up, though, Platinum proves that awesome action and tight gameplay are truly its expertise. I can best sum up Vanquish as "Gears of War meets God Hand at x5 speed... in space". You play some utterly forgettable tough guy doing his best (or worst?) Wolverine impression. The real star of the game is Not Wolverine’s Augmented Reality Suit, which comes equipped with jet thrusters and a shape-shifting armory of robotic death deliverance. The jets will allow you to quickly slide from cover to cover while shooting enemies in slow motion or dodging incoming rockets, and is what most differentiates Vanquish from being just another Gears of War clone (which is actually just another Kill.Switch clone, for the record).
The DARPA-developed experimental weapon system (aka "BLADE") allows the player to carry three different guns in addition to explosive and EMP grenades. Nothing special there really, but any time one of the weapons has full ammo and the player picks up another one, that specific weapon is automatically upgraded. Unfortunately, it’s not a system that facilitates effective usage of your full arsenal; instead, I spent the entire game running around exclusively wielding my trusty HMG while never even touching my other two slots so that the respective weapons would be continuously leveled up. Annoyingly, all your hard work is erased if you replay a mission or start a new game, so it’s best to just focus on the three weapons you truly care about and completely ignore the rest.
Aside from the solid and exciting gameplay, what I really loved about Vanquish was the sense of an intense, ongoing battle between two factions. Most of the enemies are human-sized robots who will utilize the same cover you and your military comrades do but are easily felled by a quick headshot, yet there are plenty of increasingly large boss machines to contend with as well. The fact that it all takes places in an impressive space station just makes the illusion of an epic war saga that much more potent. Again, too bad the plot and canned dialogue can’t complete the package.
There’s been a lot of drama surrounding Vanquish’s alleged short play time. My first playthrough, in which I racked up 1039 kills and died seven times (as opposed to Eurogamer’s ridiculously newbish 54), took 3:52:01, according to Vanquish’s own end-game stats tracker. I doubt this tracks cutscenes, but when individual chapters can take as little as one to two minutes to complete, it’s not at all unheard of. All of this while looking for hidden statuettes and maxing out every weapon, too.
Some would look at the brevity of the experience as a negative, but Vanquish is a genuine breath of fresh air in a world choked to death by games like Fallout: New Vegas wear out their welcome long before the 50+ hours required to complete them have been met, and titles like Quantum Theory artificially expand their playtime by including one too many waves of enemies every possible chance the developers get. It’s fast, furious, and most importantly, fun. So much so that immediately after I finished the game, I started over again on a harder difficulty. Whether you rent or buy, there’s no denying that Vanquish is simply worth playing.