You may or may not remember an episode of The Simpsons from a few years back in which Bart was diagnosed with ADD and put on Focusyn, a drug similar to Ritalin or Adderol. In that episode, Bart was shown playing a video game featuring a snowboarder dodging explosions, shooting rockets, fighting ninjas and avoiding alien spacecraft all at once. Meant to illustrate one possible cause of ADD and ADHD in kids, the game had even more happening on-screen than Treasure's most complicated bullet hell shooters. When I finished the tutorial and jumped into Vanquish's first level, Bart's game jumped immediately to mind. Much like Platinum Game's last efforts, Bayonetta and MadWorld, Vanquish is an action shooter that must be seen and played to be fully appreciated.
Vanquish tells the tale of Sam Gideon, a special soldier sent to the frontlines of a conflict aboard a Russian space station. It seems Russia used a giant microwave ray to completely annihilate San Francisco, Hot Pocket style, and U.S. forces are deployed to the weapon's satellite base to bring it down before more damage can be done. Sam is no ordinary soldier, though; he comes equipped with a special robotic suit that gives him all kinds of superhuman abilities. The plot is about as recycled and boring as it gets, though a small twist a little later in the game makes the story at least worth a look. Basically, if you skip a cutscene or dialogue exchange by accident it isn't worth reloading your save to see or hear what slipped by. The sometimes obnoxious voicework doesn't help matters much either. It's not quite as obtuse as Bayonetta's spoken bits or as annoying as those found in the PS3 exclusive Haze, but overacted lines and lame exchanges, in addition to the flimsy plot, add nothing to the overall game.
And that's where my criticism of Vanquish begins and ends. Since we've touched on sound already, let's talk about graphics. Amazing. That's the only word you'll need to describe how the game looks. The characters and environments are well animated and include tons of detail. Remember Isaac's suit in Dead Space and how it constantly moved and shifted? Sam's suit makes it look like Mario's overalls. It moves and adjusts to different situations, and the suit's morphing as you switch weapons is something you'll never get tired of looking at. All the activity reminded me of a robotic version of the Spider-Man villain Venom, rather than just some dude in a cool suit of armor.
Sam and his comrades, though, aren't the most impressive aspect of the game's visuals. The gigantic set piece moments will make even the most jaded gamer take notice, and they occur so regularly that you're given almost no time to take in what you've just seen. I won't ruin the fun, but a certain segment set on a freeway rivals Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare's nuclear explosion in terms of awe and scope. Before I got into the game, I remember thinking, "The whole thing is aboard a space station? Ho hum backgrounds and repeated levels, here I come." No sir. Once the bullets started flying my fears were laid to rest. Vanquish seems to have been designed with the lofty goal of shattering gamers' perceptions of how much action is too much. Games like the recent Medal of Honor reboot rely on these big moments without weaving them seamlessly into gameplay (i.e. walk forward or that unexpected ambush will never happen…yawn), but Vanquish keeps the pace moving and feels like you're in a dynamic world where stuff would go down whether you are there or not. The in-game graphics and these larger-than-life moments ensure the player will feel like a part of the ever-present action, not just a spectator.