Sega's latest man-in-robot-suit simulator, Vanquish, arrives on store shelves this October, but the demo was released yesterday, giving Xbox 360 and PS3 owners a chance to taste this bizarre and unique treat for themselves.
Before I delve too deep, know this: This is a Platinum Games title, meaning that this is a Shinji Mikami joint. Indeed, the father of Western-influenced Japanese games is at the helm in Vanquish, and just from my brief time with the demo, I can say his hands are definitely all over it.
The demo opens in a tight corridor with the main character -- a man in a wonderfully over-elaborate robotic suit -- surrounded by a dozen or so regular soldiers/bullet fodder. This drab opening is a deliberate fake-out, however, because one bend in the corridor and a staircase ascent later, you find yourself gazing at the impossibly high ceiling of a cavernous hangar, about a mile above where you stand. All around you, however, hell is breaking loose. Men and robots of varying shapes and sizes battle each other in pockets of battle, causing explosions that momentarily blur the screen, and destroyed vehicles fly, tumbling , mere feet above your head.
Vanquish is very much like the majority of Shinji Mikami's other titles insomuch as it is a very identifiably-western game, but with a Japanese crazy-injection. Your character is encased in a robot suit of impossibly impractical design. Putting that thing on must take him a good ten hours. The front of his helmet pulls back to reveal his face when he needs a mid-battle smoke break (exclusively assigned to the right-bumper). His otherwise unremarkable arsenal of weapons are made completely remarkable by them being transformed version of the same shape-shifting gun. His voice is comically cheesy, and the designers went so far out of their way to design an American 'everyman' hero that he borders on 'estranged deadbeat dad' territory.
So how does the demo play? In a nutshell, Vanquish is Gears of War at 60mph. Your character's suit is an action gamer's dream, constructed from hundreds of interlocking segments and hydraulic-powered assists. His back houses a small jet-engine that boosts him along the ground at ridiculous speed. Tapping the X button sticks him to cover, the A button launches him into a quick barrel-roll and the B button unleashes his melee attack which, when used repeatedly, turn into a magnificent slow-motion combo flurry. Combining these are half the fun, and usually end in a satisfying display of slow-motion excellence in one way or another. Within ten minutes I found myself power-sliding in and out of cover, power-sliding into enemies and experimenting my take-down tactics by first firing shots, then decimating them with 60mph uppercuts.
Throughout all of this, the visuals blur with motion, vibrate with explosions, and distort as you power-slide about. These touches, combined with the cheesy techno background music make for a truly visceral and entertaining experience. The amazing abilities you have are so fun to perform, so empowering, that more often than not merely skulking behind cover just doesn't cut it, and you will tempt yourself out into the open, just to see how much of a baddass you can be.
The inclusion of an enormous, spider-like robot vehicle at the end of the demo stage really seals the deal on this extravaganza of awesome. In standard Japanese gaming convention form, its joints glow orange and are its natural weak points. After the initial round of attacks, it unleashes and angry volley of approximately ten thousand rockets and a heat ray. After a few more rounds of beatings it twists and transforms into a more humanoid-like robot, smashing its fists into your surroundings and destroying your cover with its volcano chest.
If you like the idea of 3rd person cover-based shooters, yet don't have the patience for the methodical and almost chess-like tactics required in the Gears of War games, you simply have to try this game. I love Gears of War, I really do, but Vanquish takes its tropes and hits the accelerator, upping the thrill and kinetic energy of Epic's seminal classic tenfold. Vanquish went from my 'what's that?' list to my 'must-haves' list within one sitting of this demo.
If you are in the mood for an evolution of the 3rd person action genre, look no further than Vanquish. If the demo is any indication of the experience that awaits in the box, Vanquish looks to be a fist-pumpingly kinetic ride that is a blast to play.
Vanquish arrives for both Xbox 360 and PS3 on October 19, 2010 in North America, and October 22, 2010 in Europe