Posted July 19th 2010 by Jordan Mammo.
Many in the videogame industry often speak as if it's starved for creativity, so it was quite a shock when director Shinji Mikami said that he was given too much freedom when developing God Hand for the Playstation 2. Even more concerning was hearing this comment as he revealed a new title involving what seemed like dime-a-dozen space marines, blaring guns, and cover-based gameplay. For fans of Mikami's quirkier projects, one look at Vanquish may have been enough to make them cry. Was this another sign of a developer losing some freedom?
Fortunately, Vanquish quickly sets aside any concerns about selling out. Initial impressions have often labeled it as a Japanese version of Gears of War, and while this comparison seems apt at first, one session behind the controller produces a very different experience. Like God Hand and P.N.03 before it, Vanquish is focused on sustaining fast-paced, high-tempo gameplay. Using cover strategically is still important, but the game will reward you for taking risks and showing off when you give yourself the time and space to do so.
Vanquish stars a marine named Sam Gideon whose special suit gives him the abilities needed to sustain this pace of play. The suit has boosters on it that allow him to slide around terrain incredibly fast, and this allows him to quickly get behind cover for safety or move in close to engage enemy robots in melée combat. Sliding and shooting simultaneously slows down time so that Sam can escape tense situations or easily take aim and do some damage risk-free. Of course, using these abilities takes up energy and could potentially cause the suit to overheat, leaving Sam vulnerable and briefly unable to use its capabilities. Players will have to decide when the right moment is to slide, slow down time, and/or start bashing robots with their fists.
What really pulls all of this together is that Vanquish feels fantastic to play. If Vanessa from P.N.03 was programmed to move like a dancer, then as our own Jared Thomas put it, controlling Sam here makes you feel like a rock star. Sliding around and from cover to cover is absolutely exhilarating on its own, never mind that it's integral to the entire experience, and it is really what allows Vanquish to play the way that it does. Boosting around while determining when and how to use your suit's energy makes the entire experience play more like an action game than your typical shooter, and it's style of play that many should find rewarding.
The demo we played involved Gideon fighting off multiple swarms of robots, hijacking an enemy machine in order to deal out some extra damage, and ended with a gigantic boss battle. In addition, the game's producer, Keith Dwyer, showed us a couple of other levels. One took place on a moving platform, essentially on-rails, and featured enemy robots dropping in to attack you. If you're good enough you could blow up ships attempting to drop in robots, and Sam could also shoot missiles and projectiles out of the air. Another level had Sam fighting on a large, slanted playing field. He had to move safely between cover while fighting uphill and staying out of the way of collapsing buildings. Dwyer mentioned that some environmental hazards were triggered by the player while others were scripted, and all in all everything looked impressive. And as a sign that Mikami's quirkiness hasn't been completely abandoned, Sam smokes cigarettes in-game that can be thrown onto the ground and used as decoys as robots become attracted to the heat they emit.
One thing that some have been disappointed about is that Platinum Games will not be creating a multiplayer mode. For those worried about replayability, Dwyer mentions that players are scored at the end of each stage based on a number of variables, such as play style and number of head shots, so players can try to top high scores. We asked him how long the game would be and he said it would last around 10 hours. He then pointed out that there would be different difficulty modes, too. In all honesty, though, if the game's single player experience is as good as it looks like it's going to be, there isn't much of a need for multiplayer. Demanding that games with guns need multiplayer modes seems to be some kind of knee-jerk reaction for gamers, and it's one demand I don't mind seeing Platinum sidestep if they feel it would take away from what they're most focused on.
Still, it may be hard for Vanquish to dodge the Gears of War comparisons. In a way it may not be so bad, especially since Gears itself took inspiration from another Mikami-helmed title in Resident Evil 4. Interestingly, Dwyer did not back away from the comparison himself when we asked him about it. In fact, he said that Mikami is disappointed that the Japanese don't make or play shooters all that much, especially since he really likes them. As a result, he wants to open them up to the genre, and in the process not seek to emulate Gears of War, but hope to outdo it. Look for Vanquish in October
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