E3 2010 First Impressions: Vanquish (Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PS3)

One of the games I was most heavily anticipating seeing at E3 was the game we’re looking at in this preview, Vanquish. Developed by Platinum Games, the folks behind this year’s exceptional Bayonetta, Vanquish looked to be a Japanese take on the “space marine commits mass genocide against evil alien races/foreign countries” concept, and while initial screenshots looked promising, I was most interested in seeing the game in action. Platinum Games, and Clover Studios before them, make games that are often fun to play and incredibly stylish, something that screenshots and demo videos don’t convey as well as a good old-fashioned sit down with a game can. Well, I was given an opportunity to not only view a thorough demonstration of the game by some of the members of Platinum Games, but also to spend a significant amount of time with the game itself, and I can safely say that I was mighty impressed with what I saw all around.

The demonstration showcased the playable demo level present at E3 first, as one of the developers put the game through its paces. The story of Vanquish is that the main character, Sam, is a scientist of some sort who has designed the powered armor he uses in the fight between the US (the good guys) and Russia (the bad guys). The armor is capable of augmenting Sam’s abilities beyond those of the regular grunts out in the field, allowing him solid dodging and movement capabilities as well as a good resistance to damage, but neither of these things are what make the suit special. As the demonstration showed, Sam can rocket forward at the touch of a button via a jet in the back of his suit, allowing him to zip around the battlefield in no time. Tapping a seperate button allows for Sam to enter a bullet-time state, slowing down the world around him and allowing him to take aim with precision on enemies. In theory, neither of these two concepts is especially new, but the fashion in which Vanquish makes use of these things certainly is. As the player zipped around the battlefield, he zipped into and out of cover, using the bullet-time mechanic to take aimed shots as needed, when suddenly, he zipped into a nearby enemy, vaulted off of the enemy’s face, then kicked in the bullet-time and blew away said enemy and his surrounding friends. Needless to say, this was an impressive use of the mechanics that showed that Vanquish is more than a Japanese Gears of War clone.

The demonstration showcased a good bit of what makes Vanquish interesting stylistically as well, such as showing off how the weapons disassemble and reassemble themselves when you change the active weapon, or showing how the main character will smoke a cigarette as he hides behind cover if you wait a bit, which is interesting if nothing else. After showing off the main demo stage that was available on the floor, the team then switched over to a stage set on a moving futuristic train car, showcasing more of the visual aesthetic of the world itself as well as some of the move frantic elements of the shooting action. The weaponry mechanics work similar to that of a Gears of War, in that there are no upgradable character skills so much as there are changeable weapons as the game progresses, though upgradable weaponry seems a possibility. This was shown off as the player switched from his shotgun to a rocket launcher on the deck of the train car, which he then used to take down some advancing aerial forces that were trying to wreck the car to prevent the player from reaching whatever was the objective. The folks running the show revealed that there will be no multiplayer in the game at this point, due to the mechanics in play in the game, and they noted that the game was designed with a more Western audience in mind, meaning that the game should appeal on its face to players more than something like Bayonetta or Madworld did. The game certainly looked like something US audiences would enjoy, if nothing else, and by the end of the demonstration I was itching to get down to the floor and get my hands on the game.

The controls are about what you would expect for a typical third person shooter, and the game feels tight and well designed from the moment you first pick it up. Shooting enemies and tossing grenades around is simple and can be accomplished with the press of a button, and you can move around and take aim on enemies with little difficulty. The bullet time and dash mechanics are, it turns out, restricted somewhat by a refilling bar at the bottom of the screen that measures how frequently you can use each, which not only prevents them from being abused, but also makes their use somewhat strategic, adding another layer to the experience. I also discovered that you can, as the demonstrator did, take out gigantic mechs that get in your way, or you can take out the pilots and commandeer the mechs for your own use, allowing you to use enemy tech to level the opposing forces. The gameplay gets frantic in a hurry, due in equal parts to the heavy amount of enemies on screen and the fast pace of the gameplay, making the game a good bit more in depth than its genre would suggest. The demo pitted me against several waves of enemies, allowing me a good amount of opportunity to test out the ranged and melee combat, before putting me up against a massive boss that completely ruined me. The boss was very complex and interesting, but alas, I didn’t have more time to fight it before it completely wrecked me.

Vanquish, if the playable demo shown at E3 is any indication, is shaping up to be one of the better games to come out this year. Platinum Games looks to have a serious winner on their hands, and could finally penetrate the US market if the game shapes up well. The game is expected to ship sometime this winter, and we’ll keep you posted with any further developments.

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