Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Seriously Absurd Case of Vanquish

My latest PopMatters post is about one of my favorite games from 2010: Vanquish.

Around here, both Jorge and I are pretty careful about using the "F" word. You know the one I'm talking about: "fun." While it's perfectly fine to have fun playing a game, describing it as such often says very little about why and how a game tickled your fancy. Additionally, it obscures the nuances between experiences that are amusing, enjoyable, or rewarding. I wouldn't necessarily call a game like don't take it personally... "fun" in the same way a roller coaster is fun, but I'm extremely glad I played it.

This brings us back to Vanquish, a game I found extremely fun in the way that roller coasters, fried food, and action movies are fun. I mean, just look at it:

It was a challenge was to get past all the bombast that infatuated me, but the end result was very rewarding. The game's campy story and absurd characters are a light-hearted veneer over one of the most innovative shooters in a long time. Once again, Shinji Mikami demonstrates his talent for innovative and experimental design. After re-defining third person shooters with Resident Evil 4, he has clearly been paying attention to subsequent innovations from games like Gears of War. While Vanquich pokes fun at Marcus and the gang, it's more of a love letter than anything: be it the gravelly-voiced protagonist or the necessary use of cover, Vanquish is well aware of its predecessors' strengths.

However, Vanquish is more than a tribute: it successfully addresses many of the problems that plague action and shooter games. It's a cover-based shooter that is both fast-paced and strategic. Its use of "bullet time" is an integral part of the combat, not just a gimmick or an "auto-kill" function. It has an interesting weapon upgrade system that affects player behavior and battle dynamics. It doesn't hurt that the game is visually stunning either. Games like Vanquish are an optimistic sign that the Japanese development community is still capable of producing excellent, relevant games.

Vanquish may seem like a goofy Gears clone at first, but it soon becomes apparent that it is both a tribute and a challenge to other third-person shooters. Vanquish might act the fool, but it is completely serious about providing a polished, innovative experience. It's a fun thing to experience.


  1. Definitely looking forward to playing this one some time soon.

    The Platinum guys have been on a roll lately, I mean Bayonetta took the Combo Driven Action Slasher to a new level of ridiculousness and Vanquish seems to have done the same to the Cover Based Shooter.

  2. Hey Christian!

    And I'm looking forward to your thoughts on it. Should be quite the change of pace from L.A. Noir. ;-)

    I'm just the opposite: I've been wanting to play Bayonetta for a long time! Maybe later this summer.

  3. Hm, that shouldn't be a problem, since I haven't played L.A. Noir yet either ;)

    Depending on your level of experience with this genre (Devil May Cry? Ninja Gaiden? God of War doesn't count ;)) you'll either sweat or smile knowingly when playing Bayonetta. It's pretty sweet.

  4. Ah, I figured I was the only one in the world who hadn't played Noir. Guess I'm in good company!

    I've messed around with Devil May Cry a little, but nothing too extensive. I'm looking forward to it.

  5. Seriously man, this is slowly getting outta hand.
    My still-need-to-play-from-2011 list keeps getting longer and I'm still trying to finish 2010 up. Red Dead, Vanquish and New Vegas are next. And I guess I really can't leave AC Brotherhood and God of War 3 behind without feeling bad about it...

    So on my schedule LA Noir is totally something like a mid 2012 game ;)

  6. Yes yes yes yes! Both Chinny and I on the VeteranGamers love this game for exactly the same reasons. Hurray for silly but very very fun games! (I put Quantum of Solace in this category too.)

  7. Hey ESP,

    It's funny, but I didn't realize that game such had a following. People have been coming out of the woodwork ever since I posted this, so I'm glad to be in good company!