When Sega originally published Vanquish in 2010, it was a sleeper hit among fans of twitchy, fast-paced shooters. In fact, it remains one of my all-time “cult favorites” from the last console generation.
Like plenty of other great sleeper hits, Vanquish never really got the kind of attention or praise that I felt it truly deserved. I always felt like it would be the perfect candidate for an HD re-release, someday down the line. Naturally, I was thrilled when I heard that an updated version with 4K/60FPS support would be headed to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, bundled alongside another Sega classic – Bayonetta.
Platinum Games was successful at making the original Vanquish an absolute thrill to play, and its over-the-top sense of extreme action was preserved wonderfully. Vanquish still looks very slick, even if the updated visuals and textures sometimes gave it a glossy, plastic look. Nevertheless, the endless barrage of flying lead, fiery explosions, and over-the-top gunplay still makes every single moment look like I was in direct control of a high-budget action flick.
If you aren’t familiar with Vanquish at all, I think the game could best be described as a sci-fi themed combination of Sonic the Hedgehog and Gears of War. There’s the focus on speed and getting through each level unscathed from Sonic with the cover-based, third-person firefights popularized by Gears. I also felt like Vanquish and Bulletstorm had a lot in common; I’ll come back to that in a moment.
A throwback in a good way
As was the case with the original release, Vanquish on PS4 is truly an “old-school” gaming experience. It was always less about the plot and more about action. While the simplistic storyline from the original release remains intact – and still does a solid job of filling in the moments between each chunk of relentless action – I mostly enjoy the plot when I do not take it seriously at all.
The protagonist, Sam, is not particularly special; neither is his supporting cast. But it never really mattered, because the meat and potatoes of the game is the sheer rush of zipping around and blasting through each level. There was an interesting plot twist near the end, but it was less “foreshadowed” and more “forecasted” the entire time, so it was hardly a surprise.
Playing through each stage in Vanquish is like a relentless dash to the finish line. Hordes of enemies always litter the path in front of me. As I blast from room to room, I leave utter chaos and destruction in my wake. I acrobatically move from cover point to cover point and slide quickly along the floor using my suit’s nifty rocket-propelled boots.
With the suit’s special slowdown mode, I can nearly stop time around me. It lets you nimbly move through trails of bullets and explosions blooming like flowers all around you. I always feel particularly badass anytime I can vault over chest-high cover, activate the slowdown mode, and cut down a handful of grunts like it is a cakewalk.
I also love the unique “decoy” feature in Vanquish. From behind cover, you can quickly light up a cigarette. After a few puffs, Sam tosses it toward a group of foes to lure their attention. This novel gimmick amuses me. At least Sega really gets the most out of that “use of tobacco products” disclaimer on the ESRB rating label.
Large-scale boss fights are occasionally sprinkled into the levels. These always test your mettle. Your screen fills with massive robotic foes, usually surrounded by mobs of pesky bad guys for backup. These fights were pretty tough, and I died more than half a dozen times during some of the trickiest encounters. One thing was certain: they were all absolute spectacles to behold and filled my TV screen with flashy particle effects.
I mentioned before that Vanquish reminded me of Bulletstorm. While there is not the same kind of sophisticated point-based system for pulling off fancy kills, part of the fun was always about racking up the most points in each stage. Chaining kills together, finishing stages quickly, reviving fallen teammates, and avoiding sloppy deaths racks up points.
The penalty for death was always harshest to my point total. The checkpoint system mitigated the agony a little bit. It puts you right back into the action, usually before a big encounter or the start of a boss fight’s most recent phase. The short-form stage design keeps the game from being too frustrating. In fact, it actually adds to the replay value quite a bit.
The single-player campaign is not very long (four to seven hours, tops). However, it definitely encourages replay value, mostly for higher point totals or to blast all of the hidden “Pangoss” statues. In addition to the Story Mode, the Challenge Mode offers roughly half a dozen arena-style stages. These bombard you with increasingly difficult waves of foes to take out.
Somewhat surprisingly, I enjoyed this mode quite a bit, especially when I just wanted to pick up and play the game mindlessly for a couple minutes. I felt like it also helped to hone my skills and earn higher scores in Story Mode. Of course, earning high scores wouldn’t be the same without leaderboards for skilled Vanquish players to show off their point totals.
Vanquish is a blast. I enjoyed playing it again in 2020 as much as I did a decade ago. Fans of old-school action games, third-person shooters, and sci-fi should not pass up the chance to check this out. If the combination of Sonic, Gears of War, and Bulletstorm mechanics doesn’t sound interesting enough, I don’t know what does.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.