To the best of our knowledge, killer robots are not represented by any pressure group or union. This is a good thing for Platinum games, the makers of Bayonetta and now Vanquish, as the language used to describe the murderous mechs unleashed by this game is pretty shocking. “F***ing robots” - a line repeated so frequently that it soon loses any impact - is just the beginning of the anti-deadly droid expletives. By the time Vanquish is finished, pro-robot campaigners everywhere would be writing to their MPs, the Radio Times and quite probably the comments section of The Daily Mail (if they don’t already).
Much of this robot-related invective comes from Colonel Robert Burns (definitely no relation to the famous Scots poet), your ally through much of the game and one of several characters who appears to have been produced by getting South Park’s Cartman to play through Gears of War, Modern Warfare 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 before sitting him down to write the script. This is the only way we can explain how Platinum came up with this bizarre tale of villainous Rusky robots invading a colony orbiting the Earth and wiping out San Francisco, causing the good old Yankee heroes to strike back with the aid of several thousand gruff space marines and a guy in sleek, nano-tech armour. It’s guff, of course, but guff of a ridiculously entertaining variety. A dose of Vanquish is just what you need after the Tom Clancy tosh of Modern Warfare 2 or the earnest seriousness of Medal of Honor.
Plus - as anyone who played Bayonetta will tell you - we don’t play Platinum’s games for the plot. Nor do we expect originality. Instead, the developer delights in taking existing genres - here the third-person, cover-based shooter - whacking the volume up and generally monkeying around with the game mechanics. In this case, it all revolves around your hero’s armour, which endows him with the ability to race around the level at hyper-speed on his knees, speed up his reactions for a F.E.A.R. style slowmo effect, batter robots into bits with his bare hands, and replicate any weapon he touches. To keep things from getting too easy, an overheating gauge doubles as a limit on these skills and as a health bar. To keep things from getting too hard, the slowmo automatically cuts in when you’re at death’s door, giving you the chance to escape or destroy those firing on you.
The addition of all this stuff to the existing Gears of War formula transforms the game from a slightly predictable, clear one wall and then the next affair into a crazed, ridiculously fast-paced bonanza of stunts, stylish assaults and bullet-time. Why cower and fire from a safe position, when you can leap over the wall, speed-skid around the robot varmints, activate the slowmo, blast the red peril in their robotic noggins and kick the last Metal Mikhail to the curb?
What’s more, Vanquish moves at a dizzying pace. The robots come thick and fast, and Platinum seems to have an unstoppable imagination when it comes to creating bigger, more brutal and more devilishly armed varieties. Just when you’re in danger of getting tired of the current wave of battle droids, in comes another one to shock and surprise you. Think you’re safe behind cover? You’ll think again when the bad boys with the huge chest blasters come charging in, or those nasty bots with the mining gear arrive.
The set-pieces are even huger. One massive boss-bot is followed by a bigger one, and then something even larger, until you wonder if the screen can actually take any more. And while that’s going on, we get fights on high-speed monorails, fights on crumbling highways, fights while buildings collapse around you and fights featuring more killer robots than you thought you would ever see on screen at once. The weapons in your arsenal are also pretty awesome. Frankly, it’s all a bit exhausting, but then aren’t most of the best things in this life?
Most of all, Vanquish is spectacular. Bayonetta showed what Platinum can do with gothic architecture and the old dark fantasy clichés. Now Vanquish shows what Platinum can do with sci-fi. The battleground - the interior of an orbiting cylinder with vast cities stretched across its surface - is rendered with impressive background detail, and there’s an awful lot of the same everywhere you look. In slowmo, with sparks, explosions, shattering metal and cool particle effects all around you, it looks like a geek’s dream of an 18-rated John Woo Transformers movie. Really, what’s not to love?
OK, there is something. Vanquish is, unfortunately, a bit short. If you’re the sort of lily-livered loser who plays games on easy mode just to burn through them, you’ll probably do so in about 6 hours, and the rest of us will easily crack it in around 7. There are some bonus missions to enjoy, plus some replay value in improving mission scores and completing bonus achievements, but this isn’t one for the long haul.
Some people will tell you that this is a deal-breaker, but we’re not amongst them. If we had a choice between 6 hours of Vanquish-level entertainment and 12 hours of the new Medal of Honor, we’d take the Vanquish option every time. It might not be the artiest or most innovative or intelligent game of the year, but it’s certainly one of the strongest when it comes to fun. Bring on the sequel, Platinum, and make it bigger, and you might just have a classic on your hands.