Vanquish Hands-On - The Early Missions

We log time with the very beginning of Platinum Games' frenetic shooter.

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We've gotten peeks here and there at Sega's upcoming action title Vanquish over the past few months, but not an opportunity for a proper sit-down with the game. That recently changed, as we got the opportunity to spend some quality time with Platinum Games' latest project to see how all the bits we've seen in the past come together as a whole. Playing through a work-in-progress PlayStation 3 version of the game, we were able to try out the first eight sections of the introductory chapter. Long story short, the whole thing painted an interesting picture of what to expect from this frenetic action game.

Vanquish opens up by introducing you to the main character, Sam, as he tests his battle suit. It sets up the story with a lengthy cinematic that shows a violent assault against the city of San Francisco that makes use of an orbiting space station and some devastating technology. It seems Russian forces have taken over a satellite that's harvesting solar energy, and they've taken some key scientists hostage and have issued threats to the world. Your role--as government agent Sam, who has been outfitted with a state-of-the-art battle suit prototype--is to go in to the satellite, stop the Russians, and rescue the scientists. The premise isn't quite Die Hard, since you'll be joined by military forces on your quest, but because you're wearing a one-of-a-kind battle suit, you still have to deal with the brunt of the problem.

The opening level follows Sam as the military lets itself into the space station with a good old-fashioned space assault. The run to the space station interior mixes up dramatic set-piece cinematics, such as bulkheads exploding and some of your compatriots being sucked out into space, with segments where you control Sam and head toward the station interior. Once you get inside, your main concern will be dealing with a variety of mechanical enemies. The main enemies you'll be going up against initially are humanoid robots that vary in size and armament. The early part of the demo is focused on getting you used to the suit's different abilities. Besides the three weapons and the two grenade types Sam can toss, the suit's boost and dodge abilities are central to differentiating Vanquish in the third-person shooter genre. Your ability to boost for short distances and to perform tactical dodges that reward you with a brief time slowdown to let you blast at enemies are key to success in a firefight. By mixing up these unique moves with your weapons, melee combat, and using cover, Vanquish's gameplay mechanics have a unique flow. This was most clearly illustrated in the first major boss fight against a massive mech that's armed to the teeth. You'll have to rely on the suit's abilities to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves during the mech's attacks in order to target its weak spots.

Any sense of accomplishment you'll get from taking down the mech is short-lived as you're directed deeper into the space station. The journey is challenging, because new enemy types block your way. Thankfully you're able to tweak your weapon loadout by picking up weapons as you find them. You'll be able to gain ammo for existing weapons if you pick up the same type as well as slowly upgrade their ammo capacity and damage. As you defeat certain enemies, you'll also be able to collect pickups that upgrade your equipped weapon or grenade an entire level.

That's gotta hurt.
That's gotta hurt.

While the early parts of the missions we played were straightforward and had us directing Sam to set points in the station, eventually new tasks were mixed in, such as rescuing trapped soldiers, setting explosives to open the way for your group to progress, and escorting an armored vehicle through a darkened corridor while facing off with non-robotic creatures. The final mission we tried had us facing off against a Russian soldier wielding a battle suit that seems to shame Sam's from a feature standpoint. All in all, the action was fun, satisfying, challenging, and rewarding thanks to a tally system at the end of each section that rates you on your performance. That said, get ready for a respectable amount of challenge even on the normal difficulty.

With the madness and challenge that you'll be dealing with, it's pretty key for the game to handle well. Vanquish's controls are smartly laid out in one of two control options that you can select. The mapping of actions works well, allowing you to shoot, melee, lock on, boost, dodge, take cover, and throw grenades with relative ease. You'll also have the option to invert your controls. Overall, it all works well, although we should note that target and camera movement and control aren't as tight as we'd like them to be at the moment, but they get the job done.

The visuals are sharp, with a high amount of detail. The space station environment, which is the center of all the action, includes wide-open spaces that are perfect set pieces for story cinematics and boss fights, and tighter, more claustrophobic locales, which gives the game a nice amount of variety even in the early portions we played. The enemies are a mix of humanoid-sized foes that come in a wide variety of types and massive screen-filling bosses. The action is fast and hectic, at times to the point of making it tough to keep track of everything going on, but it doesn't appear to slow down unless it's supposed to.

The audio frames the action well and definitely stays true to Platinum's style. You'll hear high-energy tunes that suit the crazy visuals. The voice acting comes across as somewhere between over the top and the old-school melodrama that used to be the norm in import games. We haven't decided if we're sold on Sam's voice, which sounds a lot like the military leader he's working with, but it does all seem to work.

Sam's got quite a handy suit.
Sam's got quite a handy suit.

So far Vanquish is looking like it plays to a lot of the strengths Platinum demonstrated with Bayonetta. In short, the action is insane and looks cool. The controls take some getting used to and aren't as tight as we'd like, but we're hoping it's all tightened up before the game ships. The visuals feature sharp detail and handle the spectacle capably, even in the incomplete version we played. The action was smooth, and the high level of detail was impressive. More importantly, we didn't notice any significant hitches to the game's performance on the PlayStation 3, which is a good thing to see following the disparities between the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Bayonetta. Vanquish is currently slated to ship this fall for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Look for more on the game in the coming months.

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