Vanark is a 3D shooter that successfully blends many different elements from many different games, including Star Fox 64 and even Resident Evil. While this sounds like a surefire formula for a terrific game, Vanark simply doesn't offer enough to make it worthwhile.
Compared with other 3D space shooters like Star Fox, Vanark is stereotypical. You pilot a ship on a mission to save the planet, and you see all of the action from a camera angle positioned behind the ship. The ship is on a predetermined course (also known as a rail shooter), which only leaves you the ability to speed up, slow down, evade, and return enemy fire.
The gameplay is extremely fast paced, thanks to the incredible number of enemies that get thrown your way. When you're not blasting at a volley of biomech dragonflies or some other exotic creation, you're either carefully navigating through a narrow passage or just trying to stay clear of enemy fire, which, thanks to responsive controls and intuitive control scheme, is easy to do.
The elements of Vanark that stand out are its branching paths, multiple vehicle types, and third-person mode. The branching paths let you determine at specific points the direction you'd like your ship to head in. This direction, while ultimately leading to the same place, puts you on one of two paths - one's easy, and the other is a lot harder. While you may be given this choice to make on some levels, others literally force you to take alternate paths and or other vehicles. One such level takes place over an ocean where, when the action gets a little too hot, you're forced to dive-bomb your ship into the depths of the ocean where you'll find giant biomechanical sharks to deal with. Another level puts you in control of a futuristic motorcycle of sorts, which you must drive across a desert that is barren of everything but enemies and hazards. The third-person mode in Vanark, while slightly interesting at first, proves to be terribly boring and uneventful by the end of the game. This mode takes place between each of the seven shooting levels of the game, and it can best be described as a Resident Evil-style mode. During this mode you have free reign to explore the limited quarters of the space station, but all that you ever really discover are mission briefings and story developments. This mode almost seems as though it was simply thrown into the game to give it a bit more length.
Visually, Vanark is quite impressive. The game's environments range from lush jungles filled with enemies and intricate backgrounds with lots of eye candy, to underground caves that are brimming with spectacular rivers of lava. More impressive-looking than the levels are the bosses that you come across at the end of every mission. The bosses are throwbacks to the days of old in that every one of them is a menacing giant creature or contraption of some sort that looks fantastic as well as unbeatable. For instance, one of the bosses in the later missions is a giant brain that sends out pulses of electricity, which gives off a dynamic lighting effect that looks quite spectacular. In the sound department, Vanark does a fairly good job. The engines of the various crafts you pilot sound convincing, as do the many types of futuristic weapons you use and avoid. The soundtrack isn't overly impressive, but it does suit the game quite well.
In the end, Vanark is a really good game. Unfortunately, it's a really good game that lasts for two to three hours, and it doesn't offer anything other than a level-selection option after completing it. So while you might really enjoy playing this game, you might be best served by renting it for a night.