At first glance, Vanquish could be mistaken for any number of recent sci-fi shooters looking to peddle fairly uninspired run-and-gun action while aping contributory elements lifted from bigger and potentially better games. For example, Vanquish seems to take a number of its core aesthetic cues from Capcom's Lost Planet, while its cover-to-cover shooting mechanics and over-the-shoulder viewpoint immediately smack of Epic's Gears of War.
Similarly, central protagonist and nicotine addict Sam Gideon is seemingly your typical generic everyman hero trussed up within a prototype battle suit designed to make him the ultimate badass (think TimeShift). And the game's wafer thin narrative might cause a few rolled eyes as Gideon puts the unfortunately named Augmented Reaction Suit (ARS) through its paces whilst helping the U.S. military to prevent naughty Russian terrorists from incinerating New York by harnessing the power of an orbiting Solar Energy facility.
But look a little closer and there are glimmers of hope to be found that suggest Vanquish will not just merely fade into the post-Halo: Reach ether when it arrives on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this coming October 22. Specifically, Gideon's adventures with the hard-hitting ARS suit have been created by Platinum Games (Madworld, Infinite Space, Bayonetta), and helmed by none other than renowned Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. That certainly takes the edge off.
Clearly defined creative pedigrees notwithstanding, Vanquish may have to work a little harder to distinguish itself in the busy third-person shooter genre where gameplay is concerned. For example, our time amid the admittedly intense action left us feeling as though we were playing Lost Planet 2.5 as opposed to anything especially new or groundbreaking. Specifically, our hands-on preview opportunity consisted of blasting generic Russian bad guys before taking the fight to a giant two-form mechanised crab that arrived complete with handily illuminated weak points - just like the beastly Akrid in Capcom's clunky snowbound adventure.
The demo battle moved along at a fair clip thanks, in the main, to a bullet and explosion-heavy atmosphere supported by slick controls, an impressive variety of weighty character animation, and A.I. opponents only too willing to utilise the cover-friendly environment. Attributes neither of the Lost Planet games can lay claim to. Furthermore, we were also quite taken with the game's sniping opportunities, vehicular distractions and its occasionally outrageous contextual flourishes. One such physics-defying sequence, which emerged while fighting the aforementioned crab, saw Gideon effortlessly flip a massive midair howitzer shell before ramming it back down into the mounted barrel from whence it had come - causing one of the Robo-crab's main weapons to explode.
If Vanquish is to introduce anything worthy of being labelled as 'original' into the genre, Platinum and publisher Sega seem intent on pinning their collective hopes onto the gameplay enhancements offered via the prototype Augmented Reaction Suit - and very little else.
For example, the back of the ARS suit is fitted with an experimental high-energy thrust system (with an unavoidable cool-down period) that enables the wearer to quickly rush between cover or from foe-to-foe while dodging attacks. A velocity-based evasion tool that fits the suit's name perfectly, use of the ARS thrust system sends Gideon sliding wildly around the environment on his buttock cheeks in a blur of ridiculous movement and a hail of impossible bullet fire.
One of the suit's other main assets is its AR Mode, which automatically senses when the wearer is close to death and fires up the sympathetic nervous system in order to temporarily enhance reaction speed and give the effect of moving in slow motion (yet another new name for bullet-time). It's worth noting that, while the AR Mode can be fired manually, prolonged and repeated usage can apparently result in the wearer sustaining physical damage.
The ARS suit also includes a weapon-morphing feature that allows Gideon to scan guns and rifles uncovered throughout the game world and have said armaments instantly replicated into his hand as an extension of the suit. It's essentially just a more efficient way to pick up and swap out different guns and ammo without requiring the physical acts of picking them up or swapping them out. Other ARS features include a built-in electromagnetic pulse weapon for breaking through charged enemy armour when attacking at close quarters, suit-compensated recoil reduction while firing, and a whole host of meaty melee battle moves.
In terms of environments and presentation, the graphically impressive terrorist-occupied space colony should deliver plenty of scope for potentially breathtaking set pieces (the mechanised crab battle was certainly a suitable taster). However, it remains to be seen whether the action will follow strictly linear pathways between such clashes, or go the extra mile by providing the player with the kind of open scale the giant revolving cylindrical city seems to promise.
As with almost all Japanese-made videogames, whether they be action titles or sprawling RPGs, the English voice actors in Vanquish seem keen on spouting the kind of cheesy melodrama that would make most daytime soap operas blush. Indeed, players hoping for the playful wink-wink, nudge-nudge humour of Bayonetta might be disappointed to find a cast of stony-faced characters that take themselves far too seriously without lending any real gravitas to the plot. It all sounds very Metal Gear Solid, and not in a good way.
There appears to be plenty of offensive power and variety on offer through the ARS suit, with yet more features still to be unveiled before release, but we just hope there is enough on show to adequately distract from the game's fairly straightforward cover-and-shoot gunplay and dance-in, dance-out melee. After all, fancy suit-based gadgets and gizmos aside, Vanquish is primarily being pushed towards gamers as a balls-out action shooter. From what we've seen thus far, it's unlikely to be remembered for its raft of gameplay subtleties or its heart-wrenching emotive storyline, which means success or failure of the ARS suit will likely be reflected in the success or failure of the game as a whole. Again, we hope it's enough.