Like all of Platinum’s games, Vanquish is about mastering its slick and acrobatic combat system. Also like Platinum’s games, the result when you do is a game of unparalleled spectacle. Vanquish is structured as a linear sequence of precisely designed combat arenas, and some of the fights that take place within them are truly breathtaking. One of the very first battles sees you weaving between the legs of a gigantic, spider-like robot that is capable of unleashing a literal swarm of missiles in your direction. Later fights include a battle up a perilously steep slope fortified with bunkers and machine-gun emplacements, and a thrilling assault on the Creon, a kilometre-tall mobile fortress that can atomise you from a mile away with a blast from its massive laser cannon.
Despite the game’s age, Vanquish still looks and feels fantastic in motion. Simply sliding around from one location to the next is wonderful, with jets of sparks spraying from Gideon’s knees as he slides around the chrome and gunmetal environments of the space station. Meanwhile, the boss fights and larger set-pieces are arguably the best you’ll see in any cover shooter: thrilling, imaginative, and lending the player lots of freedom to approach a particular scenario how they please.
That said, Vanquish is showing its age in some areas. While environments are architecturally impressive, the colour-scheme is surprisingly dull, especially compared to enemies and Gideon himself. There are some areas which are a little more vibrant, but there are many greys and browns in the game’s palette. Alongside this, Vanquish doesn’t sound as good as it looks. A few of the weapons, such as the shotgun and rocket launcher, are a little hollow when fired, while the soundtrack is absolutely appalling, an arrhythmia-inducing assault of electronic noise.
By far Vanquish’ biggest flaw, however, is that its mechanical subversion of the cover-shooter format isn’t matched by its approach to storytelling. There’s an awful lot of plot in Vanquish, the action frequently interrupted by cutscenes which go into considerable detail explaining what is going on. But hardly any of it is gripping or memorable. Characters are either cardboard cut-outs or gurning caricatures, while the plot seems to move almost randomly from one beat to the next with little in the way of meaningful developments despite the vast slabs of exposition dropped onto the player.
It’s also difficult to tell whether Vanquish is trying to be tongue-in-cheek or play its story straight. It exceeds even Gears of War in terms of its hyper-macho atmosphere. We know that Sam Gideon is a Cool Dude because he smokes cigarettes (as if back-flipping off a robot’s chest before shooting its head off wasn’t enough of a clue), while Marine commander Robert Burns (yes, really) is basically Marcus Fenix on horse testosterone. There are a few humorous one-liners, such as Burns exclaiming 'Thank God I’m an atheist!
', but if Vanquish is meant to be satirical, tonally it is way too inconsistent to succeed.
Consequently, Vanquish isn’t as well rounded as some of Platinum’s other games, particularly Bayonetta and to a lesser extent Revengeance. Nevertheless, the core game is incredibly strong, a six-hour adrenaline rush that has aged supremely well. What’s more, its precise acrobatic systems go beautifully with mouse and keyboard controls, enabling you to pull off shots and react in ways that would be almost impossible with a gamepad. It also performs well (as one would hope) and benefits enormously from the resolution boost the PC offers over the previous generation of consoles.
Vanquish is not the masterpiece that some critics worship it as, but neither did it deserve the surprisingly hostile reception when it first launched either. Ultimately, it’s a rollicking action game with pulse-pounding combat and exhilarating set-pieces that are still remarkable to experience seven years down the line. It may have taken a long time for Platinum’s black sheep to arrive on PC, but it was worth the wait, warts and all.