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Vanquish 360 Review

30/11/2010 Thinking Soulful Gamer Review
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Vanquish 360





Further reading:
Dead Rising 2

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Vanquish is a fast and frenetic ride, unapologetic for barely drawing breath. But beneath the power-sliding acrobatics and bullet-time action there's a back-story, with hints of Voltaire's Candide, about good intentions gone bad.

This subtle narrative is easily missed though, and with it the reason for the immense space station and US/Russian hostilities. But beyond the headline grabbing abilities of the ARS suit and visual grunt, this is a simple human story.

In some ways it's a shame that this is obscured so much - but understandable considering Vanquish's nature. You wouldn't want characters or locations getting too heavy with exposition while giant robots stomp towards you and big chunks of scenery are flying all around. These moments are tuned for entertainment - which makes any story nuggets, when they do come, all the more precious as they're quite literally chiselled out of the dark corners of the game.

Alongside these moments, other narratological gems are hidden in plain sight - the Doctor you're trying to rescue is called Candide for example. Touches like this, and less obvious fare, make it clear that Vanquish is drawing on Voltaire's work. The French philosopher's work criticised Gottfried Leibniz and his concept of optimism with a sarcastic and fast moving fantasy fiction. Identical aspects to Vanquish's game play and dialogue.

I don't think the writers of Vanquish set out to directly pay homage to Voltaire's work but it puts the ridiculous setting and story into an interesting context. From destroying Pangloss collectibles (Pangloss is Candide's mentor) to the depiction of a corrupt government and the frailty of best intentions the resonance rings out.

And that last point is the most obvious in Vanquish's story. The relationship between Gideon and Burns evolves and breaks down at certain points. When Vanquishes plot twist is finally played out, though far from groundbreaking, it underlines the theme of conflict and politics ruining man's best achievements.

When you stop firing and look at the scenery it's amazing where you find yourself.

When you stop firing and look at the scenery it's amazing where you find yourself. At first I assumed this was a generic space station with grey metallic walls and floors that did nothing to differentiate itself from one level to the next.

But a few acts in and I realised that this place was a giant circular Halo-like world with massive residential and industrial areas. For all intents and purposes a huge world orbiting the Earth. This was the 51st state of America and it puts the gory destruction of the opening cinematic into perspective - an outer colony of the States used to destroy one its own. A poetic use of a superpower's technology - collecting solar energy to fuel the population expansion - turned on itself.

The decision to use the Russians as enemies isn't just a cliche, it makes sense within the game world. This is a future that's a natural extension of the present - all wars or disputes are about resources and as Russia owns a large proportion of petroleum it's not hard to see this eventually escalating into conflict. And yes, having a bald, thickly accented dude that says 'Dosvedanya' can't be beaten for dramatic punch and hilarity.

The dialogue is equally fascinating. It's overloaded with cliches and grisly one-liners that initially sound laughable. Before long though it's clear Vanquish is parodying other space marine shooters - even sending itself up at times. Gideon, during one of the final encounters even suggests that the increasingly bizarre scenario is starting to sound like a bad videogame.

That kind of hidden depth is what makes Vanquish one of my favourite titles of the year.

It's a restrained approach and shows that Platinum thought about every part of the game with great care. The game creates a layer experience. The one that everyone will enjoy involves power-sliding under massive robotic behemoths, taking down enemies while looking cool and enjoying the corny lines spat out along with a cigarette. But I was just as engaged by peeking behind the curtain, seeing the bizarre references to a French philosophers work and the story which, despite its smoke and bluster, is all about the fallibility of good intentions.

That kind of hidden depth is what makes Vanquish one of my favourite titles of the year. Along with Dead Rising 2, it can appear shallow and exalt itself with explosive videogame features to the most ridiculous extreme - and yet both of these titles hold precious moments of insight and unexpected allegory. At whichever level you play it, Vanquish is a joy to experience from beginning to end.

Written by Adam Standing

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Adam Standing writes the Soulful Gamer column.

"Soulful gaming is found in a myriad of places. Games that tell a meaningful story with believable characters. Games that tackle issues larger than the latest run and gun technology. And for me in particular, games that connect me to an inspiring story often quietly overlooked by other players."

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