Shinji Mikami’s overlooked masterpiece managed to confound as much as it frustrated; the typical intense difficulty you would associate with a PlatinumGames title was backed up by mechanics masquerading as one thing, when actually – on closer inspection – revealing themselves to be something else entirely.
What looked like a basic cover-based shooter with bullet time elements – that being the most du jour of all genres at the time – was actually revealed to be… well, it’s hard to describe.
A combo-based, third-person shoot-’em-mup/beat-‘em-up in which hiding in cover was actually a sign of failure on the player’s part, and where getting your backside out there into the action was both an invitation for the AI to batter you, and for the player to have an absolute belter of a time… though mainly the former.
How did this come about? The main culprit was Vanquish’s obsession with sliding: lead character Sam Gideon goes into battle sporting an augmented battle suit (and that’s about all the story worth mentioning).
Said suit comes with it a bunch of boosters all over the place, allowing our protagonist to expedite his process around a room – not when running, but when knee, back, side, or bottom-based. Yes, Vanquish’s Killer Feature was its sliding. Its controlled slipping. Its manic scooting.
The pace at which a player character moves is often limited – plodding, you might say, unless you’re clicking on sprint and enjoying a brief spell of less-slow action. As such it was to be expected players would approach Vanquish with this ingrained pace in mind, and it’s no surprise a fair few were left underwhelmed with what they played.
But engaging those boosters, sliding about the arena of combat on your knees, engaging bullet time, and picking apart waves of enemies with frenzied precision was the reward for those who stuck with it and picked up the game’s unique take on the third-person field.
At first it feels like a bit of a gimmick, but it really isn’t long until the sliding becomes second nature; that it forms an intrinsic part of your Vanquish experience. And that’s where the game’s length – another woefully misunderstood element – came into its own too.
When you start the game, you’re a mite lost at sea, but after picking it up and mastering the mechanics (to some extent) you find yourself wanting to go again from the beginning with all this knowledge to hand, to truly take in the whole game as it was meant to be played.
Vanquish’s campaign lasts about five hours – a criticism levelled at it at the time – but it’s meant to be played and played and played again, just like any shmup or beat-‘em-up.
Any longer and few would bother starting again. Any shorter and few would actually get to grips with that sliding mechanic. Five-ish hours was perfect, and made Vanquish the kind of game you wanted to go back to again and again.
Its PC re-release in 2017 just helped to highlight how much of an overlooked gem the game really is. And none of that would have been possible without the ability to slide into combat at high speed on your arse.
Release year: 2010, 2017
Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC