Shinji Mikami is a man involved in redefinitions. He created the modern horror genre with Resident Evil. He defined third-person stylish action with Devil May Cry. He followed these by redefining action games with Resident Evil 4 and made the funniest, most hardcore brawler ever in the sublime God Hand.
Then he took a look at one of the staples of Western game design – the third person cover shooter, popularised by Gears Of War – and casually made a game that bests all of them. That game, Vanquish, isn’t just a standout moment of the generation, but is also one of my all-time favourite games. And it’s really down to jawache.
The story’s cheesy crap, of course. There’s definitely some God Hand DNA is the way the characters act and interact, but not enough to drag it down to pure pastiche. The US creates an orbital city that happens to host a giant laser and so, obviously, a maniacal terrorist leader takes it over with a legion of robot fighters. Your job is to go in with a group of beefcaked grunts and take it back. Bonus: you happen to be wearing a suit of armour that is equal parts tank and jet fighter, codenamed ARS because of course it is. What follows is a wild, desperate and visually amazing push into a massive mechanical army.
The ARS suit is the star of the show here. Vanquish may take its inspiration from similar shooters, but taking cover here is a secondary measure. At the push of a button, your suit spits fire out of thrusters and speeds you along on your knees, often ending gloriously in a slo-mo machine gun takedown of the leagues of enemies waiting for you. That means success lies at the polar opposite end of the spectrum than Gears Of War – stay in one place and you’ll soon be flushed out, but zip around like a crazed white-armoured ping-pong ball and there won’t be many enemies who can stand in your way. Obvious, the game knows this too, and there are some wonderful enemy types introduced later on that push you to your limits. Also, robot disco boogaloo. Really.
It’s the first hour that seals the game firmly at the top of so many gamers’ lists. Moments from the audacious crash entry into the space station, the enemy weapons open fire in a fantastic display of fireworks which doesn’t stop for the next hour. The game engine never even skips a beat, not even when another spaceship skims overhead and crashes down to release its payload of angry red robots, or an early enemy boss lets rip with hundreds of Bangai-O style mini missiles. It’s pure imaginative escapism that often results in amazed gaping. The game unfolds in real time, a total pleasure from opening sequence to bizarre finalé, and feels like a next-gen title in itself.
So let’s hope that Mikami has some more tricks up his sleeve for the new generation of consoles. But, until then, there’s always more Vanquish.