NEED TO KNOW
Vanquish was originally released in 2010 for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It was a product of its time, in that it felt like a response to—maybe even a subversion of—the wave of cover based shooters that emerged in the wake of Gears of War. It's got the third person view and the waist high walls, but also lets you rocket slide across the map, slow-mo decapitating robots as you go. It's a dumb, brash shooter, but clever with it.
You play as Sam Gideon, a generic videogame protagonist in a battle suit. Sam works for DARPA, and is deployed to the space colony Providence after it's attacked by Russians and used to microwave the residents of San Francisco into oblivion. That's almost more than you need to do: Vanquish's story is a bit of a mess, but at least has the good sense to, for the most part, keep out of the way of the action.
Where Platinum's Bayonetta—finally released last month on PC—uses its batshit story to service the adventures of knowingly absurd characters, Vanquish is more straight faced, and worse because of it. Its story is campy, but it's never played for laughs, and so frequently falls flat. Sam isn't unlikeable, just a bit bland, with the same grizzled drawl common of Xbox 360-era protagonists. About the most interesting thing about him is that he smokes, but that's not really a replacement for a personality.
The upshot of your colony infiltration is five acts of Russian-made robots to shoot. Vanquish's enticing gimmick is that it's a cover shooter that doesn't want you to take cover. Every room has its waist high walls and barriers, and you can hide behind them, popping out to shoot at approaching enemies. Alternatively, you can use your suit's mobility to powerslide (on your knees) across arenas, taking out enemies as you go. Aim while sliding, and you'll enter AR mode—basically bullet time. It's an effective way to clear out enemies, especially now on PC, where mouse and keyboard support makes aiming that much easier.
Sliding isn't a carte blanche to slow-mo kill everything in sight. Your suit has a limited power meter, depleted by sliding or using AR mode. Managing this meter is crucial. If you run out of power, you overheat, triggering a long cooldown during which your mobility is reduced. Hence the cover: it's useful for recharging your energy during brief pit stops between excursions spent sliding, dodging, and using AR mode to thin out enemies.
Weapon pick ups are scattered throughout, and you can have three equipped at any one time. It's a fairly diverse range, from the basic assault rifle, to a laser cannon that, instead of traditional ammo, depletes your energy bar. Throughout you're able to upgrade weapons, increasing their accuracy, ammo and power, with the interesting twist that, if you die and restart from a checkpoint, you penalised an upgrade level. It means there's a noticeable punishment for failure, but not so much that it feels unfair.
I died plenty of times, partly because of a few bullshit quick-time events, but mostly because of Vanquish's unique rhythm. You can't take much damage, but you're always encouraged to push forward, (staying in cover even reduces your score). It's satisfying to master this rhythm; to successfully take down a bunch of enemies across a single slide, or clear a pack by slow-mo shooting a grenade in mid-air. At its best, Vanquish is fast, fluid and unlike anything else. And the combat feels better than ever on PC, thanks to the uncapped framerate. Vanquish should feel smooth and frenetic, and here it does. As with Bayonetta, this is a quality PC port.
Beyond the laser-focused core loop, there isn't much to Vanquish. You start with knee-sliding acrobatics, and end the same way—around six or so hours later. It isn't long, and it doesn't much go in for distinct set pieces or variations to the formula. There's some vehicle sections, a few turret sections, and some fairly enjoyable boss fights. Mostly, though, there's sliding, and slow-mo shooting robot heads. You know what? That's enough.