The worst thing you can say about a game you’ve just finished is nothing. At least, that’s how it is for me. With my limited time, I generally don’t play too many truly bad games. I have a good general buzz sense, and can avoid games that I know I won’t like. However, I play plenty of strictly mediocre games. I played Transformers this summer. More recently I tried out Vanquish.
My first experience with Vanquish was watching a demo of it at E3 last summer. It was fast, stylish, and super slick. I finally got around to playing it in January after encouragement from my friend Keri. We both loved Bayonetta and Vanquish looked like a shoe-in, but I left Vanquish feeling a bit… empty. It wasn’t a bad game by any means. The animation is fabulous, the action matched my first impressions. It’s really hard to not look cool playing that game.
But playing it doesn’t feel cool. It just feels robotic (ironic, I know). There’s no weight to the guns; they’re not fun to take into battle. And for an action game, there sure is a lot of waiting. Vanquish takes a page from Gears of War with its strong emphasis on cover mechanics, but it seems like the nuance of the system didn’t make the translation. In games like Gears of War, you’re largely in control of when you move and when you don’t. A daring run, a quick cover swap, or a well-placed grenade can give you the opening you need to push the line forward. In Vanquish, though, it feels like the mechanics are designed to slow you down. See, the main character is wearing this crazy-awesome suit that has rocket skis for zooming around the battlefield and synaptic acceleration to slow everything down around you.
That should make this a fast-paced game, right? Except just about every action outside of firing a weapon makes the suit overheat. Dashing, punching, getting hit and slowing down time all cause the suit to overheat, leaving the player nearly helpless. And then the waiting begins.
Bayonetta worked because the tight combat system and battle arenas worked together to keep a certain flow going; The only downtime was for a bit of a breather between fights. Vanquish, on the other hand, establishes this sort of uncomfortable staccato rhythm that feels a bit like stumbling every time you start to run. When it works, it works really well, but it never establishes that flow that Bayonetta had. If it wasn’t supposed to flow, then maybe the emphasis on speed and acrobatics was misplaced.
These problems didn’t ruin the game by any means, but they ended up leaving me feeling a bit cold about the game. There’s nothing I hate more about a game than having nothing to say about it.