Ever since its release 10 years ago, there hasn’t been anything quite like Vanquish. The fast-paced, stylish third-person shooter quickly became one of PlatinumGames' most memorable joints thanks to hectic action, impressive boss fights, and a whole lot of knee sliding chaos. It was an experience which went down well with the developer's dedicated fan base, and a decade later, it's those same core pillars which continue to make it worth your time. Despite showing its age, Vanquish is still a whole lot of fun.
For those making a return trip, however, it's worth noting that this about as basic of a remaster as you can get. You've got the original five-hour campaign to work through alongside a collection of increasingly difficult challenges to master and that's your lot. The PlayStation 4 Pro version provides 4K visuals and 60 frames-per-second to make gameplay that much smoother, but devoid of any bonus features or new modes, this is a bare-bones release that only its most hardcore fans could appreciate on a repeat playthrough.
The original PlayStation 3 release of Vanquish sported an art style which made even the cleanest environments appear dirty and stained -- a grungy aesthetic which seems to almost completely sap all life and colour out of its five acts. It was an odd choice at the time and it doesn't particularly pay off 10 years later either. The improved visuals do make for an Augmented Reaction Suit which looks better than ever with a pearly white outer casing that shines in the sunlight, and there are also enhanced facial features for protagonist Sam Gideon and select cast members. Unfortunately, some characters do still look like they’re trapped on Sony's last-generation console, yet just enough work has been done to bring those most important to the narrative into the modern age.
Although, the same cannot be said of the title's environments. Buildings and structures off in the distance regularly appear blurry while dull corridors that connect one area to the next are drab and lifeless. SEGA may have only been able to do so much to correct those failings, but it still makes for an experience which is visually stimulating just half of the time.
It's gameplay where Vanquish shines, however, and that particular set of wonderful mechanics have been kept very much intact. Actually, the frame rate boost makes for a game which plays better than ever. Smooth, intuitive controls are a breeze to learn, shooting from any one of its vast array of weapons feels good, and slowing down time in AR mode to set up a series of headshots might be one of the coolest things we’ve done so far this year. Playing at 60 frames-per-second enhances every single one of these features, turning a title which already played well into a gameplay great.
We quite simply have to touch on the knee slide, though. The same boosters which dictate the length of time spent in AR mode also grant the ability to speed along the floor as if you’ve dropped to your knees during the world's greatest guitar solo. It's a phenomenal mechanic which turns combat into a dance between speed and shooting -- zipping about the battlefield to flank enemies and rain down terror from behind. Whether we were speeding up a flight of stairs, racing against the clock to get out of the way of a gigantic laser beam, or rushing to a nearby turret to take out enemy vehicles, the knee slide was our best friend every step of the way.
It's during boss fights where the game gets even more creative with certain battles even feeling like preludes to encounters found in NieR: Automata. The general gist of things will have you targeting certain weak points across a robotic combatant's body in order to reveal a core once enough damage has been dealt. Destroy that and you've won the contest, but it's the variation in boss design which makes each encounter worthwhile. One-hit kills are, unfortunately, still very much a common frustration, but when a boss changes its shape based on you deliberately failing a quick-time event, you have to stand up and applaud.
The game's plot retains its utterly ludicrous nature, choosing to become more of a backdrop to the action rather than something which will have you anticipating what comes next. That's probably a good thing, however, as what it's doing more than likely wouldn't hold up across hours of cutscenes. In holding up a mirror to US video game culture, Vanquish becomes a tongue-in-cheek, purposefully trope-filled comedy sketch that delivers right through to its conclusion.
It may be basic as a remaster, but Vanquish manages to hold up in the PS4's twilight year. Brimming with enjoyable, fast-paced action which is exemplified by the knee slide, one of PlatinumGames' best experiences has a new lease of life that it's going to take full advantage of. Vanquish doesn’t look the part, but it most certainly plays like it.