Somehow, everyone forgot that videogames about waging wars in outer space against enormous robots are allowed to be a smidge ludicrous. Where Halo and Mass Effect’s regal self-seriousness catapulted both series to the front of the class, Vanquish is the kid in the back row with a mullet, hawking spitballs at the chalkboard. It’s flat-out ridiculous, designed strictly to amuse, not to offer any greater message. Vanquish has no time for messages. It’s unashamed at being influenced by cheesy ’80s action movies (the villains are a vicious pack of space-age Russian terrorists), and its leading man, Sam Gideon, barks amazing action-hero clunkers like “You’re last year’s model!” after chucking some chump into the stratosphere.
In the somewhat distant future, Russian forces obliterate a chunk of California, and one war-room video-chat with the bad guy later, President Elizabeth Winters (an obvious Hillary Clinton clone) gives you the following orders: You have eight hours “to keep New York from becoming the next San Francisco” by any means necessary. Since this is a videogame, “any means necessary” is double-speak for blasting tons of enemy robots—which is great, since Vanquish somehow reinvigorates this gaming fundamental with such aplomb, it defies logic. Most likely it’s because the cover-based gunplay is addictively visceral and outrageous. Outfitted with a fancy battle-suit, Gideon can slide on his knees around the battlefield like Bruce Springsteen at halftime, abruptly pop up to take cover, then hop over and squeeze off some headshots. It’s stupid, but looks amazing, and it never grows old. Although the flow of the battles can sometimes get monotonous, they’re nicely tempered by an invisible system to level up the four weapons you carry: If you’re already fully loaded with ammo, picking up more copies of the same firearm will up the gun’s accuracy or capacity.
Since your suit’s rocket-powered kneepads and mêlée attacks draw from the same power source, you’re always risking becoming suddenly vulnerable to the bullet-hell going on around you. So it’s critical to keep your arsenal well-rounded, particularly in sequences that foolishly change up the action. If you haven’t been diligently managing your sniper rifle by the time you have to covertly take out security cameras while aboard a monorail, nothing—not even Sam’s non-sequitur cracks about eBay—can save you. Such deviations in Vanquish’s short adventure are fortunately left to a minimum, leaving you to do what you should be doing in a game like this: blowing shit up.