I have just realised that I forgot the obligatory games of 2010 preamble… so yeah. This is about a game which came out last year that made an impact on me, not the best or the worst of the year but I liked it. This is the penultimate one of these so soon I should be back with some more in the moment posts, in the mean time if you want to check out my current reviews or articles go here, here or indeed here.
Games can encapsulate a mood; they can heighten a feeling, and sometimes even lighten the load. Some titles achieve this emotional resonance from their narrative content, others simply come at the right time capitalise on events in our lives, for better or worse (as Braid recently did for me). It is a dynamic that can be both painful or therapeutic, throwing in to relief an issue or allowing an outlet for raw emotions when there is no way to confront an issue directly. For me it was Vanquish that came at just the right moment to vent some very primitive emotions. And as thoughtless a game as it can be, it was just what I needed.
Sat alone in my tiny apartment I was, simply, angry; at myself, at my life and my situation. I couldn’t decide if it was my fault, the worlds fault, the years fault, all I knew was that somewhere in me there was a rage with no escape. My anger sat beneath the surface of my smiling facade as I taught children and went out socialising, only occasionally escaping in at very drunk moments.
I had pre-ordered Vanquish months in advance of its release on the promise of another Platinum Games twist on an established genre and director Shinji Mikami’s involvement (the man behind beloved Resident Evil), little did I know how much I was going to need its cathartic action by the time I collected on my order, and how susceptible I would be to it.
Furious, fast paced action punctuated by mindless bravado filled cut scenes and (deliberate?) bizarre translation. Vanquish immediately drew from me a happiness that harkened back to movies like Starship Troopers.
As I struggled to decide how deliberate the genius of the game was, I realised I was transferring the anger inside me on to the hundreds of enemies that swarmed the world. Robotic opponents that balanced perfectly my ability to blow them to pieces with a range of satisfying weapons against a difficulty that challenged just enough to make me feel accomplished without a sense of being patronised.
It wasn’t just the gunplay that had me wowed. Vanquish’s core mechanic of fast paced movement, which saw me speeding around on rocket powered knee pads from one cover point to the next, did an equally amazing job of drawing the negativity from me. Typically such cover focused third person action games employ a plodding stilted advance, limping from one area of (relative) safety to the next, hiding as energy slowly recovers before repeating the same process again. Duck, fire, duck, fire, crawl forward, it frustrates and gives a sense of impotence in the face of the odds. Vanquish sheds this, forcing me to leap from one cover points to the next, dodging bullets as I go. In truth the system is ultimately the same, with a defensive posture still necessary to recover energy and boosters fuel, but speed and movement makes this defence as engaging and satisfying as offence, far more similar to the 2D games of old than a modern shooter.
Vanquish drew my frustration and anger from me as played. The game became a storm drain for my emotions, running off all the excess that had for so long bubbled under the surface. Harmlessly dissipating all of the darker thoughts I had been having. There was no down time, no question of thought or brooding as I sped from one piece of low cover to the next and switched between ever more satisfying weapons to take down robot hoards. Pure unadulterated stress relief that, in my case, was perfectly timed.