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Vanquish remains the pinnacle of cover shooters


Sam Gideon cannot jump. There is surely no graver flaw in the video game multiverse, where the ability to leap is as valuable as one of the five senses, where even the lowliest grunt can manage a hop in a pinch. Still, the loss of one sense usually heightens another and what Vanquish’s protagonist lacks in hang-time he amply makes up for in his ground game. Gideon glides across concrete like Michael Phelps skimming an Olympic pool. Sparks fly from those zinging metal knees as he streaks forward to donut a bewildered mecha. In Gideon’s world, the term ‘bullet time’ is no mere poetic flourish. Squeeze an eye down the a gun’s sights while sliding and time drawls to the extent that you can swat a fat, dangling rocket clean out of the air. Sam Gideon cannot jump. But by god he can fly.

Vanquish’s director, Shinji Mikami, once attempted to articulate his game’s euphoric appeal. “I think it’s very rare to come across a game where shooting loads of robots is so much fun,” he said, adorably, as if entirely surprised by how well things turned out. A friend of mine, the writer and game designer Jim Rossignol put it even more straightforwardly: “Vanquish plays like most action games pretend they play.” Indeed, the game’s first boss encounter with a quadrupedal tank plays out with the kind of directorial flair that’s usually only possible in the tightly controlled context of a cutscene. Each time you knock out a mechanical limb, the monster responds with a hailstorm of nicking bullets. No cowering for Gideon, who weaves through the rain, a cigarette lolling from the lips. The fight climaxes with Gideon skipping between missiles, before he catches the last one, turns it, and plunges it back into the barrel from which it emerged. This kind of Michael Bay-esque overstatement is common in boisterous games. Rarely are we truly allowed to direct the action.