Forget all that stuff about how momentous branching storylines and lasting consequences are to the future of games. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited by the idea that games can give players freedom to act, and a good way of doing that is often overlooked.
That - combined with a number of very, very tenuous rumours about Platinum showing something at E3 2015 - is why I’ve been playing Vanquish, a game that’s equally overlooked. Any excuse, right? Who’d have thought that a game featuring space marines, evil robots, a chain-smoking main character and the gruffest, minigun toting-est CO ever conceived in the history of games, could show so eloquently how a simple addition can make a game feel gloriously free? That addition? You can boost around the levels on your ass at super speed.
It’s not just the fizzing trail of sparks and blurred tunnel vision that gets me. It’s not even the sharp little flip that your character, the less-than-excitingly named Sam Gideon does when you end a run. It’s the way that being able to zip around a level gives you a huge amount of choice over how you approach it. It also means that developer Platinum Games has had to give Vanquish some awesomely expansive levels to live up to the speed at which you can cross them.
Most of my favourite games, like Halo, have similarly expansive levels. They usually feature multiple routes through and ways of taking on their enemies, whether close-up or at range, and the very best let you flip smoothly between the two at will. But the key thing is that these levels never ramble. For all the tactical options they give you, Halo and Vanquish levels are tight, keeping danger and action close. They’re bubbles, in other words, which offer freeform opportunity to fight.
I must admit that I didn’t really appreciate Vanquish’s boost for a long time. I’d started playing it as the game I assumed it was trying to emulate: Gears of War. It features a cover mechanic and has almost exactly the same controls, even down to the D-pad weapon selector. But those levels seemed so blandly huge when I tried to trudge across them. It therefore came alive when I finally discovered what Vanquish is really about.
Now, I’m not saying that it is definitely directly inspired by Vanquish (though I’d bet Respawn have played the crap out of it anyway), but if you want an illustration of why Vanquish gets it so right, just look at Titanfall, which gives players parkour skills and a jetpack. It features play that flows effortlessly between different styles and approaches, and I think you can trace a direct line from it to Vanquish’s boost. Freedom of movement, after all, is at the very heart of true liberty.