Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vanquished At the Sales Counter

Gosh damn Vanquish is an awesome game.

Anyone looking at my sidebar here or my backloggery listing might see I've shown this as 'currently playing' a pretty long time. This game is not a 50 to 100 hour slog-a-thon. To play through the entire campaign mode only takes six to ten hours. And Vanquish has taken knocks from players online for the brevity of its play time, especially as there is no multiplayer component to make up for it.

That naysaying is all asshattery as far as I'm concerned. It has been an off-and-on bitch fest for me about how so many games today just take too long to play through. I'm a working parent that makes time to play games, but I don't really enjoy becoming super-invested in the same narrative for hours and hours. That's what I have books for.

Games have been padded out the ass to increase their so-called value for money. This smacks of catering to the same cheapskate whining I used to hear working for Games Workshop. People (usually older players and fans) would complain about how the models used to be a dollar apiece and now it was just unaffordable now. Wanting to convince rather than turn off long-time customers we'd explain that the models were better sculpted, had more expensive metal in them (to make them lead-free), and that marketing and production needed to be bigger and better because we were now competing with flashy comics, big budget movies and video games for every entertainment dollar a customer might have to spend. These reasons were all true. But it really boils down to this:

Even today, with GW having brought down the price of basic plastic regiments the Warhammer hobby is still expensive. But y'know, the days of fucking selling dull grey fishing weights with rules to be found in shoddily printed one-color pamphlets are long the fuck over. Even when I was working there, there was no way you were going to lure a teenager away from their goshdamned Playstation 2 unless you could smack them in the head with serious cool factor. That means big art, big production, big marketing. And that shit costs money. The irony of course is that the old guard of miniature companies have almost all died away with only GW/Citadel really surviving unscathed. There are tons of new-ish miniature wargame companies that have come along more recently... and guess what they all do. Have expensive figures and really expensive rulebooks and modules. I'm not saying their price point stuff is exactly like Workshop's but one would have to be complete mongoloid not to see the enormous impact GW's marketing and pricing strategy has had in showing wargame companies how to survive.

I used to 'use' how much video games cost as a counter point to GW's investment expense. You'd pay 200 bucks for a console and then thirty or forty dollars for each new game. Never mind any oddball controllers, chairs or TVs a serious video gamer might buy. So a few hundred dollars for rules and a decent sized army seemed, to me, right in line with that. But it was really hard to convince some people. Not young kids so much. You just had to let them get them into a game to show them that it was like video gaming only with more imagination and more of yourself put into the characters. They were inured to paying out the ass for their colorful pastimes. That's just how it was (and is). But adults just didn't get it. Paying three bucks for each comic read in 15 minutes or less-- okay. 25 dollars paid for each movie (with concession snacks) that you experience for two hours-- okay. 15 to 20 bucks a pop for a DVD that you'll watch two times maybe-- okay! What the hell!

NOW apparently there's this perception (with the increase in new game price over the years from thirty-forty dollars on average, to sixty-plus for PS3 and Xbox 360 games) that video games are perhaps too expensive. So the game companies' answer (sort of echoing the refusal to drop prices that killed CDs) is to increase the content, including the length of the basic game. This in the face of the knowledge that only a tiny fraction of game players complete the games that they buy. Most game purchases are played part of the way through, with a lot of time spent on multiplayer aspects or getting the easiest achievements.

So padding the shit out of the one-player modes would SEEM like a wasteful answer. Why do that if most of the players (and whiners) will not stick with a game long enough to see that distant ending you've just made even more distant. And yet... here we have a game like Vanquish which is a veritable case study in distilling the fun down to a short but extremely intense experience for single players only... and people bitch. So I guess the suits have some point after all.

Here's why I've spent so much time (probably thirty hours at this point) on such a supposedly short game. It is REALLY fun. It requires a crapload of skill. It is very intense. You will die a lot. It isn't like Halo or a lot of these other modern murder simulators where you can kind of fake your way through the lower difficulty levels with your reflexes and time-honored shooter methodologies. You are going to have to learn how to control your guy really well. You are going to have to learn every enemies vulnerabilities. You are going to have learn the timing of your own 'superpowers'. And not just to be better, but to simply survive. The action is intricate and explosive. If you approach it casually like you've done it all before (it resembles Gears of War at first) you will have your ass handed to you on a kebab. The game is also score based. You are supposed to replay levels ever increasing the difficulty and refining your technique. Getting faster and cooler. Maybe I like it for much the same reason I like STGs. Short intense burst-gaming that rewards practice.

Can't really complain about weapon effectiveness either. Unlike a lot of FPS or TPS games, most of the enemies cannot take dozens of shots from the basic weapons. If you target weak spots then every gun in the game is useful and kills. And the slo-mo mechanic enables this. I can't remember the last game I played like this where I didn't feel like there was no way I could get past some group of enemies or a boss without better guns. In Vanquish, I could almost always make do. In fact, even though ammo is counted in the game, I frequently found myself well stocked on my most powerful weapons (that have the smallest magazines) because I just didn't need to use them. That isn't because the game is easy. It is because the game trains you to be good with everything. It gets its challenge from the fact that enemies have good guns too and that there are a lot of them.

The achievements in the game are all pretty fun and mostly tied in with normal goals in the game. I hate online based achievements because I really don't do multiplayer, but thankfully Vanquish has no online mode. I've heard people complain about that too. But Vanquish wouldn't work in multiplayer. One of the key aspects to the game is a slow motion or 'bullet time' mode. It is critical to the game. How would you represent this to an online opponet in real-time. If you are in slo-mo and they aren't... how do you reconcile that? You can't both go into slo-mo at the same time every time... the player controls it for him or herself to get an advantage over the enemy. If you say 'take it out of multiplayer' then you've just chopped one of the two major aspects that makes Vanquish unique. I applaud Platinum Games for not shoehorning in some broken multiplayer just to shut those people up.

But it cost Platinum at the cash register. I find the game great, and while it may not be my game of the year, it will probably be the first game I've tried to get all the achievements for. I should have done that with Bayonetta (Platinum's previous release) but I put it down with the intention of coming back to it. And of course, never really did. I'm sticking with Vanquish 'til I've done everything I want to do... which isn't far away now. My love notwithstanding, lack of marketing on the part of publisher Sega, the word on the 'net that it was short, and releasing it at the same time huge juggernaut franchises got new releases spelled mediocrity in the sales department. I don't think it flat-out tanked... it has a big budget look and polish, but was made on a fraction of the money of Halo or Modern Warfare titles. So it can show a profit with a lot less sales, but it certainly wasn't a hit. Platinum Games is kinda becoming known for making critically acclaimed games (Bayonetta and Vanquish are pretty much universally loved by commenters) that don't do so well commercially. And based on interviews I've read they seem okay with that.

So I paid my sixty bucks for Vanquish and have MORE than gotten my money's worth out of it. I've played through the campaign completely twice, once on normal, once on hard. I've used a guide to poke through each level on its own to find all the hidden statues. I've gone back to some individual levels to get the combat-based achievements. Now I'm working on the 'tactical challenges'; individual new levels set in some of the arenas from the campaign game but with many more and different enemies. These are pretty hard, but they will definitely make you work every technique and ability in your arsenal. I haven't found the game to be repetitive at all. You can do things in so many different ways. When you get some new technique down it is really cool to have a go at 'an old level' to see if you can get through it faster and easier with what you've learned.

Despite some fairly graphic violence and a lot of inappropriate language, I've offered to let my son try this game. He is fascinated by its look... the speed and the firepower. But he won't touch it. He says he absolutely would not be able to handle it.

I'm going to apply that sentiment to a lot of the bitchy boys online. They just can't handle it. Playing through the campaign in six hours on casual is for pussies.

(image cribbed from cinedork)

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