Another game that I played while waiting for Borderlands 2. Vanquish is on speed or something. The amount of stuff that's happening on the battlefield combined with the speed at which it is happening is pretty breahttaking. At its core it's just another third person shooter, but oh boy have they done things right. Some things that should be forgotten from the start include things like plot and characters both of which are ridiculous. That aside, it is really easy to see where the game gets its praise.
A typical sitatuation in Vanquish involves a lot of soldiers on both sides of the battle. The player is usually not alone so friendlies can draw some enemy fire. This is good, because it doesn't take a whole lot of damage to get killed in Vanquish (I played on hard, my new default for any game). It's this deadliness combined with the vast amount of projectiles flying all around the battlefield that separates the game from most third person shooters. One too bold move is all that is needed to get killed. Although staying in cover and carefully shooting from there is basically a sound strategy, your allies will start quickly falling if you take your sweet time. Quick elimination of enemies is the name of the game, and Sam has just the right tools for that. He is armed with an unfortunately named combat suit (ARS) and a weapon system that is mostly a lame explanation for how he can carry exactly three guns at once.
In particular there are two special abilities that empower the player. One is a massive speedboost that allows Sam to quickly travel across the battlefield in a sliding position. He is not immune to damage, but enemies have a really hard time hitting him. This ability allows the player to hit'n'run, flank or even rear enemies effectively and also to reach enemy positions quickly. Using this ability is the key to both eliminating enemies quickly and avoiding their fire. The other skill is just a simple bullet time, which is activated by making a dodge roll. This ability is often necessary to survive encounters with multiple enemies and also to shoot down enemy missiles. Some bosses in particular like to shoot out hundreds of missiles (literally). Both abilities drain the suit's battery and overheating is a serious thing because it makes the player very vulnerable. If cover is not immediately found, death is almost certain.
As far as special abilities go, the ones in Vanquish are fairly limited. The same goes for weapons that are mostly standard stuff with a couple of more exotic exceptions. They are however all that is needed to create one of the best shooter experiences ever. This is largely because the encounter design in Vanquish is top notch. The battlefield is always a living thing and each encounter is clearly distinct. There's next to no filler in this game. In this sense it is quite a lot like Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner that featured excellent mission variation throughout the game. Both games also have their share of tough boss battles. Just when you think one boss was particulary nasty, soon enough you are facing two of the same bastard at once. The environment also has a heavy impact on how battles turn out. There's a lot of variation in every aspect that define the game's encounters.
The enjoyment of playing Vanquish doesn't quantify into single elements. It is simply a really carefully designed whole. It underlines two things: difficulty is good for your game and games should go on only as long as they can. Once Vanquish runs out of real content it just ends. No prolonging, no repetition, just a tight package of high-adrenaline missions with lots of variation. I am looking forward to finishing this game again in the future and, unlike most games, I think I actually will because it is not just that long a game. Furthermore with games like this it is often the second playthrough that is actually more fun because that is when some degree of mastery starts to show.