Battles, graphics captivate players

Allistair Pinsof

Vanquish (PS3, Xbox 360)

Western game design over the last five years owes more to Shinji Mikami than anyone on this continent. “Resident Evil 4” (2005) popularized the third-person shooter genre so familiar today, and “Vanquish” seeks to reinvent it with a focus on core mechanics and unabashed attitude once so prevalent among Japanese video games. Playing as Sam Gideon, a character that seems to embrace everything lovably bad about 1980s video game protagonists, the player will rocket through battle arenas that look like the spotless white future of “Tron,” while slowing down time for critical shots. Gideon’s suit is equipped with jet boots that let the player boost from cover to cover, a necessary task given their temporal protection. The sleek design and fast-paced action is what separates “Vanquish” from its competitors. Where “Uncharted” and “Gears of War” plod through their self-serious, cinematic campaigns, “Vanquish” encourages players to blaze through the game’s eight hours for a high score. The game’s nonsensical story and macho characters with horrible one-liners are a breath of fresh air. No emotional interplay is necessary when you are gliding between collapsing buildings and firing rockets at giant robotic spiders — so why bother? This isn’t Mikami’s answer to “Uncharted 2.” This is the game you daydreamed about during history class in 1997.

Grade: A

For fans of futuristic design, ’80s action heroes and “Gears of War”

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3, Xbox 360)

During many moments in “Enslaved,” it’s easy to forget that you are playing a game. The performances, story and art direction of the Ninja Theory Limited’s latest are among the best this generation has to offer. “Enslaved” is a sci-fi retelling of the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West” by Wu Cheng’en, telling the story of two prisoners trying to find their way home. Between screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine”) and actor Andy Serkis, who brought Gollum to life in the “The Lord of the Rings” films, there is some noteworthy Hollywood talent behind this title, and it shows. The exchanges between the game’s characters seem alive and natural. They capture a nuance that has always been amiss in video game performances. The world feels equally inspired. Players climb and run through a post-apocalyptic United States full of bright green and red flora under a cool, blue sky. Unfortunately, playing the game isn’t nearly as enticing as uncovering the secrets of the plot. “Enslaved” is a jack of all trades, but master of none. You sneak, shoot, fight, solve puzzles and climb stuff. All these elements are equally superficial and contrived in their execution. Nearly every battle and obstacle feels like filler in between memorable set pieces and cutscenes, but the game delivers when it counts. “Enslaved” opens with one of the most intense, awe-inspiring introductions in some time. You escape from an airborne prison ship, jumping across wings as the ship squeezes between weathered New York skyscrapers covered in weeds. It’s in these great moments of spectacle, when the tight leash of its game play goes unnoticed, that
“Enslaved” succeeds.

Grade: B

For fans of offbeat sci-fi, “Prince of Persia” and ancient Chinese literature