The story is set in the near future. Russia and the United States are vying for ownership of the world’s fast-depleting energy resources and the US has constructed a space station in order to harness energy from the sun. Russian forces capture this space station and divert its harvested solar energy into a blast wave that destroys San Francisco, aiming to force the US into a total and unconditional surrender. In response, the US tasks its armed forces with recapturing the space station before the Russians can annihilate their next target – New York.
The player takes control of Sam, a government agent kitted out with a futuristic battle suit.
The game was created by the team previously responsible for Resident Evil 4, including lead director Shinji Mikami; his first game under the Platinum Games brand. The game was in development since 2007; in January 2010, a full motion video trailer was released.
Mikami has stated that the game was developed with the PlayStation 3 as its lead platform, commenting that it was a "great success".
In the course of developing Vanquish, Shinji Mikami said that the game's graphics were inspired by the Casshern anime series.