March 27, 2012
Giant, stompy robots are just awesome. It doesn’t really matter what they actually do, as you just know that whatever it is will be epic regardless, and everyone involved in said hijinks will be having a hell of time. Top examples obviously include Optimus Prime, Voltron and Robbie (DANGER! DANGER!), but Japan has a whole roster of epic examples and treasured series. Armored Core is certainly one that holds a special niche in Japan while never quite exploding onto the radar of western audiences in quite the same way. This time though the game has gone global in a big way, featuring a hefty online component for one, to lure in the mech die hards.
The main thing to get out of the way is that this is a long haul game, and unashamedly so. Sure you could dip into the story mode, or meet up every now and then to battle friends and foes online, but to get the most out of it you're going to want to invest plenty of time and effort. Tooling up your robot is a case of amassing enough funds to buy the best gear, while getting into (or forming your own) formidable clan of killing machines is another matter entirely.. Then you can expect to spend plenty of time tackling mission after mission in order to toughen up your squad, build up funds and take over some land. If this all sounds like your cup of tea (or coffee, or favoured beverage of your own choosing) then read on.
Probably the biggest reason that Armored Core is solely for the dedicated is down to the fact that the story and solo missions are pretty much throwaway in nature. Most of them are extremely linear, with only a handful of objectives and enemies that never seem to offer much in the way of a challenge. Throw in a plot that makes almost no sense, constantly loops back on itself and features a host of ambiguous characters that seem to switch sides at the drop of a hat, and you’d be forgiven for going no further than that. However, if you look at the solo missions as more of a primer for the online action then you will probably glean a touch more satisfaction.
If you ignore the shiny story missions on the world map and take a second to look around, then you will find a wealth of options and opportunities. To begin with the customisation options are superbly in depth, allowing you to tinker with your own robot, create unique paint schemes and decals as well as upgrading to the latest kit should your cash reserves allow it. You can also form your own fighting unit, or seek to join someone else, which allows you to pool resources, trade equipment and generally have people to watch your back on missions. In fact the second you manage to get a few players working together the game takes on a whole different outlook. I’m not just talking about co-op games being better either, as that's a given, but this game genuinely feels more satisfying and fulfilling once you have a group of people co-ordinating their efforts.
While a good portion of your time can be spent planning which missions to take on, tinkering with your mech or just chilling with your posse, the meat and drink of the game is when you drop into a mission and prepare to reduce some fools to shreds of metal. The regular missions will see you tackling an array of land and air based foes, with the odd rival AC suit thrown in for good measure. The controls are fairly smooth, though having to switch between scan mode and combat mode to suss out enemy weaknesses or find your way to the next objective can leave you open to attack. Weapons can be accessed and alternated at the touch of a button, and zipping around is relatively easy as you can boost through streets and clamber up tall buildings and walls. While the environments you battle through are fairly varied, and eminently destructible, the textures are also pretty grainy at times and the camera can easily get stuck behind tall edifices leaving you to flail around getting pummelled. Things get more interesting when you go away from the in-game missions and tackle some dreamt up by a more worthy opponent: the other AC players.
Clans of players can claim territories on the world map as their own, by taking on missions and amassing enough points to engage in a conquest mission. Lose and you forfeit all of your hard-earned points, but win and you can potentially take over that zone. Once in command you can build your own fortifications and defences, making the game a kind of real-time tower defence game. Other players can then try and take over your land, at which point you can leave the defences to take care of them for you or you can hop into your own AC unit and help out – with some team members along for the ride should you so desire. You can also take on a more back seat role as team operator, which will see you claiming a more tactical role and calling out the shots for your colleagues in terms of enemy locations, weapons and so on.
This is by far the most interesting aspect of the game, and it’s a shame that it's so hard for new players to get to see it. Bigger clans have an overwhelming advantage and once a team is entrenched in a location, with fortifications to match and the most advanced AC equipment they can buy, then it becomes a nightmare to remove them. Not to mention the fact that you have to build up a substantial amount of team points just to access a conquest mission, and success is far from guaranteed as missions often have very tight time limits and overwhelming odds. This all circles back to the long haul nature of the game though, as players will have to fight fire with fire and spend countless hours maxing out bog standard missions in order to get at the good stuff. Whether most players will have the patience and inclination to do so is another matter, and that's a shame.
Trophies are fairly easy to come by but those looking to earn an elusive Platinum will need a squad as dedicated as themselves, as being tasked with holding multiple territories in multiple zones at once is no mean feat. You will also have to make your way through the story and complete all side Order missions to boot, not to mention S ranking those bad boys. Throw in successful territory and conquest missions, often with multiple players required, as well as taking down all bosses and snagging all of the emblems and you are in for a rough ride. Still if you have a few (hundred) hours to spare it should be a piece of cake. Failing that you could grovel enough until one of the top squads lets you join.
Armored Core V is a game that fans will undoubtedly love, and the world map with its mix of solo and multiplayer missions offers an ever shifting battlefield for you to take part in. Having said that the graphics can be hit and miss at times and the story is often bewildering rather than entertaining, not to mention the fact that the Order missions are rather one note and repetitive. The cost of entry in terms of time is also staggeringly high, with the more interesting Conquest missions too far out of reach for most casual players. It’s the case of an interesting premise being lost in too much red tape and a single-player offering that is bland at best. Mech fans will stick it out and find a wealth of action hidden away, but the rest will soon fall by the wayside and miss out on a unique multiplayer experience. On the aforementioned scale of robots this falls somewhere between Giant Robo and Gundam: not terrible but could do better.
Forgettable music and some appalling voice work, with a cast that is seemingly disinterested in creating any tension whatsoever.
Good for the most part, but up close and personal things start to look pretty ropey. While you are blitzing through your foes though it is fair to say that the level of destruction is top notch.
The mechs do seem a touch unwieldy at times and the camera can be your worst enemy, though at least the enemy AI is generally not competent enough to take advantage. Head online though and the game improves remarkably, both in terms of missions, tactics and enjoyment.
A world map at your fingertips, littered with missions and territories for you to assault at your leisure. Throw in a deep customisation and upgrading system and this is a well thought out time sink. If only the time required to get up to speed in the online arena wasn’t so off-putting.
A rather by the numbers list, and one that will demand a lot of effort to get that pesky platinum in. If you don’t have at least four friends prepared to stay the course then you may want to focus on fun rather than trophies.
Armored Core V is certainly a deep game, but it’s also one that is let down by an underwhelming solo experience and an overly demanding online mode. If you look past the repetitive gameplay structure and focus on building a squad of likeminded allies then you will be rewarded, given enough time, but getting to that point might be too much of an ask for most.