Armored Core V is not a title for the casual gamer. If you are looking for something quick and easy to throw into your console, then you have chosen poorly. If you drank from Armored Core V thinking that it was the Holy Grail, you would shrivel up and die.
Also screwed are those that are hoping for a single player campaign to dig into. There is one, sorta, but you could play the game for hours and not even realize it was there. Armored Core V thrives on the multiplayer. Buying it for the campaign would be like buying Call of Duty: Black Ops and only ever playing the Combat Training against bots.
It was a huge risk on Namco Bandai and developer From Software’s part. There is a reason most developers don’t make online-centric games for consoles. Just look at the poor, doomed 2007 title Shadowrun that died a sad and lonely death in the eyes of the general public. A few dedicated souls continue to fight the good fight both on the 360 and on PC, but that game was in trouble from the start. Armored Core V may be heading in the same direction, but for slightly different reasons.
Creating an online-first game is a risk that not even Call of Duty has truly considered yet. You need a solid campaign to woo people that aren’t already fans into the fold. The world of online gaming — especially the console side — is a treacherous one. If your only experience online is with a shooter, then you may be convinced that the online community is a hive of scum and villainy. A game like Battlefield might be able to release an online-only game and pull it off because there are already enough fans to support it. Armored Core V does not have that luxury.
There are moments throughout this game that stand out. Going toe-to-toe with another person in a maze of city streets, while a real-life Operator frantically tries to contain and flank the enemy advance, is satisfying and makes you feel sufficiently bad-ass when you succeed. These moments are few and far between though, and make up only a small portion of the game. The rest of the time it is a bit meh.
A boy and his mech
There is a story of sorts wedged into Armored Core V, but it is such a small portion of the game that it is easy to overlook. After firing up the game, you are taken to a world map showing the territories of the land mass you inhabit. Choosing the mission tab will then give you a list of options to choose from, including Story and Order missions. The plot in the Story mode is that the corporation you work for is a wee bit evil, and you are wooed by the rebellion. But even that description gives it more credit than it deserves. It is a confused mess that feels shoehorned in.
In terms of gameplay though, the Story missions are some of the best — or at least they are the longest and most intricate. The missions typically have you rip through a ruined city or a vaguely described industrial area, and fight off helicopters, tanks, artillery, and a handful of other distractions that try to prevent you from reaching the enemy mech — or AC as it is known in this game. These AC battles can be fun and challenging, which is a nice change of pace from the previous 20 odd minutes of “see target, shoot target” gameplay that typifies 95-percent of the combat against the AI.
The challenge against these bosses is ratcheted up here significantly, and having the proper loadout to start the mission is vital. Unfortunately the only real way to figure out what to take is trial and error. At least until your own AC is fairly well stocked.
The Order missions are much simpler. Much, much, much simpler. In fact they can be as short as one minute, and basically just ask you to sally forth and blow crap up. Most won’t last more than five minutes at the absolute most. The catch is that you need to play these missions in order to earn credits, which you then use to upgrade your AC. It is the AC equivalent of level-grinding, and it gets old, fast.
And that, in a nutshell, is your entire single player game.
One is the loneliest number
Both the story and the Order missions allow you to take a friend with you for some hot mech on mech co-op action. To do this you can either hire an AI controlled mercenary — which may be useful (but costly) for the story but pointless for the Order missions — or you can go online and ask a teammate to share the fun.
The online is where this game defies simple judgment. If the entire game were based around the single player, it was be easy to give this game a low score and saunter off. But From Software does some things right. Actually it does some things incredibly right and other online games should mercilessly “borrow” from this game.
When you first go online, you will be asked to join a team. This process is a bit clunky, since you need to be in a team to meet other people online. Unless you already have a group waiting for you, most will end up randomly joining a team and hope for the best. It is a bit like Chat Roulette.
Assuming your new team doesn’t offend and/or boot you right from the start, the game opens up. The sorties are all the same, but playing the Story and Order missions is much more satisfying. All the same problems are there — the enemies are dull, the Story modes are confusing and finding subplots is more luck than anything, and Order missions are over in less time than it takes to boil an egg — but it is still fun. It is also a good way to earn credits, plus you gain team points for your efforts.
Teams can also go on four person (five with an Operator) missions into enemy territory against AI objectives. These are easy missions that help build the team points. After you do them enough, they become a grind though — and you will have to do them plenty.
Team points are required to attack other teams’ territories. You need to reach a certain level, and once you do you can go after another team’s area. If they are online, you will have a fight on your hands, if not you will face AI controlled opponents.
The PvP battles are 5 on 5, but one member from each team acts as the Operator. A good Operator is a general, commanding the action and giving objectives. A bad one directs traffic and tries to give people warnings. In either case, it is a useful feature. When fully stacked, these battles are intense and fast paced, and the team that has a proper load out and members that complement each other will have a clear advantage.
The consequence of losing a team battle are severe. If you are the defenders, you just lose the territory; if you are the attackers, you lose all your team points and need to start building, and grinding, again. It is almost like the developers don’t want you to fight, since the stakes are high, and yet also one-sided.
Balance issues aside, the online does a lot of little things right. After a mission, you and your teammates can replay the action. All of your stats are laid out, and you can even see where and how the team moved. It is a bit similar to what Call of Duty Elite is trying to do, although not quite as robust. There is an incredible level of detail in the online setup that is lacking in the missions themselves. But even this level pales compared to the customization options you can create for your AC.
Building the better death machine
Once you have a few credits jingling about in your pocket, you can head over to the Assembly area, where you will be spending a great deal of time. At first your options are limited. You can try out a few different weapons, and that is about it. As your bank account grows, you can then start to augment the armor. And then the generator. Then the booster, the legs, the head, the chest plate, and several other things.
Most of these are a matter of performance, but others fundamentally change your mech — especially the legs. If you prefer your AC to be a tank-like character, you can turn them into, well, a tank. Throw on a tank chassis and you can roll your way to victory. If you want better jumping, the reverse joint bi-pedal is the way to go, or for better weight bearing, the standard legs. Each has its pros and cons.
You can also painstakingly customize your AC on the aesthetic side. Every color scheme you can imagine is available, and if you don’t see it, you can make it. So after you have spent a good deal of time painstakingly turning your mech into a replica of Roy Fokker and Rick Hunter’s VF1- Valkyrie from Robotech (just for, ya know, example…), you can begin to obsess over the stats. Ye gods, the stats.
Every change you make has an effect on the AC. There are complicated graphs filled with stats that only the most dedicated will understand. A physicist that is new to the game could be left feeling dumb after their first try at customization. It isn’t helped by clunky menus and a total lack of anything resembling a tutorial, but once you understand it, it is robust.
Sadly, you can’t customize the landscape
It is nice that you can customize the look of your AC to infinity and beyond, because there is very little else worth looking at in the game. The levels are dull and lifeless places that feel rushed, as if level and art design were an extremely low priority.
Creating levels is no easy task, but a good looking set of maps could have alleviated huge problems in this game. The levels set the tone, and that is a bad thing. They feel generic and dull, and after you’ve done just a few missions, you’ll get the feeling that you’ve seen all there is to see and are stuck in a vicious cycle of dreary repetition. And you’ll be right.
Despite all the complaints leveled at this game — and there are plenty — there is still a sliver of a great game buried under the sheet of brown and gray drab that permeates everything. The online is a great idea, well executed, but plagued by dull and repetitive missions and gameplay. When there is a PvP battle, this game explodes to life, but they are sadly uncommon since the consequences are severe enough that it could force you back to grind mode in order to fight again.
This game is perfect for hardcore mech fans that want to build up their own community, revel in customizing their AC, and don’t mind repetition. For everyone else though, these are not the droids you are looking for.
Score: 7 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita on a copy provided by Namco Bandai)