The Japanese are probably the most likely folk to actually construct a real, honest to goodness mech, such is their obsession with the awesome robotic suits in videogames, manga and other media. Although a giant Gundam-esque monstrosity is unlikely to participate in a proper combat scenario, since the last time we checked in with From Software’s Armored Core franchise, the Suidobashi Heavy Industry company in Japan managed to construct a ballistically tame (it shoots water bottles) yet nonetheless impressive mecha exoskeleton, allowing anyone with upwards of $1.3 million to live out their fantasies of future bipedal combat. Until you go insane and win the lottery in one fell swoop, the best way of getting your mech on is to revisit this new Armored Core installment, with the online-focused Verdict Day.
Once again you get to take control of a brilliantly manoeuvrable, dashing, leaping, wall-jumping customisable robot, with the sort of ordnance that puts the plastic bottle-shooting prototype to shame. Offline, gameplay revolves around defeating increasingly more hostile sets of foes in locations around the world that this time do have some real variety and some quite stunning locales, even if each battle map does have an exterior edge that you are not allowed to step out of.
Battles take place in huge industrial areas with looming metal structures and signs of humanity, in barren deserts with ash ominously swirling in the air, or even in huge, dusty canyons with snipers lurking in the rocky enclaves, peppering you with fire. The action can be as fast and furious as you want – although some grasp of military tactics is required. Simply blazing in, solo, in a gung-ho style will get your mech greased in no time. You’re better off taking a more considered approach, firing off recon units to see how the land lies, or using the AC-staple Scan Mode to work out the best way to approach the distant enemy.
Like the fifth canonical sequel, this is a tough old game, with even the earliest missions proving difficult for the newcomer. Some Western gamers will dismiss this as an overly difficult, niche property, but to do that would be to miss out on an extremely rewarding, totally badass action title that improves on its predecessor and shows once again that Chromehounds really was a fine little multiplayer title upon which to build your online game experience. When everything clicks into place and you begin to understand how to properly kit out your Armored Core (or AC, if you like), the feeling of pulling off successful missions against the odds in the wonderfully mobile mech suit gives you a warm, gooey, giant killer robot-y feeling inside. If you are a series veteran, you will love the fact that you can carry your well-loved mech data over from the previous installment, and pick up right where you left off – in a state of perpetual robot fighting.
That is just the single player shenanigans, though. Verdict Day is all about the online. Even if you don’t know another soul who plays the game, From Software have given you the straight-off-the-bat ability to beef up your attacking options by forming a squadron of your own self-created, A.I-controlled UNAC buddies, who will give you superb backup in a fight, can be customised to behave in certain ways, and will even improve the more you fight alongside them. You can go from Billy No-Mates to pimp-daddy of a tooled-up gang of ridiculously effective Unmanned Armored Cores in no time. Living the dream, indeed. You don’t even have to get overly involved either: as with Armored Core V, you can play the game in the zoomed-out, overhead RTS-style mode that allows you to command your robots from afar, calling in attacks with the crosshair.
If you fancy taking on a lone-wolf role, you can also enlist as a mercenary – whereupon you will be called up by other online players to serve as a soldier of fortune in their battles. Should your new paymaster win the round of combat, you earn some in-game currency, which can be used to further embellish your crazy futuristic suit with guns and stuff. Likewise, you can also call in mercs for your own ends. Although not available at the time of writing, some of the other online modes sound a lot of fun, such as the ability to join a faction and participate in a week-long clan dust-up, with the victor decided by how much of the world map they’ve seized.
The UNAC system is the real game-changer here – and comfortably helps Verdict Day improve on its predecessor. It allows you so many options: single players venturing online can build their squad to their tastes to create a good tactical balance, yet if you do play with a clan, filling gaps in the team with a decent Unmanned Core can take the pressure off the human players and serve useful roles in the tactical face-off.
This isn’t a comedy, EDF-style blaster – this is a mechanised war in the future, where blundering into the fray will see you lose rapidly. Don’t be dumbfounded by the confusing menus or daunting focus on online play. You can spend hours learning how to upgrade your mech, and there are forums and websites dedicated to this stuff. That giant cannon may look great, but overload your Core and it won’t move properly. Can you really afford a new AI chip for your favourite UNAC? Unfortunately, these are the big choices we have to make when dealing with life and love and giant mechs.
VERDICT: Crucially, whether you are on or offline, this is a fun, beefy, satisfying game to play. It is as tough as nails, but if you keep failing that mission, it is because you need to practice more. Although perhaps not as fulfilling for soloists, it still comes highly recommended for those who like their warfare to go beyond the modern.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.