Armored Core V Review
Game: Armored Core V
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Available on: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
If there is one thing the Japanese gaming audience loves, it is a good tear-up between a bunch of mechs. Giant robots are big business Nippon-side, even more so than Transformers are in the West. Whilst children of the Seventies and Eighties in the UK were watching things like Button Moon, Tiswas and Blue Peter, Japanese kids got to watch stuff like Gundam and Macross, where skyscraper-sized mecha faced off in epic battles for the ages.
Naturally the anime and comic book representations inspired videogames as time went on, and there have been a high number of mech-based titles across vitually every format. Sadly, the vast majority of such games are either just plain bad, or impossible to understand. Assault Suits Valken was a superb SNES run and gun blaster, known as Cybernator in the West, which incorporated mecha and armoured body suits. Zone of The Enders married Kojima’s outlandish direction to a story focusing on mechs, and should be highly interesting in its forthcoming HD re-released guise. Virtual On was a superb arcade mech shooter, which took the twin-stick controls of Battlezone and placed you in control of an enormous robot replete with a cool arsenal of weapons. Then of course there was the original Armored Core, a terrific 1997 effort for the PlayStation, which to many mech connoisseurs remains the benchmark of the genre.
The architects of the original Armored Core were From Software, a firm with an astonishing pedigree when you look at their output. As well as revitalizing the mech scene, they are also responsible for the likes of Kings Field, highly commendable Xbox action series Otogi, several instalments in the hit and miss Tenchu franchise, and most recently the ultra hard-core RPGs Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, which both received almost unanimous acclaim. Their latest stab at giant robo action comes after a two year gestation period, during which time they have been lapping up plaudits for their Namco-published masochism exercise. Can they still give good mech?
STORY: The setting is a highly depressing near-future, with humans in a perpetual state of war, and the Earth a scorched and battered wasteland. If that wasn’t bad enough, someone has gone and found the impossibly technologically advanced Armored Core mechs buried deep underground, and dug those bad boys up. With this insane new kit available, things just got real. It is your job to take control of a beefy, tooled up robot in this post-apocalyptic diorama, and create some carnage.
GRAPHICS: There is a shockingly realistic looking introduction sequence, with ridiculous shots of huge tanks and mechs, spent cartridges, and almost pornographic close ups of huge guns discharging their ammunition. The in-game visuals are functional, with plenty of detail in the landscapes compared to previous Armored Core games, and a well animated mech viewed in the third person. There are plenty of explosions and things to crush, smash and shoot at; I particularly love the way that smaller vehicles simply explode when you walk over them. The post apocalyptic setting is no Resistance or Gears of War, but given the full range of movement at your disposal, the game arenas and battlegrounds you have to play in are decent enough looking.
SOUND: When importing an Armored Core you get the slightly crazed Japanese voiceovers and acting which lend the already highly Japanese action even more of a Japanese feel. Western folk get bland English voices – mostly females it has to be said – who talk you through the action and through the front end, and natter on during the game. “YOU are the AC that is going to die – bwahahahaha!”. There is nothing particularly memorable about any of this, and I am guessing you would have to be a huge AC fan to get any thrills from the narrative.
The music on the other hand is good throughout. On undertaking the first story mission through a nightmarish cityscape which has been torn asunder by war, ash and embers raining down like ticker tape, there is some haunting music, which really adds to the atmosphere. There are some nice J-rock belters, some juicy explosions and satisfying weapon-noises, to complete the sonic package.
GAMEPLAY: Armored Core V doesn’t deviate radically from previous games in the series. Mech games do tend to be fairly niche in nature and do involve a lot of walking and dashing around, shooting things. To some, this is going to be extremely repetitive and boring. To others, the way you can customise your mechs, and the freedom of movement allowed will mean that this fulfils their dreams of what a mech title can be.
You see, things have certainly moved on since I last played an AC title. This instalment sees perhaps the most tooled-up mechs yet seen in the series with a huge array of weapons fully interchangeable in real-time during gameplay, and this time rather than certain weapons firing from a fixed position on, say, the rear of the character, the weapons are nearly all fired straight from each of your giant robot arms.
Your robot is very manoeuvrable, considering it is the size of a semi detached house. You can dash, jump, air dash, and even wall-jump to reach higher areas. A large circular sight in front of you is used for targeting, and once in range, you can lock onto targets. There is a melee attack to use at close range, leading to the wonderful sight of an anthropomorphised mech punching a helicopter to death. Clicking the right stick also allows you to enter Scan Mode, which is a great way of having a gander at the landscape to spot your next enemy target. You can deploy recon units which allow you to see targets that are further away, and the game also gives you waypoints that indicate the best routes through levels. On some of the larger maps you will spend time exploring and hunting down your foes, and this part of things is extremely fun. I enjoyed harnessing the awesome power of my flying weapons stockpile on legs, dashing around the wonderful Terminator-style settings, seeking the next puny helicopter to grease.
MULTIPLAYER: Anyone who has played From Software’s slept-on (and extremely enjoyable) 360 mech title Chromehounds will be right at home when playing Armored Core V. Indeed, from the moment you fire AC V up, you are online. You are asked to select a name, location and battle icon from the get-go, and are given the opportunity to join a team, if you wish. You can play through all of the missions in the game online with friends, team mates or random other users.
The world map is split up into different areas, which various online teams can fight over. It is almost like Risk, but with amazing, fully customisable robots replacing little counters. Within the team set up, there is the opportunity for a player to take the role of a kind of war-room co-ordinator, who sees a birds-eye view of the map and can send messages or relay instructions to teammates. It is dead easy to form your own team, or join an existing one, carrying out missions on behalf of a Level 16 team within twenty minutes of booting the game up.
There is so much to do online in this game, that it almost feels like an MMO at times, something that is dangerously close to the point at which I always promised myself I would call Dignitas and end it all. But just look at all the cool things on offer. Players around the world can trade weapons and mech parts for the in-game currency. Given that you can customise just about every aspect of your robot, it is a nice touch that you can exchange WMDs with other like-minded roboteers (did I just say that?) around the world. You can play solely as a mercenary or as a Man of Honour, slotting into teams when they need you and acting as a lone wolf mercenary type, carrying out missions for other people. One of my best moments in gaming in 2012 thus far came from being called into a team, absolutely wrecking the opponent in an (admittedly flukey) display of military aggression, and then being sent a “leet speak” message from someone online to thank me for my efforts. I felt like a mechanized John Rambo, and that this internet geek who had taken the time out to compose such a poorly worded, barely comprehensible message, was, like Richard Crenna in the movies, the only person who truly understood me. What an age we live in.
LONGEVITY: There are ten main story missions to complete in single player, as well as 80 “Order” missions, which vary from simple, short sorties (you may need to take out ten helicopters to proceed, for example) to arena face-offs with other mech badasses. The story missions are long and feature well-placed checkpoints, allowing you to replenish your ammo and tinker with your AC during the battle, if you can find a garage in the landscape to do so. It will take a fair amount of playing time to crack all of these missions – around 6 to 8 hours just for the main story side of things alone – and there are a ton of corresponding Trophies to unlock for doing so. But the meat of this game, and something that will keep your interest long after the single player campaign, is the excellently implemented online modes.
VERDICT: On the face of it, Armored Core V is a pretty basic Third Person mech shooter. If it was a bog standard single player affair, I would be dismissing it as merely average. But From Software have packed so much into the online experience, and padded out the single player mode with a huge volume of Order missions. The front end is simple to negotiate, and within minutes you will be involved in online gameplay.
Even people who are daunted by the idea of such a Japan-centric game genre will find themselves bewitched by the amount of cool stuff you can do. Playing as part of a team is great fun. Commanding the action from above makes you feel like a big man. And playing as a hard-assed mercenary – a kind of Transformer for Hire – is a superb touch that will appeal to the gun-massacre-loving loner in us all. Armored Core V is well worth a look, particularly if you are fond of online play.