Debs tries piloting some heavy metal in Namco Bandai's mech title, Armored Core V.
Namco Bandai's latest offering in the mech genre, Armored Core V, promises machine versus machine. But does it deliver? The game itself begins like an epic war film. Cinematic opening scenes of heavy artillery fire, mech cruising down destroyed streets crushing any debris in its path while infantry run alongside, masses of units getting flown in to military hot zones – it’s all very impressive, and then the game starts for real. At that point, you’re left with the realization that the opening cinematic, made primarily of the same footage as shown at 2011’s E3 conference, is not what you’re preparing to play at all. What you get instead of war torn zones are sterile environments with tanks and other mech just waiting for you to arrive.
Initial opening disappointment aside, the main premise of this mech-action game developed by From Software, is that you are in control of an Armored Core (AC) unit, a tank of a machine that carries one pilot – you. As the newest recruit in the Resistance, a group fighting for democracy in a world that has depleted its natural resources and fallen to dictatorship, you fight the enemy Delegate’s AC units and other military units in war torn zones. Outside of this, the storyline is definitely a confusing mess, with jagged conversations from characters you never seem to get to know. Most of the conversations include awkward pauses, which doesn’t help the sometimes poor voice acting used to tell the story. But you’re not here for a story, you’re here for the firefight, right?
As you would expect from a mech game, the potential rig you can build and customize yourself in the workshop seems limitless. As well as the standard question of “what can I blow stuff up with?” being answered with your choice of missile, chain gun, plasma rifle, and so forth, each with its own sub-categories, there are other, more important considerations. The game is all about getting the right balance with your AC unit, which means you can’t just load any old gun up on there, as each unit has only so much power to offer, and can only take so much weight. Load on too much, and you risk weighing down your unit, reducing its mobility or the duration that a weapon can be used. This will force players to think about what they’re customising, rather than just loading on the coolest stuff and painting it a mean color.
The problem with the customisation, and pretty much any menu navigation, is that it’s more or less a confusing and somewhat painful experience. While you can get used to jumping from the missions screen to the workshop, exploring and choosing options within these can be difficult at times. There’s a good chance that the hours spent trying get that new gun on your AC unit isn’t just because of the number of choices, but also because figuring out how to select it, purchase it, then attach it becomes an adventure in itself.
If you manage to find your way into the actual missions screens, you will find yourself two options – mission stories and orders, which are simply objective based missions that have no bearing on the storyline itself. Both of these support co-op play of up to two players if you don’t want to stumble about the map by yourself, but are quite doable as single-player missions. Of course, building and fitting out an AC unit is an expensive task, and so completing orders quickly, accurately and with less damage to your unit will earn you the most bank. That’s right – every round you fire and every bit of damage you take, you need to pay for, shown to you as expenses at the end of the mission, as well as being taken out of your income.
The storyline missions prove to be somewhat more interesting in amongst the dozens of basically repetitive order missions. Unfortunately, that familiar order objective of “destroy all enemies” is the best way to earn yourself those shiny new metal legs. It’s also the best way to practice learning how to actually pilot your AC unit, as the tutorial simply runs through the button keys without much room for getting used to maneuvering the machine. But how does it feel flying around a hulking piece of weaponized metal?
It takes some getting used to, like the rest of the game, but once you know how to strafe, fly around, and use all the bells and whistles you’ve attached to your AC unit, it’s mildly entertaining. When getting ready to fight, your reticule shows your unit health and energy, but due to poor design it all but disappears when the explosions start. Aiming at your target becomes guesswork, as well as avoiding your enemy’s fire. Eventually, I found repeating missions took the confusion out as I then knew what to expect, and how to avoid specific enemy fire. In the end, most battles felt the same – find out which weapon you have is the most effective, then sidestep while firing until the guy is dead.
Missions can be a little trickier, as the changing and sometimes unclear objectives can frustratingly leave you with little health, leaving you to struggle to survive quite early on. This can be especially problematic if you haven’t gotten used to the controls or how to deal with various fight situations.
At least when it comes to multiplayer, things change up a bit. You can tackle everyone in Conquest mode, which allows you to wrestle territory from other teams. Of course, playing in this mode will help if you have an idea on how to actually play, as well as having enough bank in the first place to kit your mech out for some serious fights. But with a level 50 cap, you may quickly find yourself without the motivation to keep fighting, and the store once filled with essential items will stop stocking new gear.
Armored Core V proved to be a frustrating attempt at piloting and maintaining your very own mech. While veterans may feel right at home, for newer gamers the clumsy battle controls that take getting used to, combined with a less than ideal interface, both mid-battle and while navigating menus, will test one’s patience. Add to that a general lack of explaining, well, anything, and overall repetitive gameplay makes for a title that will likely be shelved and collect dust once the initial allure of fighting robots wears off.
Sure you'll figure out how to move without crashing, but the rest of the gameplay will end up being total guesswork.
Music and Sound
The necessary sounds are there. Some sound effects seem oddly empty, but not as empty as the voice acting.
I gather there’s a war waging, and both sides have Armored Core units. Outside of that it makes less sense than a TV soap opera.
The environments look great, and so do the mech. At the same time, it all seems so lifeless. Even the explosions
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the game, where you really get to feel part of a coordinated team. But it only lasts as long as someone is willing to play.
Once you get over making your perfect mech, and have tried the few variances of missions on offer, this game is likely to lose its shine.
If you like mech, frustrating customisation, repetitive gameplay, and feeling like you’re actually part of a team (sometimes), then this game will suit you until the next shiny thing crosses your field of view.
Armored Core V was reviewed on the Playstation 3 version of the game, provided by Namco Bandai.