Armored Core V Xbox 360 Review

armored-core-v

From Software is on a high at the moment with the success of the brilliant Dark Souls. No one would have ever thought that a game that is so significantly difficult, a game that doesn’t hold your hand, would ever get such well-deserved popularity. Hoping to get the same success with their latest Armored Core game, From Software has changed the mould for the franchise and has instead focused heavily on the online department, something it did once before on the Xbox 360 with Chromehounds. Chromehounds was praised for its online structure, but sadly its servers were taken down two years ago. Armored Core V is here and it could very well be the next thing for lovers of big metal robots who want to battle it out online.

Plot-wise, the game is set in a not too far future. There’s a huge war going on, but it’s confusing, I have no idea exactly what has happened, only that the character you play as seems to be working for a team that is branded as “terrorists.” Well, that’s what the city police shout out when you engage in battle with them, but I don’t exactly know what I’ve done to be called a terrorist. I was hired by a resistance group, so that could be it I guess. The story is never clearly explained and it’s just a confusing mess, though at the end the story doesn’t matter. The game sets you up to fight other war machinery and armored cores, and that’s what we want, right?

Armored Core V is just as complex and challenging to get into as Dark Souls. It has a steep learning curve and requires you to be patient with the game to learn all it has to offer, yet with the emphasis towards online rather than a single player campaign, it’s probably the best time ever to check out the franchise if you’ve never played one before. As soon as you press that start button, the online features become apparent as you are always connected to servers whenever you play. The map is the main detail you see and it shows you what territories are held by which teams. After viewing it, you can decide to join a team or create your own. If you make one, you can restrict how people join, customise the logo and name, set up team meetings for practice and alert them when you are going on a mission. It’s well thought out. Even though you don’t have total control over the messages you can send, it manages to work and gives you a feeling that you are part of something.

At first, the menu layout of the game can be somewhat daunting – there’s loads of options to pick but they aren’t presented in the most user-friendly way. The first action you’ll want to take is start a few missions to learn the basics. There isn’t much of a tutorial apart from the small introduction of controls. Once you’ve done that, the game leaves you on your own. Each piece of land on the map holds multiple missions to take part in. Armored Core V splits up the “single player” missions between 10 story driven campaigns and 80+ side missions. Thankfully, the game alerts players to which missions are recommended by highlighting them “order.” If you follow the game’s plan, you shouldn’t run into much trouble with these quick-burst action type missions, normally revolving around killing a special armored core or a group of enemies. They can become repetitive over time, but with the ability to play with other people in the mission, and earn the team you are a member of some rank points (unlocking armored core parts and other goodies), it becomes more of an involvement rather than a boring lonely experience.

Story operations are much more involving and interesting. Spaced out over the course of 10 missions, these longer and more challenging sections require you to play to the best of your abilities if you ever hope to beat them, taking down giant walking battle tanks, armoured trains and other specialised armored cores along the way.  The story feels like a push at getting you to play with a friend or a random person who put down his or her status as a mercenary. Mercenaries are gamers who are playing Armored Core V at the same time and can be hired to help you on any mission you have available.

Veterans of the franchise will notice the shift in design and gameplay of the armored cores in V. These mechanical beasts are smaller and can no longer fly around like crazy bats out of hell. The creators have gone for a more down to earth feel in this installment. With the focus on multiplayer, the game is intended to make players work in groups and use tactics with the surroundings to gain an advantage. This smaller representation of the machines has given the designers the ability to create stages that appear more hazardous, but this also allows players to approach enemies more stealthily, with giant buildings and other objects blocking your view as you surprise the opposition’s team members.

Handling an armored core is a breeze. You shoot with the triggers, boost with the left bumper, use the shoulder weapon with the right bumper and move and aim with ease with the analogue sticks. One feature that bugs me is that you cannot change where the camera is placed behind your armored core. The game automatically switches the model to the right or left side of the screen depending if you are moving the huge arming reticule, which contains all your unit information, to the left or right of the screen. It can obstruct your ability to aim as you are forced to move the reticule to get the camera back into your ideal third-person view point position.

Moving away from missions, you have a few dedicated online modes. You can take part in “free battle” that allows players to have one vs. one battles or five vs. five battles in either ranked or player matches; it’s all standard with that mode. Conquest, on the other hand, is the star of Armored Core V’s online element. In Conquest, you gather your team members, or mercenaries, and aim to take over another team’s territory. You really need a team of five for this mode so you have a higher chance of successfully taking over the land. Before you go out to attack, you can set up a strategic assault using a map and markers. One player can even become an operator and send directions to squad mates while in the heat of battle. It’s great fun, but, sadly, it also seems like a huge opportunity was missed as you always fight a squad of A.I bots representing the team you are trying to conquer. Imagine if you could summon any of the team members that happen to be online as you were invading; they could join in with the bots if they didn’t make up a full squad. It would be more engaging for the players if they knew it was against human opponents rather than just generic bots.

One sad feature about the online and the team aspect is that the servers are region split, meaning Japan, Europe and the USA are all separate from one another. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was a game as popular as say something like FIFA or Call of Duty, but the Armored Core series has never been the biggest seller. There are times of emptiness in parts of the day, taking longer than ideal wait times to find a mercenary partner to help you with a mission or a territorial invasion.Allowing people to play together from around the world would have helped towards solving this problem.

Framerate can be a bit unstable when action is at full octane. Apart from that, the graphics represent the dark and gritty feeling of devastated cities and industrial environments well. Explosions look cool and small graphical details from bullets and other tech based weaponry add a nice touch to the side of realism.

Armored Core V’s enjoyment comes from being able to play the game online. If you have no online capabilities on your system of choice, it’s quite hard to recommend playing the game solo. There’s just nothing gripping to do by yourself, and some of the story missions will frustrate you without the capability to play with a helper. Got online? Then if you can find people to play with, you’ll have a blast. You’ve just got to make sure you give the game time to open up to you because this is one of those titles that asks much from a gamer’s time, including spending hours just building your armored  core to the perfect specification ready for the next fight ahead. For fans, you know what to expect as you’ve dealt with it all before, and the game’s online mode is enough to keep you interested in the title for well after you’ve beaten the content. Fingers crossed, the scene stays alive for Armored Cove V so people can enjoy it until the next title comes out – it’s the only good online mech game at the moment.

7/10

by

Version tested: Xbox 360

Also available on: PS3

Developer: From Software

Publisher: Namco Bandai

Genre: Mech Simulation