Armored Core V is a potentially interesting game that is held back by some serious technical issues, a low player population (at least on the PS3), a ridiculous story with one of the worst scripts I can remember seeing in a video game, and repetitive bland missions. Still there are some goo things in armored core: the multiplayer integration, parts of the presentation, the deep customization, and the ways the mechs handle are all really interesting and exciting. It is a testament to how good the ideas behind this game are that even with all these issues the final product can be extremely enjoyable.
You spend most of your time in AC piloting an armored core (funny how it works out like that), which is this game’s name for its mechs, from a third person perspective. The gameplay is very varied and can change fairly drastically depending on what weapons, legs, boosters, and other parts you choose. For most builds you zoom around the map on boosters firing a mix of rifles, machine guns, lasers, rockets, and various other weapons at enemy vehicles and turrets. If that doesn’t work you can always hunker down in a four legged sniper, pulverize your enemies with howitzers, auto-cannons, and tank treads, or dash up and hit them with close range firepower and a powerful plasma sword. Each mech can carry five weapons: One in each hand and one stored in the shoulder bay for the arm as well as a shoulder mounted weapon, usually a rocket launcher. You can switch between the two weapons you have equipped to an arm at any time, unless they are heavy weapons, and this allows you to make your mech much more flexible and adaptive. The lock-on-targeting is pretty forgiving and the shooting control is nice and loose, which is good as both you and your targets move very quickly. The sheer amount of destructive firepower you can bring to bear is awesome, and defeating enemy mechs can be extremely satisfying, especially in competitive multiplayer. Movement can sometimes be a little awkward when you try to move up buildings or other vertical obstacles, but it is usually fine.
There is also a scan mode that allows you to gather information on enemy mechs, but this is displayed in plain text and simple graphs all over your screen as the fight continues, making it pretty much useless. You begin the game with a fairly decent tutorial that gives you a good overview on how to control your mech. Unfortunately the game lacks any real tutorial for the menus, multiplayer systems, or mech customization leaving you to puzzle it out for yourself via more plain text and long experience. Having played Dark Souls, FromSoftware’s previous game, I expected some level of obtuseness, but this game is not one based around exploration and the lack of information is more frustrating than an exciting challenge. Customization is a huge part of the experience in Armored Core. You build your mech by choosing the part you want to fill each slot. These slots include the armor, weapons, boosters, generators, and recon units. Weapons deal different types of damage and there are three armor sets that specialize in repelling each of the three damage types. The parts you can choose are limited by weight and energy use, which means you can not just strap on whatever you want. The choices you make in the workshop have a very real impact on your battlefield performance, and experimentation is required to find the parts that best suit your playstyle.
There is a story mode as well as some side missions, which I highly recommend you play cooperatively as they can get a little tough in the later game, and these are for the most part fine. The missions do become repetitive as they always boil down to kill these enemies then fight a boss, who can be very frustrating as they can destroy your mech in one shot and force you to go through long load times and a couple menus to get back in the action. The game also has an issue with check pointing, as your ammo and health never refill. You need to pay for a chopper to come down and refit you. This chopper won’t come down if there are enemies nearby, which can be very frustrating as you may be so low on ammo and health that clearing out the enemy could kill you.
The most interesting part of the game is the competitive multiplayer. It takes its cues from one of FromSoftware’s earlier mech games: Chromehounds. The game attempts to set up a system of warring teams that vie for territory and points, defending and capturing territory as you go. As you capture territory you must defend it too, using deployable defenses and your team. You are required to join a team at the start of the game, and this unit will be the core of your multiplayer experience. Though you can choose to be a solitary team, I would strongly advise against it as you will gain access to new parts much slower, have a harder time finding missions to go on, and be unable to effectively participate in the conquest mode. The game tries to circumvent this requirement with the mercenary system, which allows you to hire other players for a single mission or conversely hire yourself out. This system is nice, and I used it quite a bit when I was still trying to get my team off the ground, but it does not work as well as it could thanks to the low player population, which sometimes means a long time waiting and sending out requests to other players before you can find someone to help you. Even with a team the player count can hurt, as there are not many people playing the free battle mode and there is no guarantee that you will run into an enemy team on a conquest mission, meaning that you either have no enemy mechs to fight or you will be waiting in a lobby to be attacked by a rival team.
When battles do happen they are 5 v 5, with one player on each team playing the role of operator. The operator looks on from a map and, at least in theory, gives directions to his teammates about enemy locations and mech types. The problem is that if you do not have a headset there is no way to communicate this information to your teammates, which can be very frustrating for both you and them. Multiplayer also suffers from a lack of mission types, as they basically boil down to killing all the enemies, just like the singleplayer. Despite these issues, when the multiplayer works, and it usually does if you give it some time and patience, it is defiantly a lot of fun.
The presentation of Armored Core is inconsistent to say the least. The menus are well designed and are set up to look like the sort of interactive console you would run a platoon of mechs from. It may sound minor, but when combined with the persistent multiplayer, it really lends itself to the immersion and heightens the connection between you and your team. Unfortunately the actual game looks pretty ugly: textures are flat and featureless, the world is drab and boring with almost no colors other than grey and brown. This is especially unfortunate as the actual designs for the mechs are pretty awesome, and it would have been really nice to see what they could have looked like in a more artistically or technically vibrant game. The worst part though is the framerate, which takes serious dips almost every time a few mechs, explosions, or rain appear on screen. Considering how bad the game looks, there is no excuse for why this game should not run perfectly. While it is not game breaking, it is very noticeable and can affect your play especially as it tends to stutter just when things get the most hectic.
Armored Core V is a fun game and I enjoyed my time with it. The story is nonsense and the script is downright awful, even voice acting by Nolan North, Troy Baker, and Laura Bailey can’t save it. You play as an unnamed AC pilot leading the resistance against Father and the evil corporation. The only part I enjoyed was reading the subtitles in Nicholas Cage’s voice. So there’s that. The basic gameplay is not perfect, but can be a lot of fun, especially when you are just blasting away and destroying your enemies. The integrated multiplayer is very cool, and I could see myself playing this game for a while, especially if my team becomes more organized and motivated, though I do worry that over time the game’s population will shrink to nothing making it pretty much unplayable.
I wish it was easier for me to recommend Armored Core V. I think it is a pretty decent game that fans of the genre should definitely check out, but for most gamers this is probably not a game worth the full retail price. The technical issues, obtuse game design, and low population really hurt Armored Core. That being said, the ideas are very good and the gameplay is solid. This is not a bad game, just a flawed one that could have been amazing if it had been a little more polished.