STAFF REVIEW of Armored Core 5 (Xbox 360)

Monday, April 9, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Armored Core 5 Box art It?s been quite a few years since I?ve truly enjoyed a mech based game. I was never huge into the genre but there were two that really stood out for me; MechAssault and Steel Battalion. The former being more of an arcade-ish experience and the latter being one of the most in-depth and hardcore mech games that there?s ever been (due to the mandatory controller with over forty buttons and matching pedals). The last really good mech game was Chromehounds and that came out way back in 2006, so fans of the genre have been waiting awhile for another game to surpass these games.

Armored Core V is developed by From Software and they know quite a few things about mech based games, as they?ve been doing the Armored Core series for many years now, as they were the ones that also did Chromehounds. It seems like From Software has gone back to its roots and has made this installment in the series completely for the hardcore crowd and lovers of the genre. Over the last few years, the Armored Core series has turned into more of a quick reflex style of gameplay rather than the slower and more tactical approach it once was. This game has definitely gone back to the slower and more deliberate pacing of gameplay, as many levels are set in city environments and you now can have smaller Armored Cores (AC) that can scale buildings for a vertical advantage as well.

Let it be known first and foremost; Armored Core V is without a doubt tailored towards the hardcore and mech passionate crowd, and casuals will have an extremely hard time with its massive entry barrier. Just like their other games, Dark Souls and Demon?s Souls, it?s unforgiving and it?s all about trial and error, as there?s absolutely no hand holding here to guide you along the right path. The instruction book isn?t worth the paper it?s printed on and won?t help you in any way, leaving you to search online to answer all of your many questions. If you happen to meet all the criteria of loving mech simulators, experimenting and figuring out why you keep dying, and tweaking every detail of your AC for hours to find that perfect build, then you?re going to have an absolute wonderful time in Armored Core V. The average player however is going to become very frustrated within the first few minutes of the game simply trying to figure out what?s going on and how to do anything properly.

The campaign?s story is based around the ongoing conflict and the perils of war. To be honest, it?s barely worth mentioning as it involves a ?Father? figure and is pretty dry with the subpar voice acting behind it. To be honest, you generally play a mech game for the simple reason of piloting a multi-ton giant robot with massive firepower. The Armored Cores are the weapons in this war and there are ten campaign missions for you to tackle, where each will take about an hour or so to complete. You?ll have simple missions like defeating all the resistance, but eventually you?ll fight other formidable ACs, chase a weaponized train around the city, and even battle a massive boss that could easily step on you. Make note, the campaign is tailored for two player co-op play and trying to tackle these missions alone until you master the mechanics of the game will be extremely difficult. You WILL want to play these missions with a friend or even random players (that you can hire as mercenaries). You also need to note that while there are other missions other than campaign, Armored Core V really isn?t a single player game at all and I highly suggest passing on it if you aren?t going to be playing connected online, but I?ll get more into that later.

From the very beginning, you?re going to do a small tutorial mission, but after that you are left on your own to figure out essentially every aspect of Armored Core V. At times it seems like the game is actually trying to hide all the information you want away from you, as you aren?t even informed about how to equip and attach new weapons and parts. The menus are very cluttered and convoluted and it will take quite some time to learn what everything does and where it is. You?re bound to be confused as you try and sort between weapon types, statistics, and all the other wall of numbers that will be thrown your way.

If you can think of Armored Core V as an online game as opposed to a single player experience, you?ll be well on your way to knowing what you?re about to get into. You?re able to create or join a team of fellow pilots into a team of twenty. Every mission you complete earns your team points that boost your overall standings, level, and earning other rewards. While you can technically tackle any of the campaign or Order missions solo, every mission is available for at least two players to play cooperatively. You can hire other players (mercenaries) to help you in your mission or you can be for hire yourself and help others, earning yourself some cash to spend on upgrades for your AC. It?s really a slick way to mask the host and join feature of creating a room and offers rewards for both players.

As you level up with your team, you can eventually tackle other teams in Conquest mode which will have you trying to make a name for your team on the bigger scaled map. You can attack and defend in these territories and the top teams are shown on the map, making them a target. The risk is that you need to gamble your team points for each attempt to gain control. These specific missions allow up to five players (with one being a commander who watches the battle from an overhead map and can display tactical information to the rest of the team) and is truly exhilarating when your team is working in unison for a common goal. Again, if you?re going to be playing this offline, you won?t experience the true heart of the game, and I highly recommend you ensure that you?ll be playing this while connected online.

As an action game alone, Armored Core V can stand on its own legs, or tank tracks if that?s your style. As you learn how the basics of the game works and slowly understand the unclear menus, you?ll eventually have more and more fun as you start to tinker around with your AC more and more. A huge part of the game is customizing your AC to your exact specifications. It?s not as simple as choosing what weapon to put on your arms and shoulders, but which of the dozens of each type of weapon, then choosing which one to keep using so it levels up and becomes even more powerful. Then of course you need to spend many hours designing the color scheme and emblems to slap on your AC so that it has your flair. All of this will come about with much trial and error as there?s no documentation on how to do anything properly. It?s a fine balance game of energy to weight ratios and making your AC exactly how you want it for every mission.

There are a massive amount of different weapons to purchase so that you can modify your AC to be short, medium, or a long range style of combat mech. Now there?s even new types of weaponry that includes Kinectic, Chemical, and Thermal. With more than 500 parts for you to build your AC the way you want to, you?ll customize the core, head, arms, legs, weapons, and many more slots. You can even save each build so that swapping mechs between missions is quick and simple, as long as you?ve done all the hard work beforehand. As your team rank rises, you?ll be able to store more and more parts without having to sell. You?re even able to trade builds, parts, cash, and other items between your team members as well. You?ll need to try your hand at each style of gameplay, as each mission is meant to be approached differently. Some missions your heavy tank style AC will suffice, but others you?ll need to be quick and nimble so you can traverse the city buildings.

All this customization is great once you get the hang of it, but it won?t come without hours of trial and error. When you fail a mission, it?s up to you to figure out why, change your AC build and try again. You?re unable to swap parts mid mission as well, so you?ll have to restart the missions from the beginning if you fail and want to try another approach. I wouldn?t have a problem with this if the game actually told you what you were doing wrong, which leads to more frustration. I got lucky and found someone online to help me out, but if I didn?t I?d still probably be stuck on the same campaign mission because I didn?t know that I wanted a specific build style for that assignment.

Once you wrap your head around all the mechanics and concepts, it can be greatly fun to plow through swarms of enemies and being able to one-shot your foes. Armored Core V is much more ground based than the previous game, and with its smaller scale playfields, you?ll find yourself trying to be more tactical rather than all out firepower.

While I enjoyed the vast possibilities of customization, you?ll have to put quite a few hours into the game to become familiar and proficient in all the aspects required to progress. I really wanted to have my one ?go-to? AC but eventually learned that I needed to have multiple types of ACs, as it seemed like I was swapping styles almost every mission. Because of this, I never really felt attached to any of my ACs in particular, which doesn?t help when the story itself is already so weak.

There is some minor slowdown when massive explosions are happening and the world itself doesn?t look nearly as slick as the opening cutscene, though your AC always looks great. Sound seemed to dip randomly at times as well in certain missions and the voice work for all the spoken dialogue is very underwhelming. Aside from these minor issues, you?ll have quite a lot of fun if you can power through the extremely steep learning curve; after a dozen hours I?m still learning new things. While the learning portion will be frustrating, the payoff is very rewarding once you?re able to do and build the AC you exactly want to.

If you?re unable to play online, it?s very difficult to suggest Armored Core V due to its brutally tough campaign if played solo and dry storyline. As a multiplayer game though with an active and experienced team, you?ll have one of the best mech simulations you can possibly think of. Fans of the aging Chromehounds finally have a new title to play online.

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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