Armored Core V|
Armored Core, how I remember so well the first time I ever laid eyes upon the greatness that is simulated mech combat so many years ago as a demo on a PlayStation 1 disc where I had access to not one but a whole two missions to choose from and no weapon choices, good times were had a few hundred times until I realized a game like this actually existed, it was a game I could go out and buy! Who would have thought? The newest installment has the same basic idea that we have all come to love, start with a crappy mech, kill tons of bad guys and upgrade your mech piece by piece until you are an unstoppable monster of destruction, now with a few extras such as the awesome ability to join or create a team online and conquer territories on the world map and integrated team voice chat. Of course it can’t all be good as we soon found out while playing the pre-release.
I’ll start off by saying I was a part of a team called “Sing of Zeta” for a few days before the official release and a few things we all shared other than the fact we love mechs, customizing them and blowing stuff up, was our utter confusion as to what exactly happened between Armored Core: For Answer, the last game in the series to come out, and this latest release. Our story was confusing, who are we? Are we the bad guys, the good guys doing bad things or something in-between? Why are the controls suddenly so different, what happened to our H.U.D, why am I a third of the size I used to be and who the hell is Fran?
Thankfully a few of those questions got answered as we all shared our collective knowledge of the game so far. Quite a bit of confusion stems from the fact our “Instruction Manuel” is only six pages long explaining controls and some legal info. I paged through that thing at least five times searching for just a few hints of what exactly happened and if I had just missed something. What happened to the days where those things actually had some useful information about in-game stuff? A fair amount also comes from the complexity of such simple things such as buying a new generator or pair of arms and such but it all boils down to one simple issue really, Sub-Par interface designs and lack of tutorials on a new system.
But let’s move on to the fun stuff. That’s why you are all reading this right? After my initial rage and confusion over all the changes I actually started to enjoy Armored Core V quite a bit. The controls aren’t all that hard and after a few practice missions I was able to switch weapons on the fly and even pull off some great boost maneuvers without having to look down and make sure I was pressing the right button combinations. The store has a decent amount of pieces that you can upgrade your mech with but unfortunately it stops receiving new merchandise once your team reaches level 50, kind of lame considering we didn’t realize this until our team was level 100. I fully expect a patch or something to increase either the inventory or level the rate of item unlocking.
The AC store gets outfitted with high performance parts as your team progress in levels which is fine and dandy considering how much money you make while just doing side missions, but the actual assembly of our ACs is hindered by the low quality UI used to do so. You have no explanation to where your parts are; you get a minimal education on the different types of weapons, aka Kinetic, Chemical and Thermal and what they do poor against. The loading screens seem to attempt to teach you basics by telling you that some enemies will have high defense against certain weapons, certain parts do things other than do damage but can also help teams in general in their energy consumption and ammo use, but I don’t want to be taught how to play the game by reading, I want to learn by doing. Cool ideas guys, but you should have told us how to do this stuff in-game.
As you attempt to build your AC you will spend hours poring over numbers just to get the slightest upgrade in damage and armor. Sometimes these numbers don’t mean anything to you except that they are higher than what they used to be before you got that new item. The good players will balance everything out and will study the effects of different parts in-game and go back to the assembly for hours on end. I myself spent a good two hours just choosing a new generator and pair of legs. Don’t get me started on the boosters.
Okay, so I start the first story mission and as usual we get the awesome cut scene depicting us doing some crazy out of this world moves and just blasting everyone left and right but then the game starts and immediately my first thought was “Wait. Where did my HUD go?” the new and “improved” HUD is a circle in the middle of the screen that depicts everything from energy, ammo and health. It wouldn’t be so bad had we gotten an explanation beforehand instead of just throwing us into combat, if only to stop some confusion. As the story progresses you learn the names of many characters that at times you aren’t sure who is good and who is bad, you just know that you have some connection. The basic idea is the same; corporations are still fighting and you are some sort of mercenary trying to take them down.
Single player without network access is very simple, you are forced to create a team and it levels up with you as you progress through the story. I had the opportunity to do so and achieved level 25 in just a few hours of playing. I did notice that no new parts were unlocked though; whether that is intentional to force you to play online I wasn’t able to find out. I was able to attain some parts through the story but nothing to the level of the ones you get while online. Progressing through the story is quite simple even without the upgradable inventory, as you are given plenty of parts that are “junk” status so you have customization powers to work with. The poor quality weapons really hindered the gameplay in some missions, especially with the low capacity ammo.
The online play is completely integrated into the game. Whenever you have an internet connection you are in your team’s main lobby and are able to communicate with them via voice chat or prefab messages for all to see. You have the ability to play story missions with one other teammate to help you progress faster; the same rules apply to the order side missions where they range from simple kill X amount of enemies to taking out big bad ACs with high payouts.
On release day I had to say goodbye to my “Sign of Zeta” friends as our pre-release info had to be deleted so that we didn’t unbalance the game with our max performance ACs, quite understandable. Unfortunately on release day the worst thing imaginable happened, the servers weren’t letting anyone buy any new parts. My new team called “Bad Company” and I progressed through all the way to level 50 in just one day thus unlocking everything we could buy only to not be able to buy a single item. Tempers were flaring as we all fled to the internet and Bandai’s live help support kept insisting they knew there was an issue but just didn’t know how to fix it. With heavy hearts we knew this was not a good start but thanked them for their hard work in trying to get it all repaired and logged off for the day. My second day of post-release was much better, the servers were fixed! We were all able to deck out our ACs in much better equipment and quickly overtook some major territories thus putting our name on the conquest map.
The Conquest map is filled by teams playing against each other in territory battles very similar to the capture missions in Chromehounds for 360. Really it just comes down to who kills the other team first and wins the chunk of land on the map for everyone to see. As much as we progressed in pre-release we didn’t always understand what was going on so we just kept doing mission after mission until we ranked up on the map. Lack of proper documentation will do that, such as an instruction manual of sorts that would maybe tell us what the objectives were. While they are able to uncover parts of the map to see the enemies they can’t see everything and using your ACs recon drones will greatly help you and your team in surviving these matches.
During conquest missions and many of the other team based modes you sortie with Four ACs and one other to act as the Operator, the Operator is the brains of the operation as they see the whole map and can lift the fog of war effect so that they can mark enemies and tell you how to best destroy or evade them, personally my favorite job to do was be the operator. During these missions you just go by a team call sign number ranging from 00 to 99 which makes it a lot easier than trying to say some of the Gamer tags that we see online. While they are able to uncover parts of the map to see the enemies they can’t see everything and using your ACs recon drones will greatly help you and your team in surviving these matches. The rest of the team has to follow these orders or risk dying and losing matches and team points. You don’t want to be “that guy”.
Graphically, the level designs are a lot more urban than the previous two titles to fit in with the size changes to our ACs who went from Giants who couldn’t even land on a rooftop without destroying the building to having to continually jump and boost up to get to higher ground; not a bad thing but quite a change from what I am personally used to considering the last few games have had us out in the middle of deserts and artic wastelands for a good portion of the story. The environments themselves were bad and I quickly got tired of the dark and bleak looking city levels that seemed to just be mirror images of previous levels just to mix it up a bit.
ACs are much more mechanical looking in Armored Core V. If anyone has seen the Gundam shows you know what I mean when I say we don’t have that smoothness and finesse that For Answer gave us in our AC designs that many have grown fond of. Weapon designs are pretty standard all around until you get to the outrageous "Ultimate Weapons" such as the giant chainsaw that deals an absurd amount of damage but at the cost of a single use per mission. Leg parts are as interesting as ever with the tetrapods looking like a four legged spider, and are the most flat out absurd considering how many weapons you can carry, plus having the added benefit of not having to stop to fire certain weapons, a trait shared with the tank legs. Lasers in particular have great effects when you are charging them up, but only if you see someone else firing them. Your own effects are usually blocked from view.
As far as the audio presentation; it’s hard to go wrong with a game about giant robots going around shooting everything. The deafening sound of explosions all too often blocked out all the other effects that were coming from all the channels in this Dolby Digital mix. This could create problems since often; the only way to know where enemies were was through the directional sound of the audio due to the lack of mini-maps and radar, unlike earlier games. Cutscenes have great music and effects but nothing compared to Armored Core 4 and For Answer.
With the addition of new characters one would imagine voices that would stick with them; unfortunately not so since almost all the women sound the same, be it Fran or Rosary, The males were sometimes hard to differentiate as well, but not nearly as bad. If I didn’t have subtitles on I would have never known the difference sometimes and that grew quite annoying during some battles where they talk mid-fight and you have no idea who said what. One thing I really looked forward to was the new into theme to see if it would be as amazing as the For Answer intro only to be slightly disappointed in the lack of bravado and excitement.
Alas, I came to terms with the fact that if anyone wants to get the full enjoyment from this game, you have to be online at all times. There just isn’t anything about the offline single player that makes you want to repeat doing the same old missions over and over again. The most enjoyable times are going to be during conquest mode taking out team territories and progressing through the story with friends at your side. You’ll have bad times and good times all while enjoying the company of those that see you as a comrade in arms and a fellow gamer.