Hate, I think, is a strong word when dealing with a video game. It’s just a piece of entertainment, after all, but sometimes you come across something that just doesn’t gel. Perhaps it’s something to do with you, your willingness to enjoy the game at the time of playing, or perhaps the game is so far flung from what you’re used to enjoying that it puts you off. When I first started playing Armored Core V, I actively hated it, and despite playing it for quite some time, I couldn’t work out why I felt so much dislike for it. Knowing that I had a review to write, I could hardly just stop playing, so I forced myself onwards and I’m actually glad I did.
I spent my first hour in Armored Core completely and utterly confused. The controls were implemented a little strangely - not enough to throw off a controller veteran too much, but decidedly unusual. With a new game in a series with which you haven’t had much time, however, you expect a little getting used to controls. I decided that probably wasn’t what annoyed me; instead, my problem was that I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing. The more I tried to follow the early parts of the story the more confused I became. Characters didn’t seem to be so much introduced as thrown into the game randomly in the hope that some would stick in your mind. That hope was unfounded, and it’ll take you some time to even recognise characters, let alone grow to like them.
In fact, the whole story is a little bit rough. This is usually the part of the review where I briefly outline the plot, but I just can’t bring myself to actually organise what happens in my mind. It seems there’s something of a civil war going on, between evil overlord Father and his endless forces, and a small but plucky rebellion of people who will talk endlessly over your missions, occasionally even offering a helpful piece of advice. The specifics of this rebellion, as well as the specifics of why Father is evil (perhaps he was sick of feeling confused?), are a little hazy, but it seems little more than a battle of good versus evil, with robots.The first thing to keep in mind is that the story is a means to an end. It’s a way of making you feel overwhelmed by the enemy forces and making you feel invested in the cause you’re fighting for. It doesn’t necessarily always work, but the story is certainly not the game’s focus. The focus lies in building, maintaining, and battling with huge mechs and destroying everything in your path. Rather than taking the arcade path, rebuilding Rampage with giant robots instead of anthropomorphic dinosaurs and gorillas, the developers have created a simulation game in which your every move must be carefully chosen, and it will take some time to get used to driving the AC, your own personal death-dealing droid.
That’s something that should definitely be celebrated. Rather than develop something that would sell a little better with more mainstream gamers, creating a playground in which you can just blow stuff up and cause lots of mayhem, the developers have actually gone back to their roots, building a game which not everybody will love, but of which long-time fans of the series can be seriously proud. They’ve not only been looking back at what made previous titles so popular, but built upon more modern features, building an enviable online system that will no doubt be copied fairly quickly by a whole bevy of games from different genres.
First, the gameplay: Armored Core is a mash-up of button-bashing, super-quick movements and tactical decisions. Most levels take place in quite built-up areas, allowing you (and your enemy) to quickly get to cover if need be, and being able to effectively play hide-and-seek is often key to survival, especially against bigger enemies. When you come across a group of enemies, you’ll find yourself jumping from left to right and hitting as many of the weapon buttons as possible. This almost makes it look as if you don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s effective when in a jam.In each mission, you’ll either be destroying an enemy, or exploring a certain area for far too long. There are only a relatively small amount of story missions, and this is compensated by their length (especially when you factor in the amount of times you’re likely to die, it’s not an easy game). As an alternative, you can go on optional shorter missions, in which you usually have to destroy every enemy along a path in a set amount of time. These are much more fun, but will still feel repetitive before you even make a dent in the 80+ available. The setting in these levels are built fairly well, perfect for the sort of fire-fights the devs expect you to go for, although there aren’t a huge amount to choose from, and you’ll see the same thing time and time again.
The most impressive thing about Armored Core V is the online system, which is completely different from anything else I’ve seen. What it lacks as a multiplayer experience, the game makes up for as a multiplayer game. Whether you want to play available missions with a friend or not, you’ll always be affecting your team, which you’re forced to join or create when you first start the game. Every level awards your team with XP and as your team’s level increases, new things to buy in order to customize your AC are unlocked. An always-connected online mode could be annoying, but it’s handled brilliantly and makes you feel like part of a group even when you’re playing on your own.On the other hand, while designing and creating your mechs sounds fun, it soon gets frustrating. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys endlessly tuning cars in Forza or Gran Turismo, perhaps you’ll find yourself at home here, but there’s limited data on what actually changes when you switch body parts, the control scheme is clunky, and you’ll probably not want to experiment too much. With that said, there is a lot with which to experiment, and if it clicks for you, you’ll find endless entertainment in creating variations on your favourite parts. Otherwise, you’ll probably just keep hold of what works and not play around too much - a shame since it’s such a big part of the game.
Armored Core V isn’t the game I thought it was when I decided I hated it. I’m still not in love with it, but this wasn’t made for me; it was made for the fans of the series, and there’s more than enough to keep them going until the next one. If you get into it, you’re not going to be able to fault it, because there’s so much to do, but that’s a big if, and there’s a good chance that you won’t have the patience to enjoy everything on offer. I know I don’t. Despite that, it’s a game (and series) that deserves praise for sticking to its guns, so we’ll give it just that - just don’t ask me to appreciate it too closely, or the cracks will soon begin to show.