|System: Xbox 360, PS3*|
|Dev: From Software|
|Pub: NAMCO Bandai|
|Release: March 20, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Language, Violence|
by Sean Engemann
Developer From Software took a recent detour from their Armored Core series to bring us a little hardcore fantasy called Dark Souls. But now that we've had our fill of insanely challenging medieval mayhem, it's time to return to the post-apocalyptic world full of big metal toys. Armored Core V brings the series back after a four-year vacation, and this time it's all about the multiplayer. However, a game cannot bring a satisfying online experience and leave everything else in Purgatory, and unfortunately that's what has happened here. But let's deconstruct these little machines and see which parts are good and which are scrap.
I typically start with a plot synopsis, but with Armored Core V, I have to conclude that there really is none. The cinematic opening sequence reveals a wasteland filled with cities that have been emptied of inhabitants, with constant testing of new weaponry to be mounted on the Armored Cores. There is a scuffle between factions, with rogue clusters filling the gaps, consisting of ten story missions and several dozen quick side missions, but the campaign is more a bland appetizer than anything. Thankfully, almost all the missions can be played with one or more teammates, which brings us straight to the meaty multiplayer.
Your very first objective when you start a fresh game is to set up your pilot with a call sign, an emblem, and some colors, then it's straight to choosing a clan. You can narrow your search to people from a certain location, language, and gaming style (such as casual or hardcore), but in the end, you'll likely start your own, or simply pick one with a cool name and hope you didn't join a bunch of n00bs.
Once you've finished your registration, you'll be greeted with the pre-mission screens, where you can view the map and get briefings, check out the rest of your team, or head on in to the assembly room, all of which will confuse you to the point that you'll dive for the instruction manual only to find a mere five pages with absolutely zero help. To say the initial confusion decks you in the face is an understatement, but as with any steep learning curve, you will eventually become familiar with it.
Most of your time will undoubtedly be spent in the assembly room, pouring over screens full of statistics and tailoring your preferred craft, which is guaranteed to be unique from anyone else's thanks to the robust customization. There are six weapon slots—two for each arm and one for the shoulders—as well as an ultimate weapon slot. But there are also two bay units, a head, a core, arms, legs, FCS (Fire Control System), a generator, a booster, and recon units to equip. So, as you can see, it is extensive, and each body part is varied itself. Weapons are categorized in groups such as pistols, rifles, shotguns, plasmas, etc., while the base of your Armored Core could be bipedal, quadrupedal, a tank, or more. Each equipment piece has different factors such as weight, energy (consumption, output, and recovery), and many other criterion, as well as a specific defense. Firepower is classified into three energy categories: Kinetic, Chemical, and Thermal, and understanding and utilizing proper reconnaissance on the battlefield could be what tips the scale.
The armory fills with new equipment as your clan levels up and amasses Team Points. Completing missions, whether on your own or with a squad, will fill your Points pool and put currency in your wallet. Most of the story and order missions (side quests) allow you to bring at least one partner along, which is exponentially more fun than going offline and playing solo. Even if you're the only one logged on at the time, you can still hire players outside your faction as mercenaries, or enlist yourself as a Man of Honor.
However, it is only with your own clan that you will benefit from the game's most appealing mode, Conquest. Since the entire game is essentially a persistent online atmosphere, zones are ruled by opposing teams, just begging to be liberated. This means you can attempt to swoop in and claim the land for yourself. You must have a prerequisite amount of Team Points to perform an invasion, and failure in a mission means a loss of those points. But having a five-on-five frantic match will certainly make your desire for continued expansion insatiable. I unfortunately did not get that pleasure, as my forays into Conquest were against teams not currently online. However, spending a little cash on defense turrets and A.I. mechs could prove to be the security that keeps the borders impregnable. My CrimsonChaos teammates and I found even those sentries to be a worthwhile challenge.
The combat itself is based more on strafing and quick punches than in previous titles, with the mechs being built roughly half the size of former models. The urban environments factor heavily into the new tactics, as boosting up skyscrapers and twisting through alleyways will be common maneuvers in Armored Core V.
The combat HUD is simplified, with a circular reticle and nothing else. However, by quickly clicking into Scan Mode you'll be able to get a bearing on the targets (and crucial information if you've tossed a recon near an enemy), any nearby caches and garages, and an objective guide. However, since most of the game is so frenetic, you'll have to gain some experience to competently watch your stats on the bloated menus while still focusing on the action. This early in the game's lifespan, all my PvP encounters have been spent with an arena full of players running and gunning. However, as the game ages, more refined tactics will bear fruit. Eventually, the men will be separated from the boys as the truly dedicated climb the leaderboards.