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Armored Core V

Score: 86%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: FromSoftware
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 10
Genre: Action/ Online/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

If life imitates art (or the other way 'round), then we're pretty sure giant-robot games imitate anime and manga. If you've loved some mecha anime over the years, you'll appreciate the time and attention to detail that obviously went into creating Armored Core V. This game has always been the experience for gamers looking to be immersed in a true Mecha simulation. Armored Core V is no exception. We've played all the AC games over the years with generally positive sentiment about the game's delivery in this category. Rich visuals are an understatement for what the Armored Core V team achieved. Begin with the default list of personal and team emblems, but consider developing your own custom emblem. The cinematics are fantastic, with dialogue that doesn't always add up to cohesive story, but helps to kill the time between action. There's nothing in the Story Mode that feels like more than filler, but we're still always happy to see attention paid to building excitement and setting the mood for new fans.

Once in the flow of the game, cinematics begin to run in the game's graphics' engine, making the transitions a bit less jarring. We loved how Armored Core V dropped us into action immediately, within the first 60 seconds. The game makes a strong initial impression, with destructible environments, heat-distortion from your AC's jets firing, and shorts blasts when you change equipment. Even more impressive was the way the game mocked up camera effects like depth-of-field, to show objects in the distance as in focus while your AC appears a bit out of focus. This happens in context, generally when you're battle in close quarters on urban maps. The sounds of the battlefield were obviously something the Armored Core V team labored over, not including the chatter with teammates as you begin to explore multiplayer options. Targeting and enemy fire have distinctive sound signatures that you learn to pay attention to, in concert with the indicators that flare up within your HUD. We liked how the entire interface in Armored Core V felt like the HUD of an AC. It doesn't always happen that a game feels designed end-to-end, but that's exactly the impression we got playing this one.


So, the analogy here is definitely to that proverbial kitchen sink. We're always bracing ourselves in advance of booting up any Armored Core game, ready to "go to school" on all the custom configuration options, but we really weren't prepared for how much From Software managed to load into Armored Core V. It's especially well-crafted for multiplayer, so if you're a fan of this game, you'll need to go out and recruit a few friends to play with you. The most basic steps you'll take in advance of diving in is to customize your pilot profile, and do some basic team setup. This includes elements like your emblem and name, but not as much on the AC side. That comes later...

After getting the initial teaser mission out of the way, which is really just a tutorial in disguise, you'll be dropped into the World Menu. This is the jumping off point for both your solo, co-op, and multiplayer activities. We liked the way this map/world view kept things simple from a navigation standpoint. Other options from this screen, that take you outside of the core missions, include the Workshop, where you can paint, mod, and swap all the components on your AC or buy and sell new parts. The Workshop becomes a destination you build out, to the point that you can acquire new elements and expand to build more capacity. You always have the option to test out an AC you've been retooling, to get a feel for how it performs. You can use time between battles to read news from your team's exploits, scan leaderboards, or just watch some of the cool cinematics over again. If you're not in the mood to put an AC into battle, you can participate from the "sidelines" as an Operator, which works a bit like the god's-eye mode in some tactical stealth and warfare games we've seen recently.

How much time you spend tweaking your AC will depend on how much of a gearhead you happen to be, but we'd recommend jumping into the action as quickly as possible. There are many ways to do this. The Mission option gives you a single player story experience and the ability to take on some of the same areas in 2-player Co-Op Mode. In these canned missions, you'll find that a certain number of team points are awarded, which you won't understand at first, but will become important later. The team aspect of Armored Core V is immense. Once you've gathered a team of players online, you can choose Rendezvous to launch a mission together, practice your strategy and tactics in Mock Battle Mode, or ante-up some of your accumulated team points to conquer territory in Invasion Mode. Perhaps the coolest part is that once you take territory and plant your flag, you can enter Stronghold Mode to set up defenses and hold down your captured real estate. Avid online players can even sign themselves up as mercenaries, to fill out other teams who have absent members. Bottom line: If you run out of things to do in this game within the first 20-30 hours, it's your own dang fault!


From the outset, you'll notice lots of "helper" features that new players can use to ramp up quickly on Armored Core V. As mentioned earlier, the first level is really just an interactive tutorial. You traverse an urban landscape and the game periodically pops up a tutorial showing you how to use a new feature. By the end of that first, small level, you have all the basic controls down and know how to do everything from navigate to battle. Other helpful hints pop up in the interface, plus you'll see a visual plot of your route, which helps with simple navigation in larger levels.

There are at least two levels one can play the single-player missions. Basic objectives are almost always to destroy certain enemies or a certain number of targets, plus others thrown in to keep the game interesting. There are also secondary goals that are referred to as "subquests" here. Don't think of these as achievements, although they work a bit like that. We saw the subquest option as being right for seasoned Armored Core fans who want to do more than breeze through the Story Mode. Newer players may accidentally meet the criteria for subquests, but more likely will end up playing through a second time if they happen to be completists. The notion of adding optional depth into levels is nice, and helps to keep things simple for those interested in moving through the main missions rather quickly.

It's always ironic that the most difficult aspect of an Armored Core game is the workshop, but Armored Core V is no exception. It's possible to play the first few rounds on a stock AC, but ultimately you're going to have to embrace all the tweaking. Tweaking is a bit like twitching, and we'll wager that just as some gamers like a little but not a lot of twitch in their action games, strategy gamers are divided in terms of how much customization they're willing to endure. There were times in previous Armored Core iterations where we felt the action was taking second place to the tweaking. That's not the case here. You will have a learning curve in the workshop, but it pays off on the battlefield, where you will definitely notice the difference after making changes to your load-out.

Game Mechanics:

Ah... where to start. The best thing we can say is that unlike some previous entries in the series, controlling your AC on the battlefield is not nearly as complex. If you enjoy action/shooting games, you can definitely handle Armored Core V. It doesn't require much more coordination than thinking about movement and controlling weapons you dual-wield, which can be swapped for alternates. The idea of juggling four weapons isn't crazy; it's pretty much the standard now for action games that feature a N-S-E-W configuration for switching armament. Learning some of the AC's limitations takes time, but you have fantastic skills not normally present in a human action game, such as boost and the ability to jump and take flight briefly. On the flip side, you have to monitor energy reserves, which you might equate to stamina, and you have decisions to make about whether to build out your units with a bias toward kinetic, thermal, or chemical weapons. Unlike traditional shooting games, Armored Core V forces you to think about vertical space, throwing other AC's in flight or flying enemies like jets and choppers. Ground units run the gamut from AC to tank to mechanized guns. In every mission, you have to offset expenses for ammo and repairs against money earned from bounty. Team members are awarded a certain number of points and score, which can be cashed in on those Conquest Mode missions mentioned earlier.

The catalogue of modes and configuration options in would fill a thick strategy guide, but we'll stop here and leave you with our bottom line. Armored Core V is suitably the definitive Armored Core experience. Every game wants to be the latest and greatest, but we know that with sequels, there is no guarantee this will actually happen. If you're only interested in playing solo, it's going to be a relatively short ride, but that's the only major downside to the game. Sure, the learning curve is still steep, but with perspective gained from playing this franchise over the years, we'd say this is probably the friendliest entry for new players. After all, it's not about the fanboys; they're already out there playing...

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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