Posted on : 20-02-2012 | By : Cacophanus | In : Reviews
Hardware: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Back in 2004 From Software released a suitably bonkers Xbox game, where you played the usurped President of the United States of America who also happened to have his own power armor. Called Metal Wolf Chaos, it was a brilliantly executed shooter that also had a wonderfully satirical bent to it. Mentioning it here is pertinent though, as the game’s scale and functionality bear a very large resemblance to that of Armored Core V.
Set in a depressingly apocalyptic future, Armored Core V has humanity waging war with all manner of weaponry but the most lethal of these are the newly discovered Armored Cores; mecha dug up from deep underground that retro-actively antiquate all modern day warfare. The premise is a more gritty take on Panzer World Galient as the setting is very close to our own present day. That said, From Software are still continuing to go the rounds on Ryosuke Takahashi’s works when it comes to inspiration for Armored Core it seems.
Considering that the game has been in production now for over 2 years, we weren’t sure what to expect. As normally the duration between releases is around a year but this is meant as a reboot of sorts and coupled with a pretty immense online setup, it’s a good thing they took some time with it. In any case, after the disappointment of Front Mission Evolved, this game is simply wondrous by comparison.
Despite the changes in size and controls, the latter being more accessible now, fundamentally the game’s main mechanics are very similar to the other games in the series. Your AC is still comprised of similar components and whilst the old back weapons appear to have gone, these have been similarly replaced by a new hangar setup. In that you still change weapons but instead of those weapons firing from hard-points at the rear, your AC swaps them out to use with their arms. Functionally it results in the same thing but it requires more forethought, as there is an animation delay as the weapons are swapped over. Following on from that extensions have been turned into internal shoulder components, which are then filled with a variety of weapons (with missiles and rockets being notable). This means you can actually bring more weaponry to bear than in the older games and that, coupled with a permanently available close-combat attack, makes these new AC’s some of the most potent yet. Not to mention the new Overed Weapons, which take up both hangar slots, can kill pretty much anything with one hit. As promised though, they are tricky to use and are very much meant as a weapon of last resort.
The biggest real change to how the game plays is how they’ve dealt with boosting. Overall, it’s similar to Metal Wolf Chaos but more technical. Specifically, jumping results in an initial boost into the air and then a slow glide down. However, you can also deactivate your boosters to control the descent. There is also a partially similar quick boost available too but the biggest and coolest addition is that of wall jumping.
In the older games, AC’s could pretty much fly over anything and what with them being around 15 metres tall meant that the environment didn’t play that much of a part in the game. Now that AC’s are closer to 5 metres in height, they need the ability to get over obstacles quickly. Admittedly you can jump a certain height but to fly up and over a city’s skyline means that you have to wall jump off structures. For the most part the game is a lot slower and more manageable than the last two Armored Core games but wall jumping returns a modicum of that ninja speediness to the proceedings. It also makes the environment a hugely important functional element to the game now, as you need to use it to move around quicker.
To emphasise the importance of using your environment more wisely, the old radar from the previous games has gone. In its place is a new scan mode. This has you turn off your weapons and seek out targets in the environment. The HUD changes too, showing more detail on your AC’s status and the targets you’re tracking (though the main information is still shown in a nicely minimal circular setup whilst in combat mode too). Not to mention it helpfully marks out a route for you to follow, so you don’t get too lost. This then feeds into the new inside parts, such as recon units, that boost your scan range and allow you to see targets further away. The result of all this is that you have to hunt targets down and explore the environments more. In addition, your energy refresh rate dramatically increases in scan mode so you’ll be switching between the modes a fair bit.
In terms of the singleplayer and its missions, there are now a total of 10 story missions with an additional 80 plus order missions. The latter are mix of arena encounters and short sorties, closer in fact to the last two games in terms of complexity and length. The story missions are much larger and can take up to 30 minutes depending on how you approach them. Thankfully you can restock and even rebuild your AC mid-story mission as garage locations are dotted around most of the levels. There are also mid-mission checkpoints too, so you don’t have to re-do the mission in its entirety every time. If we’re honest, we’d have preferred more story missions and less order missions but the overall playtime is comparable to the older games. Especially as all the missions have a variety of sub quests that require multiple playthroughs to master.
Narratively though, it’s closer to that of Last Raven in terms of delivery. With Keiji Fujiwara’s voice over presence being a notably psychotic one. However, more effort has gone into the mission environments now. With underground shanty towns and war-torn cityscapes, there is a lot of detail here and it feels more lived in than the older games ever did. So you do feel more involved in the story than you did before, which is helped a lot by the more overt characterisation and dialogue. Without spoiling too much though, the plot is similarly inferenced as per the older games and requires a bit of deductive insight on the part of the player. We’ve always liked this approach but some may not.
Whilst the singleplayer element is still in effect, the most major change to the game and one that has obviously resulted in the game’s delayed release is that of the new online setup. In short, from the moment you boot up the game you’re online. All the singleplayer missions can be played co-operatively online (with another friend) but the biggest element is that the game world is split into conquerable areas. Either creating your own team or joining another allows you to invade territories and conquer them.
This is something that to those that played Chrome Hounds will sound awfully familiar. What with a new operator role now, as in a player who only sees a top down map of a level and relays that information to their team, means the comparison is even more striking.
The difference here though, bar the core gameplay obviously, is that the mercenary element that plays such a large role in the series’ nascent narrative is now an online mode in and of itself. This is the new Men of Honor setup that can have any player be the part of a genuine mercenary for hire. It’s a brilliant addition and makes so much sense, as teams can often lack their full compliment of players so mercenaries help fill up the ranks. Being hired by real people and then subsequently defend their base from an attacking troupe of other human controlled AC’s, to which you down three of them in quick succession, is uniquely wonderful. Doubly so as your makeshift team-mates hop around with appreciative delight at your skills on successful completion of the mission.
To make matters even more monetary, you can also buy and sell parts to other players online. This is based off the the new customisation of weapons, which are improved through player usage. This has created a lovely little online economy of players trading pimped up weapons to one another.
The online approach has also had a palpable effect of the direction of the game’s customisation too. In that, all weapons and parts fall into three categories of damage; kinetic, chemical and thermal energy. So if you create an AC that’s great against chemical energy weapons, it means it is vulnerable to the other two. Admittedly you can hedge your bets with this but you’ll always have a level of vulnerability. This is totally intentional and makes a lot of sense in terms of having to work as a team, as well as to learn how to see what type of armor your enemy is packing in order to use the right weapon. This was something that From Software were keen to emphasise in the lead up to the game’s release; that anyone could play the game now and still be able to kick-ass. Some may balk at this but it works well online and it also means that you can’t just rely on one uber tuned setup anymore. It’s also very cool to see battle rifle shots ricochet off a lightweight enemy AC, forcing you to figure out other ways to take them out.
The biggest issues with this new online approach though are two fold though. In the first week of release, the sheer number of players killed the servers and simply getting online was tricky. That said From Software worked tirelessly and very diligently, informed the fanbase of all the issues (via their players site, linked at the end of the review) and gave a timeline for the fixes. Since then its been smooth sailing and considering we’re connecting from half way around the world, the online stability has been absolutely fine. Whether the same thing will happen for the Western release of the game is anyone’s guess but it’s something to bear in mind. The other major issue is that the game uses dedicated servers. Normally this is a fantastically good thing to have but in the case of Chrome Hounds it meant that when those servers were eventually closed down, you basically couldn’t play the vast majority of what the game was meant for. Likewise, the longevity of this game is inherently tied to its online setup. Without that and you’re left with is just the singleplayer. Admittedly, this is a few years away maybe but again it’s something we’re keenly aware of after Chrome Hounds.
The last major issue though isn’t to do with the online but the game’s overall framerate. Regardless of the version, large explosions coupled with other full screen effects utterly destroy the game’s framerate. The average framerate isn’t all that great either and can make things a little tricky at times. If the game didn’t play so well, then this would be a much larger issue for us but your mileage may vary. That said, even Dark Souls suffered some pretty appalling framerate issues at launch and these were subsequently patched. So this issue should be resolvable in future patches with any luck.
In summation, Armored Core V is brilliantly visceral, gritty and fun game to play. All the weapons pack a ridiculous, almost ostentatious, punch and the whole delivery feels nicely industrial. If you’ve played Metal Wolf Chaos, then Armored Core V is as compelling but with a more technical layer added to the environmental navigation. The online is an amazing amount of fun too. We quite frankly love this game to bits and will be continuing to play it for a good while to come. So come join us and appreciate the joy of over-sized flaming chainsaws.
Both (Japanese) versions of the game were played for this review, whilst the 360 version is region locked the PS3 version obviously isn’t. If you want to track the Japanese online server status for either platform then go here.