Review: Armored Core V

Man, Armored Core. I’ve been on and off with this series since the original – back when the Ravens and the first post-apocalyptic corporate warfare mecha-play came onto the scene. I’ve loved it, I’ve gotten bored with it, and I’ve loved it again. And now, here we are with Armored Core 5 offering up multiplayer, tons of customizability, and more. Is this latest experience going to keep me – and you – hooked? Or is it going to end up gathering dust on the shelf while I wait around for another mecha alternative? Read on to find out!

[singlepic id=3125 w=320 h=240 float=right]As usual, let’s start with the story aspect of Armored Core 5. Easily done: it has a story, but it’s not very interesting – and frankly, this isn’t a big concern. Armored Core games usually have a plot in the same way that Red Lobster has steak on the menu – it’s there alright, but no one really expects you to pay much attention to it, and taking it seriously broadcasts to everyone that you’re rather missing the point of the whole experience. In Armored Core 5, the story has something to do with you being part of a resistance movement, and they need you to help them out by blowing things up with your awesome, customizable Armored Core (aka, AC). Good enough for me, and it should be good enough for you.

[singlepic id=3126 w=320 h=240 float=left]By the way, that AC? It really is both awesome and customizable. One thing the Armored Core series has never really failed to deliver on is the ability to make all manner of mecha out of an outrageous number of parts. If you’re the sort who just loves to assemble, disassemble, and reassemble a mecha, tweaking its performance, customizing its paint job and altering its weapon loadout, then have no fear. Armored Core 5 delivers. And of course, when you’re not running around finding new ways to put your AC together, you’re scrambling to find near gear to add to your pile. This aspect alone may be enough to hook many people – you know who you are. The ones with the urge to collect all the equipment in a game, or to endlessly experiment with new combinations to find the best match to your playstyle or the situation you’re facing.

[singlepic id=3127 w=320 h=240 float=right]But, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Putting together a badass mecha is only half the fun. The other half is throwing the thing into a conflict! And Armored Core 5 has conflicts. Unfortunately, this is where the game starts to falter a little bit. For one thing, I really came away with the impression that this entry in the series was the sort of game which is supposed to ‘really’ be about the multiplayer, while the singleplayer portion functioned more or less like a giant tutorial. As a result, that unimportant storyline I mentioned ends up being matched with relatively non-challenging gameplay – particularly if you’re good at this sort of game already. It’s not that the gameplay is bad – the controls are solid, everything really ‘feels’ right, I noticed no glaring bugs. It’s that the content you’re up against just isn’t up to snuff. All dressed up and nowhere to go, or at least in this case, nothing challenging to kill. Kind of a letdown.

Multiplayer is a little more exciting, at least if you can find a game. But even there, those familiar with the Armored Core series may be familiar with the problem I’m about to mention. Have you ever heard that Sun Tzu Art of War quote about how a battle is decided before it’s even begun? It’s in play here: how you’ve equipped your AC is going to do a lot of the work in determining whether you have much of a chance against whatever online opponents you’re matched up with. If you have the right loadout, you’ll probably win. If your loadout is a bad match, you’ll probably lose. Now, you’ll win or lose with some very impressive graphics, and maybe you’ll carefully inspect your opponent’s AC and rethink your loadout after the battle. But in the end, Armored Core 5 is the sort of game that puts a little too much emphasis on equipment as opposed to skill or even action. And this is assuming you can even find a match – I admit, I had trouble doing so, and got the impression that the game’s online population is on the thin side right now. You’ve been warned.

[singlepic id=3128 w=320 h=240 float=left]One area where the multiplayer does pick up, however, is in the co-op matches. Armored Core 5 not only offers the ability to play missions with friends, but also ties this into the aforementioned online PVP play. Bringing 2 to 4 players together to take on the game’s challenges adds some spice to this game – doesn’t it always? – and by raising your team level, you gain access to better and better parts for your AC. Speaking of team level and AC parts, if you intend to give that online player versus player combat a try, I recommend putting in as much time as you can playing co-op modes with friends and getting access to the higher level AC parts. Those who do manage to show up for an online conflict tend to be well equipped to say the least.

The one thing Armored Core 5 has going for it is this: it remains one of the only real mecha-themed games available for the consoles. Now, that’s not the most stunning endorsement a game could ask for, but let’s be frank: it’s something. If you really love to stomp around in a big metal machine that you’ve built and painted, then hey… at this point, you have to take what you can get. And that means taking Armored Core 5. Now, it manages to do this with graphical splendor, with a huge variety of customizable options, and as part of a long-running franchise. But it’s still crossing the finish line in large part because it’s, in many ways, the only game in town. For you console mecha lovers out there, I say give this one a hesitant shot – rent it and decide if you want to commit for the long haul. For you guys who love to collect gear and customize/create avatars, particularly mechas? Again, this is worth a look. Everyone else, you may want to give this a pass for now and wait to catch it at a discount.

Victor Grunn has been a gamer since the days of single-button joysticks and the Atari 800XL. When not lamenting the loss of the Ultima series or setting people on fire in Team Fortress 2, he's an aspiring indie game developer and freelance writer.

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