From Software is a company that has made its living skirting the edges of player satisfaction and player flagellation. In Armored Core V, they continue this trend. Much in the spirit of Dark Souls, Armored Core V thrusts the player into the fight, forcing that player to mostly fend for himself. But instead of facing all manner of Lovecraftian beasties, you are forced to do battle with antithetical Asimovian abominations. The consequence is a game that is difficult, but wholly gratifying to master.
In order to get into Armored Core V, perhaps the most intimidating aspect are the controls. Initially, the basic idea is not confusing. You quickly learn that there are three modes of movement, as well as a “scan mode” and a “normal mode,” all of which is based almost entirely on which set of legs (humanoid bi-pedal, reversed bi-pedal, quadra-pedal, or tank treads) that the mech that you will be controlling has. Then, you need to take into account that all of these types of vehicles react differently and that additionally there are slight variations to defensive bonuses against three different damages types (kinetic (KE), chemical (CE), and thermal (TE)), requiring a different reaction to different weapons with various degrees of kickback. At this point (as the complications begin to mount), one might expect a game requiring the use of pedals and some more intricate type of joystick, perhaps an owner’s manual thicker than a phonebook, and one of those “I hope you weren’t planning on showing anyone your room” Steel Battalion consoles.
I was pleasantly surprised that not only does the game work quite well with just a controller but that the level of customization creates an enjoyable style of play that is technical without being frustratingly so. The important part that From Software remembered in the game’s design is that in order for a game of incredible amounts of mix-and-matching to be successful, there has to be a wide variety of ways to accomplish any one task. They pull this off quite well in Armored Core V. While figuring out the right set up is crucial to being able to survive a mission—especially the story missions—with any sort of regularity, but money flows so freely in this post-doomsday world that you will never feel too chuffed for cash. Plus, there is a training area, allowing you to kit out your mechs without having to fall into long periods of retread and grinding in order to make up for being cash-strapped or level-inhibited.
This is all not to say that the game isn’t difficult, only that the barrier to entry is relatively low, allowing for inexperienced players to learn how all these buttons work and how the various mechanics of the mech work. Around the ninth or tenth side mission, everything will come to a head, and you’ll find yourself actually having to use the environment in new and interesting ways in order to complete tasks.
Also, you’ll need friends.
A first for the Armored Core universe: when you begin play, you will be prompted to join a team. This isn’t something that you can simply opt out of, either. If you are connected to the internet, you must join a team or start one of your own. If you are not connected, you will be prompted to start a new team, but it will be a one man band, and truth be told, some of the time you’re going to want the help. The single-player aspect of Armored Core is fantastic, and having a partner along for the ride through a sortie is invaluable. However, the inclusion of teams serves a deeper purpose within the world of Armored Core.
Multiplayer is an attempt to create a “persistent world” in which teams battle over districts of the map for money and resources. In many ways, this creates a set of scenarios that are essentially disconnected from the story arc of the game (though, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing—the story remains purely utilitarian, since its reason for existence is to serve as a vehicle for battling mechs that can dual-wield a shotgun and sniper rifle while shooting patriot missiles out of their shoulders). Nevertheless, in and of themselves, these scenarios serve as a fantastic example of emergent storytelling. While fighting for territory, I got a significantly different feel for the scope of the game.
This seems to be where the implementation of some of the more complex elements come into play. I felt severly hamstringed trying to play single player missions with tank treads or quadrupedal legs. They just do not have the mobility necessary to be effective. However, in multiplayer with multiple people working together, having a quadrupedal sniper who can hover over enemy encampments raining death and destruction on your enemies is a fantastic strategy that also creates a fantastic sense of such a mech being something truly frightening.
All throughout the game, I couldn’t help but have this overarching sense of a world gone wrong. The game gives a good sense of dystopian warfare and the sort of logical extreme of this kind of outcome to a world shaped by the military-industrial complex. While playing, I couldn’t help but think, “Where do they get the money or the resources for this?” Even in a perfect world, maintaining an army of mechs would create an incredible strain on the economy of a state, much less that of a group of mercenaries! The result is a Huxleyian dystopia in which power is everything and entire cities have been reduced to mere husks.
The future depicted in Armored Core V is a bleak one, but one can find within this bleakness a morbid sense of enjoyment that comes from learning and manipulating the many facets of your specifically designed mech. The game is still highly technical, though significantly less so than in other iterations. Be prepared to be assaulted by screens full of numbers and at times indecipherable adjoining acronyms. If you want to understand the finer points of mech-fighting, I recommend taking some notes.
In conclusion, this game scratches an itch for the type of game that is willing to whip a player into submission. It is an experience in which there is minimal hand-holding and in which the player is forced to learn quickly and deftly in order to survive. I would not recommend this game to everyone, but if you’re in the market looking for a new mech game that is willing to be a little tough on you, Armored Core V might just scratch that itch.