At first glance, Armored Core looks a lot like a mech-based action game. When you go deeper, you realize it’s more simulation than action, and certainly not comparable to anything else on the market. Grizzled mech fans will find that the Armored Core franchise offers a lot of familiar concepts to go with all of the exclusive mechanics.
Armored Core veterans will be at home with the customization options available. It may seem somewhat daunting at first, but once the stats game has been mastered, tinkering with your mechs can be a rewarding experience. It is more complex than a “loot game” like Borderlands, as there are more variables to consider, especially the overall weight of your machine. However, you aren’t faced with constant inventory management in the middle of a battle. This aspect of the game is what really separates it from a lot of other games: the customization is such that you can really personalize the look of your machine.
Piloting your mech in battle is hectic, to say the least. You do a lot of multitasking, managing both your movement and weapons separately. While I suppose this could be awkward for a typical third-person shooter, I found that it keeps the game distinct. Theres certainly a bit of a learning curve here, but it avoids becoming a standard shooter with mechs. This really feels like a game that could gain from a more extensive input device, yet the controller doesnt take away from the experience.
The solo campaign is fun, and a great way to get into the game as a new player. Missions are fairly straightforward, but feel a little repetitive at times. Sometimes, the game will offer missions that pit you against other players in an online battle, which is a really neat way to introduce online play. I wasn’t sure how it matched them, or if the players you are up against were at the same part of the story. It felt like a pretty even matching, so it’s possible.
The game is pretty light on plot, but offers a bit through mission briefings and such. The main draw of these single-player missions is to gather cash for components. You can repeat old missions, so you won’t find yourself stuck. While a bit grind-heavy, being able to work for infinite cash lets me experiment freely with configurations, instead of having to do out-of-game research. It’s clear that this aspect of the game is really aimed toward letting people learn the game and move towards online play.
When playing online, the tiered matchmaking system is pretty versatile and operates on a constant upward scale, so you won’t find veteran players falling back to low ranks to prey on easy kills. Upgrading to the next tier requires consistent victory, so over time, players will rise to the point at which they face equal challenge. From Software has a track record of integrating online play seamlessly, and this is used to great effect here, with few technical issues to get in the way. Fighting human players is incredibly frantic yet compelling. Compared to other online games, I had few negative experiences with other players, possibly a result of the franchise’s niche status.
One of the more awkward decisions made for Verdict Day was the requirement that all players be a member of a “team”, even for single-player modes. These teams are designed to be groups of people who play together online, similar to an MMO’s guild or clan, but on a smaller scale. The result is that you will find an endless list of one-person teams, most of which aren’t all that active online.
If you are looking for an active team for online play, it’s probably easier to find one using other means, then searching for it by name in-game to join. I expect this requirement is related to how the game goes from offline to online during play, but it would have been nice if the solo folks could jump right into playing the game before deciding on a team, even if it just put them in a random non-custom team until they made a decision. Visuals are a bit dull, falling into the often-maligned “brown” of many shooters. In this case, I don’t really feel like it takes much away from the game. More diverse battlefields would have been nice, but once I entered combat, I found that I didn’t really notice.
Armored Core: Verdict Day is very much a game for those who enjoyed the previous ones. The learning curve is steep yet tolerable, and there’s a surprising amount of depth, especially through the customization and equipment options.
Pros: Great customization, lots of depth
Cons: Steep learning curve, plain visuals