Critically acclaimed for its work on Dark Souls, From Software returns to its aged mech-fighter franchise with Armored Core V, a game that reflects much of what’s wrong with current Japanese video games and is evidence that some old design philosophies simply aren’t timeless.
It’s hard to believe that that the developers of Dark Souls made Armored Core V. Dark Souls showed that Japanese games could still impress the American audience, featuring a large, daunting world that forces players to earn every inch of progress. ACV, however, gives little incentive to do more than press triggers and strafe across its dull, urban environments. Dark Souls has deep role-playing elements that mix well with its unforgiving combat. ACV follows tradition with myriad mech upgrades, but loses them under an impossibly confusing menu system. There’s a pattern here: Armored Core V evokes the same disgruntled attitude towards Japanese games that Dark Souls combated.
This iteration of Armored Core feels different than its PS2-era brothers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t change much at all. As the videogame medium matures parallel with player-demand, there’s more impetus for developers to deliver well-developed narratives, smart mechanics, and interesting spins on genre archetypes. During my time with it, Armored Core V‘s failure to deliver any of these was apparent. Though I played – and, I believe, thoroughly enjoyed – the mech-fighter combat of yesteryear, my personal maturation and change in expectations over the years left me disappointed with this iteration, which feels like a relic narratively, mechanically, and creatively.
The biggest departure from the typical Armored Core structure is a blurring of the line between single- and multiplayer, highlighted by the option to play the entire game cooperatively – even story missions. Players apply for a team, enlist, and play together. That, or mercenaries can be recruited for single missions. Unfortunately, team play is hampered by a small online community, so going into the game with a friend would be wise.
There’s no apparent motive for the mech mayhem. A war was mentioned, but I don’t know why or what my place in it is. I just shoot those who shoot at me. So, unless you’re invested in ACV’s generic mess of a plot (I assume you won’t be), the only thing to work toward is the end game and currency to purchase mech upgrades. This is a problem, as the aforementioned confusing menu system will likely prevent players from taking full advantage of what could have been a primary source of in-game motivation.
Without a developed narrative arc to back in-game actions, I was more inclined to forgo the side missions, which is a shame because they’re the most purely entertaining component of the game. “Order Missions,” as they’re called, are the game’s primary diversions. These are short and simple (most can be completed in one or two minutes), but there are 85 to plow through, and the timed ones supply a welcome dose of urgency – something the story missions lack.
Armored Core V is a satisfying, if familiar, game for the mech-fighter inclined, but it’s so pervasively confusing that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but the most seasoned fanatic. Its vague story and reliance on action to engage players doesn’t cut it in today’s videogame landscape. Though its wealth of side missions are fun, the game still feels old and out-of-place. Gamers have moved on and Armored Core needs to do the same.
Review based on 360 release.