Platforms: PS3 | Xbox 360 (version tested)
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Namco Bandai
It's easy to forget, in the wake of Dark Souls that fiendishly difficult RPGs aren't the only thing From Software do by a long way. They also make fiendishly fiddly mech games, giving the green light to any player who has ever wanted massive bipedal machine of war, and letting you customise and accessorise to your heart's content.
It's difficult not to spend hours tweaking every little part of your mech, customising the weapons, mounting rocket launchers on your mechs shoulders, jumping back and forth between increased firepower or greater mobility. It's something of a blessing that there were still some components locked to us, otherwise we might never have jumped into an actual mission. Namco Bandai say that there'll be over 500 unique components to upgrade and customise, and players will be able to save up to 50 AC configurations, and trade them along with parts, emblems and in-game currency.
Finally, armed with a Gatling gun, a laser rifle, rocket launcher, with a battle rifle and pulse cannons ready just in case, we were ready to go.
Armored Core, above everything else, is all about the mechs, by which I mean that the series' focus in the past has been obvious, extreme, and unavoidable. This is fine if you're just as much of a mech enthusiast, you'll want to spend hours tweaking and trimming your mechanical suit of destruction. You won't mind that this latest game does a fairly bad job of telling you what you're actually supposed to be doing. The murky graphics probably won't bother you at all, simply because the mechs themselves are lovingly rendered, even if they seem to be parading against a series of nondescript backdrops that seem not to know the meaning of the word 'clarity'.
But Armored Core has always been this way. At least ACV brings soemthin new to the party. Mechs are quite a bit smaller than in previous games, meaning that they no longer tower over buildings, instead using them for cover. The cityscapes now become much more than just interchangeable battlefields, now it's important to take advantage of the structures around you. Couple that with an increased focus on mobility, and the ability to pull off evasive wall-jumps, and battles take on a few extra levels of strategy.
It's also worth pointing out that in spite of the series' seemingly deliberate obtuseness at times, this title looks to be significantly more accessible. Normally that word would strike fear into the hearts of fans, but From Software are one of the few studios who know how to appeal to both camps.
The controls are relatively intuitive, even if pathfinding is sometimes a little bit of a chore, but missions generally play out in a relatively small area, so you're never stuck for huge amounts of time. It's not a game for run-and-gun, bullet-spraying antics, as some around me learned rather quickly. Instead Armored Core V serves up a very pleasing blend of hectic battling, where choosing your moments, thinking tactically, and being careful to mange your weapons and energy levels, is absolutely vital.
The early sorties do a good job of letting you run rampant against tanks so puny by comparison that you almost feel bad. But it's not long before you're squaring up against platoons of armaments, and facing off against other ACs. Offline, there are 10 story missions to take on, with a further 83 Order missions available to gun through co-operatively.
It's a shame that we weren't able to have a good look at the online options, which find themselves woven tightly into the game's fabric. Although the previous limit appeared to be five players, Namco confirmed at our latest run-in with the game, that players will be able to form teams of up to ten players, pooling resources online for greater levels of customisation. Moreover, the online component will still retain the Operator Mode, which sees one player directing the battle, in a similar fashion to Nuclear Dawn.
Nowhere will this prove to be more useful than when it comes to the MMO-esque World Mode and invasion missions. The game world, compoed of eight regions, will be sub-divided into over 10,000 territories. Each territory displays the emblem of the team who owns it, almost like a geographical leaderboard. The only way to improve your standing is through aggressive expansion, taking on conquest missions and pitting your team against another's customisable defences.
Considering just how widely integrated everything is into a grand map, not to mention how you'll receive little notifications whenever a friend starts a mission (a single button press allowing you to leap into the fray with them), we're a bit excited for this.
We'll have more for you towards the end of the month.