The series remains the only good online mecha game for your PlayStation 3.
It’s probably a safe bet to assume that most hardcore gamers now know the From Software name, all thanks to the developer having a massive success with the Souls series. What you might now know is that From Software has been making games for years on various platforms. One of their largest properties is the Armored Core franchise, a series that started way back in 1997 on the PlayStation and is about to have its 15th release with the recent arrival of Armored Core: Verdict Day.
Verdict Day can be looked at as a standalone expansion for last year’s Armored Core V. It uses the same engine and it allows you to load in your previous save data from Armored Core V to bring back your machines into the game. It also continues with Armored Core V’s online integration and heavy focus on multiplayer. This design had issues in the last game, because the development team implemented servers that were split between regions, meaning that a niche title was having its online audience scattered all over the globe, which is a bad idea when you want something that is aimed at a small group of people to survive its heavily-focused online gameplay. They have, thankfully, made adjustments to the online in Verdict Day to overcome some of those issues that plagued Armored Core V‘s empty online mode.
There’s a new story, set sometime in the future after the events of Armored Core V. You play as a mercenary who must form a new team or join an existing one created by other users, and then become part of one of three warring factions – EverGreen Family, Venide or Sirius. New players will want to jump straight into the game’s 60 mission long story mode, so that they can earn money and unlocks to purchase better gear from the AC shop. While it’s interesting to find out bits of information about what’s going on with the factions through the story scenes, the actual missions themselves always boil down to killing targets. I wish there was more variety to this, because it all just gets a bit monotonous doing the same thing, but with different ACs challenging my own machine. I don’t mean to make this sound as if the game is straight run-and-gun; it’s nowhere near that, as it’s a tactical-based game that requires you to be on your toes to evade, survive, and return fire. It’s just that going into an area and killing everything gets a bit tiresome, especially when the enemy AI comes off feeling uninspiring and straightforward.
The challenge gets bumped up after completing the story, as the newly included Hardcore Mode will test your ability to control ACs. Hardcore Mode is no joke, as this includes 10 modifiers that retune the story missions to be tougher. These modifiers change variables in the game, such as how much damage your AC will take, the cost of repairs, how much ammo costs, etc. You are also given a limited amount of lives, meaning if you die too many times you have to begin the whole campaign again. Oh, and just to add salt to the wound, you have to earn your AC parts again, as each time you restart Hardcore Mode, you are given a rusty old AC and must build it back up to be a killing machine. Luckily, this doesn’t affect your normal progression, so your normal ACs remain safe from this truly devilish mode.
All the story missions can be done with an online cooperative player or with one of your AI created partners that you unlock after playing a few missions (not available in Hardcore Mode). These partners, called UNACs (UNmanned Armored Cores), are ACs that can be tuned to your needs, even as far as accessing their AI logic trees to adjust to how you want them to behave in battle. This requires a person with patience, so if that’s not you, you can always pick one of the predetermined AI plans and let the game handle all the complex workings for you. UNACs are very helpful, as you can use them as distractions to keep the enemy fire away from you, but they also serve another purpose – to fill in the blanks when they aren’t any online players available.
That was the major issue with Armored Core V; if no one on your team was online, you couldn’t do anything and had to head into battle on your own. Two fixes have been implemented to solve this. The first is the inclusion of the UNACs to replace real players. The second is that North America and Europe are able to communicate with each other, thanks to the servers being shared. It’s still not the best solution, as Japan continues to have the highest community for the game and are having fun on their own little server, but it’s better than nothing. There must be a way to improve netcode to figure out a viable solution to get Japan in the game with the rest of the world.
Online has been slightly modified, as the World is now the game’s new Conquest mode. You’re always in sight of this, as the main menu is covered with colours from all three factions, allowing you to see the progress factions are making on key locations. As a mercenary, you job is to support one of the three factions by helping them defend or assault areas owned by the remaining two factions. This is done through capturing bases by participating in a normal sortie, which is often you, your team or AI partners against the base’s deployed defence systems or another team made up of real players (although those have to be online, which isn’t often the case). A special sortie does the same thing, but requires team points, because it puts your team up against stronger opponents, but successfully overcoming this obstacle grants more progression towards taking over the base. If you aren’t in an activate team or don’t make much use of your own, it can feel like you aren’t doing much to help your faction chip away at the enemy, since normal sorties don’t affect them all that much unless you keep repeating them.
Away from the main component of online, teams can create battles together to practice and think up strategies, but outside of that, you still have the game’s Free Battle mode. In here you’re given access to Ranked or Player matches, which can either be a one vs. one duel, a battle royal where eight combatants take on each other, or team battles that can consist of four or five members per side. Controlling the ACs is identical to how it was in Armored Core V,which means handling these mechanical monsters is a breeze.
Verdict Day remains similar to Armored Core V. There are, of course, new weapons and gear to play Barbie with your ACs, along with new maps that will make fans carry on enjoying the game. Fans have also grown accustom to the game’s design and daunting menu layouts. It’s not the most user-friendly UI on offer, and it takes time for newcomers to get used to the layout of the game’s menus, but eventually you find yourself getting lost in the array of customisation that is on offer for your AC. There’s something rewarding about spending your night decorating and designing an AC, so that it just scrapes under the weight and power limits to acquire that immaculate weapon distribution, then sending your personalised AC out to blast other people in the face to show how better you are than them in a moment of victory.
Visually, this looks identical to Armored Core V, which means the atmosphere of the game is still dark and gritty. The graphics are certainly showing their age, but the design of the ACs remain awesome and their animations are well crafted, which helps in looking past the dated graphics and empty game world. Frame rate issues seem to be fixed compared to last year’s game, as even in the most chaotic of scenes, where missiles and explosions litter the screen, the game was keeping up.
Armored Core: Verdict Day is more Armored Core V, but with improvements. It still requires an online connection to get the most out of the game, because the story mode isn’t up to scratch, but From Software has developed alternatives to solving issues with the small online community, so that people can participate more easily in the online functions. It still has issues with bringing in newcomers, as it remains a game targeted for existing fans and the hardcore mecha fanatic.
If you are a person looking for something to tickle your fetish for walking death machines – especially after seeing Pacific Rim – you should give Armored Core: Verdict Day a try, because you might find its deep strategy and open customisation extremely rewarding. The series also remains the only good online mecha game for your PlayStation 3.