The Armored Core franchise is a breed apart for the videogames industry. While never setting the world alight it has a keen following eager to adopt every new instalment throughout all the dramatic shifts in gear that it has gone through. And change it has, for while Armored Core looks now much like Armored Core always has done, scratch just a little beneath the surface and you’ll find a catalogue of progressive mechanics alongside some questionable side-steps.
It would be easy to draw parallels with the Dynasty Warriors franchise as while the mechanics have changed considerably over the years the fundamental mech-on-mech combat has remained true. However, unlike Omega Force’s beloved brawler Armored Core has had to prove itself against the changing face of the competition: Lost Planet, Section 8 and even Halo have all strived to make mechs part of their core gameplay loop, necessitating a shift from accessibility to concentrate on instead pleasing the much more demanding core audience. This is exactly where the latest title from the franchise, Armored Core: Verdict Day fits in: this is a videogame designed for mech battling aficionados, not parties interested in throwing a bit of metal around a battlefield on a Saturday afternoon.
This complexity in design is authored by the extensive series of warning and information screens that the player has to progress through before getting anywhere near anything remotely resembling gameplay. Eventually the player will get to the Pilot ID creation component which must be completed before being giving the option of playing. Setting an emblem, name, language etc. is all part of the procedure and the reasons why it sits front-and-centre of the videogame are obvious, but nonetheless it would be a more entertaining option to at least place the single-player training segment prior to this barrier.
The first taste of actual gameplay that the player is offered is a very swift tutorial that adequately explains the control system step-by-step. Undoubtedly one of Armored Core: Verdict Day’s greatest refinements, the control of a mech on a pad has never been so accessible. Left and right arms are controlled with their corresponding trigger, accelerators on the left shoulder button and boosts on the left stick depression. Recon and information modes can be activated through the use of the Y button (on PlayStation 3) and the right stick depression respectively, and together they throw out reams of data that will only confuse the newcomer, but can help turn the tide of a battle for the established player.
The extensive single-player component offers a huge variety of gameplay modes, of which the Story Mode is the last to be listed. It’s a huge undertaking that consists of hundreds of different missions across all of its gameplay modes collated under that single Pilot ID that you created at the very start of the videogame. The Story Mode itself offers sixty missions, giving the player objectives such as destroying all enemy units or capturing an outpost. There’s little here that we haven’t seen before, but much of it is delivered with a knowing sense that its combat far outranks most rival titles.
In many of the single-player modes, players are able to hire ‘mercenaries’ to take into battle with them, essentially a blind co-operative mode that costs the player regardless of the mission outcome and offers basic rewards to the anonymous party for lending a helping hand. It’s a simple system that far outranks many of the co-operative gameplay modes offered by Armored Core: Verdict Day’s peers, despite the forced anonymity.
The online component is equally as overwhelming as the single-player, as while the core functionality related to the new team battle system there’s all manner of options for going it alone or playing with different friends. The main online gameplay revolves around the idea of a persistent battle for territory between factions, similar in it’s delivery to that if the now defunct Xbox 360 exclusive Chrome Hounds. Players can spend currency in-game to establish defences for their team aiding them when they go into battle, but of course their opponent can do the same. This is where the mech customisation aspect of Armored Core: Verdict Day plays its biggest role; while the ability to tailor weapons and armour impacts your play style in all gameplay modes, it’s only when facing a balanced team with a noticeable degree of support placements that your decisions are truly put to the test.
The visual quality of Armored Core: Verdict Day is far and above anything that the mech genre has offered thus far, and while it may not be able to compete with the top tier of videogame titles it’s most certainly setting the pace for giant robot battles. The environments may be a bit sparse and the lack of interaction is disappointing, but the silky smooth animation of the battling mechs – both your own customised units and those that you will go up against, off- or online – is second to none. The aural quality is also a highlight, with a familiar science-fiction war feel to the soundtrack but impressive voice acting and some believably metallic special effects.
Leading the way for the mech genre as we look towards new hardware, Armored Core: Verdict Day is about to face stiff competition from the likes of Titanfall, but in truth it needn’t fear. Most other mech videogames are being made to appeal to a wide audience – to allow players to jump in for an evening and feel like they’re doing something worthwhile – but Armored Core: Verdict Day is not that videogame. Armored Core: Verdict Day is a deep, engrossing and often overwhelming mech combat videogame, and the core audience wouldn’t have it any other way.