Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review/Control Freak: Armored Core Verdict Day

I couldn't keep the review going for long. I'm done with this game. Welcome to a new entry into my Most-Hated Games List.

Armored Core premiered in 1997 on the original Playstation and with its combination of mech action, customization, and RPG-based credits reward system, it quickly became one of the best examples of mech simulation games to have ever been produced. The follow-up games being expansions took the game on a single-player quest and subsequently into the arenas. Fast forward 16 years later to 2013 where FROM SOFTWARE is still creating new Armored Core games and expansions. Verdict Day is not the initial release as it follows Armored Core V and even continues the story past the single-player campaign. But in these days of DLC add-ons and microtransactions, is it really worth it?

Earth is now a barren wasteland as three major corporations vie for control over territories that hold the remaining resources. The big three have worked out an uneasy truce among them but are still prepared for war with hired mechs and teams able to be dispatched at a moment's notice. The single player campaign puts you as a mech pilot working for a mercenary company when you're given the order to attack certain patrols in order to incite another war among the big three, just so they'll have reason to hire mercenaries again to do their dirty work, putting you back in a better paying job. Along the way you'll encounter other mercenary mech pilots who want to end you and the collect the bounty on your head, as you must do them also. You can form teams with AI-controlled mechs to help with completing the more difficult objectives, but it never really beefs up the difficulty enough until after about a dozen levels are completed.
If you find the single-player campaign to be too dull (and you probably will), you can open your game to the multiplayer section where you can hire other players to help you with your single player campaign missions, hire yourself out as a mercenary to help others, or have big team corporation battles (this all pending on whether the servers are up, of course, which is only half the time). And even then in the big team battles you'll come across a group of Koreans with the Windows logo who will completely obliterate whatever team is pieced together. Its this cross-cultural imbalance that makes this part of the multiplayer not even worth considering playing. They control most of the game and why servers aren't region separated is a painful reminder that FROM SOFTWARE only cares about its Far Eastern audience.
Inside the cockpit, you'll find that the action is just as chaotic and fast-paced as its ever been. Kinetic, Chemical, and Thermal Energy weapon types once again play a role in the game. Mech customization can prepare you for certain weapon types but leave you vulnerable to others. This same rule also applies for the one-on-one missions. After a short while they'll require careful planning and the right parts equipped to take down enemy mechs.
In order to advance in the story you need to defeat these other mercenaries, but when it becomes impossible to do so, it gives you no alternative to continue forward and brings the game to a grinding halt. Seasoned vets will find no fault in this and will find a way to work around it. All others will be turned off and will find no reason to continue playing. Its this exclusivity that the series has always had that prevents it from becoming something enjoyable by everyone.

The game engine is the same as 4 and 5, so you won't find much spectacle in the graphics. The whole thing is just as gritty as it was before and even though its a separate release, its already a tired view of things. With the exception of the new mech parts and the new maps, you'll find everything is the same.

The sounds of battle provide a very stark contrast to the calming nature of the menus, which features an operatic score backed by guitars. Guns in every form have different sounds and could shake the windows if turned up. The chaos of so many sounds happening on the battlefield is short-lived since some fights can take as little as two minutes.

Where the previous entries before Armored Core 4 were balanced between single and multiplayer, here most of the attention is on just the latter. It wants you to join a team, play through seasons, and play with others all online in order to get the better part of the experience. But what it boils down to is the same formula as the games before it: build a mech, defeat other mechs to unlock new parts, win until you have enough money to buy those new parts. It goes to show that FROM SOFTWARE has put the Armored Core series into a niche corner and shows no signs of advancing it with new ideas. Where creating teams and selling yourself as a mercenary are good ones, it seems they didn't bother to plan what to do for the rest of the game. If this is how the next few titles in the series go, with an ignorable story and a lot of repeated mech parts, then you should just ignore it. Armored Core Verdict Day is not a bad game, its a bad game to keep playing.
I looked up synonyms for the word "okay" because "okay" just sounded too dull. What I found was "acceptable," "permissible," "competent," and "satisfactory." I guess I could say that it is a competent game in that it knows what its doing but I just can't in good conscience use the others words to describe how much of a letdown Armored Core Verdict Day really is. There are other mech games that are taking the same ideas but in different and exciting directions; Hawken coming to mind first. But if this is what an old veteran of the genre has to offer then it should be put to rest for a few years.

If you have Armored Core V then you don't need Verdict Day. I understand that releasing expansions as separate games is what the series has always done but in the year of 2013 this is a tired practice. This idea of nickel-and-diming the players has already outlived its welcome. What could have been just a $20 DLC add-on was instead released as a $50 entry into the franchise. For that price the amount of content offered is simply not worth it. Companies need to understand that this will not get us to buy new games. You do not need Verdict Day. If the series continues along this path it will eventually do itself in. And maybe, just maybe, we'll get a mech game worthy of all of us playing.

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