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Armored Core V
Score: 84%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games America
Developer: From Software
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 10 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Online/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
It's a dark and gritty future. Governments have fallen and you work for - and answer to - corporations now. You're a mercenary Armored Core pilot scratching out a living in the crumbling ruins of civilization, whether it be in devastated cities, abandoned factories or inhospitable wastelands, and you'll need to seek out and destroy your sworn enemies. And who are they? ...Why, whoever the company tells you they are, of course.

It's clear to see that a lot of work was put into the special effects, from particle effects, to disruptions to the video feed when your AC is taking damage and the nice-looking HUD overlays when your AC is in Scan Mode. The ACs and the environments also look nice, and you can customize your AC's look for hours, if you like, by tweaking the colors, emblems and decals.

In order to convince extreme tweakers to actually play the game, rather than simply play with decals all day, you're given a limited set of decals to start with, but lured into playing with a decent selection of cool decals that are available for purchase with in-game credits earned for successful completion of missions. Yes, really. I was a originally surprised by the limited selection of (unlocked) decals, but then was surprised again to find that there were a lot more, but they had to be purchased for about the cost of a cheap AC part.

The music when going into or coming out of missions has a military cadence, to pump you up a bit, but the music in the menu screens is relaxed, almost new-age with some nice guitar solos. The sound effects are believable, from the gun reports to the explosions to the roar of the jump jets. I will say, however, that the loud alarm that goes off when you get near to the edge of the arena is, well, loud and really annoying. I understand it being there, but I wish there was a way to shut if off.

Armored Core has always been a game for tweakers. You can swap out parts, upgrading your generator to help meet the power demands of the energy weapons you just installed, hopefully without going over your legs' weight limitation... and once you have a working system, you can still spend hours adjusting paint schemes, working on emblems and applying decals, if you're so inclined. That's still all there.

One new aspect in Armored Core: V is the heavy reliance on online gameplay. Even when you're working through the story missions, there is the ability to do so with another player over the 'net. This is an interesting idea, especially if you have a few friends with whom you can form an alliance and work together as a team. You have a choice when you start the game of either starting your own team or joining an existing team. If you want to play with certain friends, coordinate with them before making this decision, since it looks like once you're in a team... that's your team. I don't see a way to change teams after the fact.

Also, pay attention to the settings when setting up your team; if you set your team membership to free join, anyone can select to join your team. And, as it turns out, they can also edit various things, such as the team emblem, team colors, etc. If you want to keep stricter control over these things, you may want to make your team membership a bit more selective.

There is a large map screen used for selecting your missions. Two of these types of missions are Story Missions, which advance the storyline and Order Missions, which are sort of side missions, if you will. Even though these are, essentially, equivalent to "single-player campaign" sorts of missions, you can usually play with at least one other player - either a team member or a mercenary player.

The other Missions and Menu options are more online and team-oriented. Free Battle gives you the ability to play either a one-on-one Duel or a Battle Royale (Eight AC Free-for-All), in your choice of Ranked Matches or Player Matches, which aren't ranked.

The entire map is marked up with the emblem of the teams that have conquered each territory in Conquest. You can participate in these Conquest Missions either by trying to take them for your own team or by joining in as a Mercenary via Mercenary Reg(istration). Mercenary can be a good way to participate in the Conquest Missions if you haven't built up your team or they're simply not online at the moment. Then, later, when you get your team building up, you may want to check out Mock Battles, which allows you to set up scenarios and practice with your team. And then, when someone on your team is going into a mission, you can join them using the Rendezvous option on the Map Screen. Finally, if you're the team member who's been out of the loop, you can check out the Team News section to see recent team-related events.

Then, of course, there's Leaderboards, which is pretty much a requirement in any game with online gameplay. Use this to keep tabs on friends - or rivals - to see how you stack up.

In previous Armored Core games, I've been able to use the game arena's boundaries to my advantage. Specifically, I have wedged myself into a corner before and tricked some of the faster enemies into skirting around me and out of the ring, giving me a win. This tactic was a no-go in Armored Core: V, however; it seems the A.I. has been tweaked a bit. Still, as is generally true in real life, height seems to be a bit of an advantage. I have won one-on-one rounds that I really shouldn't have by seeking high ground, sniping and dodging for a bit and then rushing in close and strafing the heck out of opponents. For one thing, if you've got your head so high in the clouds that you're getting arena boundary warnings, your opponents are going to be really careful about flying up above you. Just a tip.

And, of course, the online difficulty varies based on your skill level and that of your opponents. Well, teamwork helps, as well. As with other online games, you'll want to practice a bit before going into Duels and Battle Royales or you may find they are a bit shorter than you expected. It's also useful to play as a Mercenary a bit; it's a good way to get some practice at team-based play.

Regardless of whether you're going up against A.I. or human opponents, one-on-one, on a team or in a free-for-all... you'll do better if you get familiar with your ACs, how they work and what their strengths and weaknesses are. This is especially true of Order Missions that are, essentially duels against a single AC. Read up on the weapons your opponent has, then adjust your armaments and parts to maximize the damage you can give and reduce the effects of the weapons your opponent is using. There are three types of damage in Armored Core: V - Kinetic Energy (KE), Chemical Energy (CE) and Thermal Energy (TE). You will want to see which type(s) your opponent can deal and select a Head, Torso, Core and Arms that are resistant to these types. You'll also want to select weapons that deal whichever types of damage he's more susceptible to. And... if you don't know, try a balanced load out, diversifying your weapons' energy types and your parts' resistance types... and hope for the best.

Game Mechanics:
Control in Armored Core V seems more manageable than in previous Armored Core games, but it might be that the action doesn't generally get too overly hectic to be able to keep track of what's going on. This allows a bit more strategy and tactics usage, since you don't often get pushed into an overwhelmingly panic-ridden do-or-die situation. Well, unless you get yourself into a bind.

One of the primary aspects of Armored Core V is the heavy dependence on online gameplay. Even missions in Story Mode can be played with the assistance of a team member. In fact, when you first install the game, there is a text blurb at the bottom of the screen indicating that players must join a team before playing Armored Core V. This is why it seems, to me, to be totally unacceptable if the online mode doesn't work...

...The first couple of times I played it (before the game was actually released), the online options were there, but no one else was online when I was playing. Since the game was released, I've been unable to connect to the Armored Core V server. I tried on several occasions, eventually uninstalling and reinstalling the game. I wasn't able to play online until I tried installing again on a different PSN account. That finally did the trick. Now, this might not be something that others encounter; it might be that my original AC Pilot account was erased when the game was released and this might be addressed in a patch later, but this really reduces the functionality of the game.

If you're a die-hard fan of Armored Core, you're going to buy the game regardless, but if you're on the fence, you may want to rent it first and make sure that you don't have any problems with the team and online aspects.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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