Nostalgia has always played a large part in my hopes for each outing of the Armored Core franchise. Unlike many of its brethren released around the same time, the AC series has refused to progress. Sure the mech building is still unmatched and the addition of online is very cool, but the spark that made the first entry in the series stick out is all but gone. Still, I somehow go into every iteration with the hopes that this will be “the one”, and I continue to come back with my hopes and dreams unfulfilled.
The story of Verdict Day is not one I will be talking about tomorrow. The radio chatter between missions is the bulk of the storyline, and it isn’t very good. Terrible dialogue and some not-so-choice voice acting really make it feel forced. It almost would have benefited from just using subtitles instead of spoken words. There is nothing to keep players from skipping cut scenes in between missions.
It is funny how the times have changed. Armored Core is developed by From Software, who most gamers currently know from their abusive Souls series (Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls). Armored Core: Verdict Day is no stranger to difficulty either. Each mission requires careful planning and mech customization in order to survive. Replaying missions to figure out which build is appropriate comes standard, and to their credit, From Software has kept the tradition alive by adding in unparalleled ways to customize the mechs.
The single player game is packed to the rim with 60 missions, each one more challenging than the last. Granted a large portion of them are generic in nature, with objectives like “clear out all enemies”. These missions can be played solo, with a friend, a mercenary or eventually an AI controlled mech. The options are nice, and playing with someone else helps ease the tedium, but the real star of Armored Core now is the online portion.
I had the option to import my save from Armored Core V, or start fresh. Once I got into the mix, I chose between one of three factions, which dictates my online play. The online mode is a persistent world where each faction is fighting to become the dominate force. Every action and mission performed goes to the overall dominance of the chosen faction. It is very cool, but also pointless if the population of players decreases too much. This mode has been carried over, and remains some of the most fun I had with Verdict Day, though it suffers a lot from functionality issues. The management menus are a mess, and teaming up with other players is almost as complex as crafting a great mech.
Of course, the real draw to these games has always been customizing mechs. Verdict Day brings that tradition along with it, and is just as intimidating as it ever was. There are 14 points of customization, all with variable attributes, and all have effect on other pieces. I felt like I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of it all. Now, in past games builds were best determined by mission, and while that remains the case somewhat in Verdict Day, it is more focused on creating one, all-around build. The customization is still top notch, but without varying mission types, it falls flat most of the time.
The one upside to customization is Free Battle. Going head-to-head with other players is the highlight of the game, at least if I spent the time required to create a worthy mech. The Armored Core community is tightly knit, and players know their stuff, so hopping online into a random match usually just ends in a swift beat down. Again, this draws a fine line between being true to its roots, and luring in new players, something Verdict Day simply doesn’t do. I wanted to create new and better builds, but considering I had to grind story missions for XP (because online missions only earn cash), it becomes a design decision that simply makes me not want to play anymore.
Visually the game is a hot mess. This is one ugly game, and the confusing HUD doesn’t help matters. The frame rate blazes, but it isn’t hard to see why. Generic textures, boring arenas and embarrassing animation make this another bullet point in the series’ regression. I already talked about the atrocious voice acting, but neither the sounds nor score fare any better. This is one sad game when it comes to presentation.
Armored Core: Verdict Day is a solid entry for those that have stuck with it since day one. Anyone coming in fresh or even returning from the series’ past is in for a rude awakening. The unfriendly design and gross presentation are quick deterrents to an otherwise massively deep experience. I cannot recommend the game to anyone outside that small niche, which is where I see this series slowly fading into the darkness if From Software doesn’t make some massive changes, and soon.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.