The latest of FromSoftware’s run-and-gun mecha romps is as good a place for newcomers to start as the revered Armored Cores 2 and 3, or the accessible Armored Core: For Answer. The customisation is as deep and straightforward as the latter, while a cleaner HUD condenses all crucial data (ammo, energy, health) into the series’ traditionally oversized crosshair, removing a further layer of intimidation from AC’s barrier to entry.
The main mode – also playable in online co-op – offers short, sharp tutorials alongside a variety of bite-size missions that should satisfy stat-obsessed old hands while keeping the door open to pilgrims from instant-action backgrounds. Throughout the course of ACV’s campaign, newcomers will move along its delicate learning curve and from casual to hardcore. Before they know it, they’ll be considering bullet drop, how loadout weights will affect the speed of their armoured core (AC), and whether agility’s better than strength. There’s still a challenge for veterans, though, with a wide range of enemies to keep them in the cockpit.
Missions are varied, spanning AC-on-AC warfare, linear seek-and-destroy offensives and large-scale bosses. They’re merely the canvas on which to paint with your metal monster, however, because the real game in ACV is an introverted one. This is all about crafting a mech and unleashing it on the map, not a blockbuster masterclass in campaign design. The lack of environmental polish, mapping ugly textures to often massive scale, and other rough edges, from dull audio design to some underwhelming visual effects, will deter superficially minded players. But the core mechanics – the currency system, the weapon balancing and customisation – is where FromSoftware has lavished? all its attention and where you should focus yours.
Multiplayer, at last, has a much stronger presence as well. Whether ACV can attract full lobbies remains to be seen, but the infrastructure is all in place and the frontend – a world map of single- and multiplayer options and objectives, plus a clan/team development dynamic – makes online more inviting than ever. Hop into the mode cold, though, and it’s hard to survive. Amateur matches play out like rock paper scissors until you learn to analyse your foes’ skills and weapon sets, and exploit their weaknesses. Team matches multiply the need for strategy, with the battle for territory on that global map a further incentive for competitive play.
As it stands, this is a solid and intricate Armored Core with the best online offering yet, lacking only the visual sheen to make the energy and pace of its combat shine. It’s still an acquired taste, but once you’ve whetted your appetite, it’s hard to resist.
Xbox 360 version tested. You can discuss the game and review in the comments section below, in the Armored Core V Edge forum thread, or on our Facebook and Google+ pages.