Also On: Xbox 360
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: From Software
Armored Core: Verdict Day is a modified, retooled version of Armored Core V. This version brings along a brand new story mode, with streamlined missions that ditch the overly long story missions found in the original game. It also introduces the use of UNAC’s, automated units controlled by the A.I. that can go on sorties for you, and compete against other A.I. opponents or actual players.
While From Software has certainly risen to fame on the back of the excellent Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls franchise, they’re pretty well known by mecha enthusiasts as the leading developer behind the Armored Core franchise. The last entry, Armored Core V, didn’t seem quite as beloved by the fan base as the entry prior, Armored Core: For Answer. This modified version of Armored Core V introduced with Verdict Day looks to change that, and certainly brings forth some positive elements not found in Armored Core V.
The biggest addition here is the UNAC units, which unlock after an early story-based mission is completed. UNAC’s are completely A.I. controlled, but can be modified in a variety of stats by spending in-game cash on them. You can take UNAC’s into the field in story based sorties as A.I. partners, or can control an entire team of UNAC’s in sorties against A.I. opponents or real players. When fielding a team of UNAC’s you’ll take on an operator role, and you’ll be given a map of the mission in order to dictate UNAC placement and guide units toward important locations.
I actually found the UNAC A.I. to be really solid. I even managed to thwart a couple teams that were using player controlled units, and this was with some relatively low-level UNAC’s in tow. They’re not particularly great for sorties that involve time limits, as they’ll generally run the clock down quite a bit completing objectives like capture points, but for straight combat purposes I thought they were a pretty neat addition to the series.
Another change here from Armored Core V comes from the relatively short story missions you can engage in. The story itself is completely retooled as well, so even if you played through the entirety of Armored Core V, this will be a brand new experience. Granted, the engine and overall mech design is mostly identical, but if you care about plot in your Armored Core games, this will be something different. The key difference though is in length, as the 60 or so story missions have been cut down to last only 5 to 10 minutes apiece. The mid mission refueling options are completely cut from Verdict Day, so you’ll need to make sure you’re well equipped going in. And since the game does still make use different damage types, you’ll often need to retry a mission or two before getting things right, so that you’re not stuck with weapons equipped that do little damage against foes with armor strong against a certain type of damage.
It’s also worth noting that this is a tougher game in general than Armored Core V. I found myself struggling in early story missions quite a bit, and had to resort to hiring mercenaries, essentially player controlled partners, to assist in most missions. This difficulty becomes borderline excessive in the late story missions, but by that point you’ll be swimming in cash and able to afford a variety of parts to outfit your AC with, along with a host of parts unlocked simply by completing sorties.
Outside of the story missions you can take on a variety of single mission sorties with larger teams comprised of other players and UNAC’s. There’s also a Free Battle mode to fight against other players directly without the need to complete objectives. Just like Armored Core V you can also build a team of friends, name them, assign emblems, and work together towards increasing an overall team rank. You’ll also level up independently from your team just by completing sorties, including story missions. You’re also able to sell your services to other players as a mercenary, which can be a solid way of earning cash and experience.
I don’t have a lot of complaints to level at Armored Core: Verdict Day, and find this to be a better experience than Armored Core V. It’s still not an inviting game for newcomers though, if you have no experience with the series you should be prepared to have almost no idea what you’re doing for the first couple hours. And just like its predecessor, Verdict Day is a mess when it comes to user interface and menu design. There’s a lot of pretty useless information thrown your way that’s there for window dressing only, and it often seems to get in the way of the important info that you actually need to pay attention to.
This isn’t the most visually impressive experience either, even if the game does run pretty smooth throughout. I have little issue with the AC designs on display, and there are a hefty number of parts to swap out, allowing your AC to be customized quite a bit. But I find the war torn environments to be just as drab and boring as Armored Core V, and really wished From Software had spruced the overall look of the world up a bit.
Finally, this is an experience that’s very dependent on online play. If you’re looking for something here as a solo experience you’ll get some enjoyment out of it, but this is far better game with friends attached. I did find the multiplayer was handled well, but there doesn’t seem to be a ton of folks online with the PS3 version of the game that I reviewed. I had some trouble finding randoms through mercenary matchmaking, so if you can talk a friend or two into picking up the game with you, that’ll be your best bet to get the most out of Verdict Day.
It’s hard to deny that From Software really does know a thing or two about making engaging yet realistic mech games. Armored Core: Verdict Day might not turn the series on its ear, but this is enough of an upgrade to Armored Core V that I think it’s worth a look. While not a lot of massive changes are seen here between Verdict Day and its predecessor, I think there’s been a long enough gap in release dates that fans will be willing to give this another shot. Keep some of your gameplay expectations in check, and you should have some fun with this.