This latest instalment from From Software’s brutal Armored Core franchise sees us back in the middle of a post-apocalyptic war-zone, a barren wasteland overrun with mechanical monstrosities waging war against one another. A standalone expansion to Armored Core V, Verdict Day is largely centered around its multiplayer offering. For fans of the franchise, this game delivers in the way of explosions, combat and immense levels of customisation. However for those new to it, Verdict Day is difficult to get into and offers very little to draw in new fans, something the mech sim genre desperately needs.
As with Armored Core V, you’re tasked with dominating a world map, which has this time been divided into three factions, one of which you will eventually join. Once you’ve constructed your mech, you’re faced with sixty story mode levels which can be completed in squads of up to twenty players, comprising of you, your local or online friends and even AI mechs called UNACS. As you battle you can earn cash and gear to upgrade your mech, which has endless options for tweaking and swapping out parts. Unfortunately the storyline is dull and, combined with extremely poor dialogue, does little to build an engaging narrative. The missions are extremely repetitive, most of them having the objective just to kill all enemies, although thankfully the online missions offer a lot more variation. The online play feels pretty disjointed from the storyline, leaving you feeling like you are contributing little to the war effort, however the new matchmaking functionality for multiplayer means you can connect to an online battle instantly.
Fans can import save data from Armored Core V, a highly useful feature given the fast building level of difficulty associated with this franchise. Verdict Day is no exception to this and the addition of the unlockable hardcore mode takes it to a whole new level. Another new addition we see in this game is the introduction of UNACS, AI mechs who can be used at your disposal in both online and offline combat, a feature which comes in handy when you can’t enlist other human players to wreak havoc with you. The options for creating your army of AI mech’s is as you may expect, extremely flexible and time consuming. You can fine-tune your UNACS movement and even customise the way it uses specific weapons but any time spent is worth it, as your AI mech's performance will improve the more they fight. On offer are a selection of out-the-box AIs for the less patient, who come ready to start causing mayhem on your behalf.
In spite of its flaws, Verdict Day comes into its own in terms of mech customization. If you can endure the complicated UI and numerous menus you’ll need to trawl through to create your mech army, you’ll be rewarded with the satisfaction of seeing the beasts you’ve created in action on the battlefield. Each mech comprises of fourteen components, each of which can be customized in a plethora of ways, which bring into the mix over twelve stats to consider, not forgetting to keep your creation under a certain weight. For those willing to put a lot into the game at this stage, it has a lot to give back, although the overly complex steps and poor interface are frustrating to say the least, especially when you just want to dive in and start demolishing things. Whether you’re creating a super light flying drone or an imposing tank which will take out everything in its path, anything is possible with this extremely flexible customization engine and all mechs have their place and purpose. Chests can be found whilst on missions, containing a wealth of cash and parts which are distributed amongst your team. The higher the mission grade, the higher the quality of part you might find, so as you play expect a steady flow of new parts being added to the parts store. In addition to adjusting your mech’s functionality, each individual part’s appearance can be changed, altering the colour and texture. Decals can also be created and added to your behemoth.
When it’s finally time to commence battle, you will be confronted with extremely dated and poor graphics. The user-interface during gameplay is once again very convoluted, something not helped by the brief tutorials on offer in-game which only touch upon the basics. The accuracy and speed during aiming feels clumsy, as does the movement of your mech, which combined with the unintuitive control combinations often resulted in manic button bashing. Once you get used to manoeuvring and shooting you will need to locate your enemies in the desolate combat zone. Your mech’s inbuilt scan mode can assist in separating friend from foe, before you obliterate them using one of the five weapons strapped to your metallic barbarian. Verdict Day sees the return of operator mode, enabling you to command your squadron from a bird’s eye view, setting markers and receiving updates from the cockpit of your friends and UNACS in combat. What initially seems like a large arena, is actually a small mission zone with a boundary around the perimeter, which if crossed will reduce your mech to a pile of scrap metal. Once you get face to face with the opposition, there are some awesome explosions and the energetic gameplay almost distracts from your dull surroundings for a few minutes.
If customizing mechs for hours on end is your thing, chances are you’re going to love this game, in spite of its flaws. Fans of the genre are going to find the subpar graphics and complicated nature of the game easier to overlook, especially with the introduction of UNACs which adds another dimension to the game. For those new to the genre, it is hard to recommend this title. With a lot of patience and commitment, this game has a lot to offer but for less-seasoned mech sim gamers, the interface and embarrassing graphics alone may be enough to put you off.