The mech-focused third-person action Armored Core series has always been about heavy customization and pimping out the best possible combination of a mech within a war-torn setting. While those key bits are present in the fifth game, producer Toshifumi Nabeshi decided that the game will cater to both hardcore and casual players.
We had a go with the very first single-player mission of the game, where we were tasked with destroying all incoming enemy mechas and army vehicles (tanks, helicopters, and giant stationary turrets) in an undisclosed metropolitan area, followed by a pursuit of an armored train in the city subway. While it was not remarkably interesting story-wise, since it's still the first part of the game, the action never let up, and we had fun boosting around the landscape in a seemingly light mech.
Controls, according to Nabeshi, are streamlined and made beginner-friendly when compared to past titles like Armored Core IV and Armored Core: For Answer. On the Xbox 360 controller, pressing A made our robot jump and do a boost dive (a fancy term for double jump), while pressing X made us do a boost charge that made our mech charge forward in a swift motion.
If you don't wish to rely too much on the X button, you can press the left bumper and any direction on the left analog stick to pull off a more controlled boost and dart across the city. You can also press the right analog stick to go into scan mode, where your objective paths and enemy information are displayed. You can't attack during this mode, though, so staying away from enemy sights is imperative when using this mode to explore your surroundings, as is identifying threats before they blindside your mech.
On the actual game screen, your best friend is the giant green circle. Any enemy within that circle is automatically a target for all of your weaponry. After getting three stationary turrets and helicopters within range, we let loose a barrage of auto-targeted machine-gun fire and homing missiles (with lock-on timers) mapped onto the shoulder buttons. Mech snipers couldn't be targeted from afar, but thanks to the telltale red lights, we moved fast enough so that they wouldn't get a drop on us.
While Nabeshi mentioned that the game is focused on multiplayer, fans can still focus on the single-player mode without any need for an Internet connection. Feedback from the game's closed beta done a few months ago includes improvements to the player-vs.-player component for the traditional fans and fixing online communication elements for newbies who casually play Armored Core games. As a result, the title is delayed until early next year, but so far most of the elements that make up the offline components seem polished if our recent playtest was any indication.