Dodging an incoming barrage of rockets and letting loose a blast from your shoulder-mounted minigun feels so much cooler when you're strapped inside a giant robot suit. The thunderous clash of mech-on-mech combat is fast-paced and brutal in Armored Core: Verdict Day, a stand-alone expansion that builds slightly on its predecessor's progress while suffering from many of the same weaknesses. For those with the patience, there's a deep level of satisfaction that comes from kitting out your battling bot suit into a walking death machine and sending your foes to the scrap heap. Getting there is a painstaking process, however, because the latest entry in this long-running hardcore mech warfare series remains as impenetrable as ever for newcomers.
Verdict Day's ongoing multiplayer-centric global war lets you form a small mech squad and join in on the killing for one of three opposing factions battling it out for control of territory across the grim postapocalyptic landscape. There's a decent-size online player community so far, so it's not hard to cobble together a big enough squad to dive into the short, punchy missions for your faction of choice. Your team's successes and failures in combat operations do influence the bigger picture in this online showdown, but it rarely feels like you're making any significant contribution to the slow-burning war's overall progress beyond the thrill of kicking metal heads in.
The lengthy solo campaign remedies this somewhat by giving you more tangible challenges to tackle and work your way through, though it has its own quirks. Many of these missions are streamlined engagements that boil down to destroying all enemies on the battlefield. Multiplayer missions do cycle more frequently, adding objectives such as damaging infrastructure, capturing points, and defending resources to the mix, though even those get repetitive.
In both modes, occasional set-piece boss battles liven things up further, and the action remains intense across the board from mission to mission. But when paired with the constant gloom of the dull gray and brown scenery, Verdict Day's repetitive nature and lack of mission variety wear on you over time. Don't expect much from the story itself either. While cutscenes are worth sitting through to see all the awesome mechs thrashing around in a more cinematic perspective that shows off their gunmetal glory, poor voice acting, flat characters, and an obtuse plot offer little incentive to pay closer attention. Basically, the order of the day is less talk, more giant robo pew-pew.
Verdict Day's tough-love nature also makes it a rough entry point for new players.
Regardless of what modes you're playing, the real reward for your hard work and for pushing through the occasional drudgery that sets in comes in the form of cash and gear for upgrading your mech. This is where Verdict Day sinks its hooks in. The exhaustive range of possibilities for swapping out parts and fine-tuning these killing machines is alluring. From quad-legs and tank treads to gun arms and shoulder-mounted rockets, there's a ton of sweetness to tinker with in this regard. Every body part can be swapped out for something new. On one end of the spectrum, you can design a fast, zippy machine to zoom around the map in. Or you can change tactics and whip up a hulking behemoth that hammers through foes with heavy artillery as it chugs through the combat zone. There's plenty of tactical wiggle room to tinker with everything in between too, and the cool visual changes that come with each upgrade are just as impactful as the stat perks and destruction they deliver.
For the uninitiated, navigating the game's complex and ill-designed system of menus is a patience-sapping headache. The option for previous Armored Core V players to upload their mech data is great, but the fact that the game forces all players to muddle through numerous irritating registration screens the first time you play regardless of whether you plan to do so is a real hassle. It takes a while to stumble through before you're dumped into the world menu, where the dizzying array of submenus is a confusing pain to navigate.
This continues onto the battlefield too. While mechs are surprisingly simple once you get a handle on them, the nuances of piloting them aren't fully explained in the limp tutorial stages without digging deeper into the game's virtual manual, which is in turn buried in another unintuitive menu selection. The combat user interface vomits a lot of data onscreen too, muddying up your view of what's going on when you're in the thick of things. A more streamlined interface both inside and outside of battle would go a long way toward making the game a lot more accessible and enjoyable.
Verdict Day's tough-love nature also makes it a rough entry point for new players. Beyond the first few story missions, the difficulty ramps up quickly, and that's well before you unlock the exceptionally challenging hardcore mode after beating the main campaign. Here, series vets who feel like further punishing their mechs can test their skills by revisiting the campaign with tough foes and special combat conditions, but it's a grueling gauntlet best reserved for the most elite pilots. Fortunately, the ability to hire lone-wolf players as mercenaries in campaign or multiplayer matches does provide a little balance and helps during the off hours when your dedicated teammates aren't online--assuming you don't mind sharing a cut of each mission's spoils. Unlocking UNACs, which are AI-driven support mechs that you can program with different combat behaviors, is a particularly handy addition. Accessed once you dig into a chunk of the story missions, these battle bots are a necessity for easing the strain of the toughest encounters.
If you've delved into the Armored Core franchise before, it's easier to overlook some of the residual rough spots that linger throughout Verdict Day's design. New additions, like the UNACs, make the game's multiplayer war easier to stick with when you can't assemble a human crew, and the solo campaign is a decent offering despite its flaws. The mechs are the highlight here, but it's a real disappointment that ugly stages, an unintuitive interface, and repetitive missions mar a big portion of the fun that comes with tweaking these rad machines and sending them into battle.