Armored Core 6: The Goonhammer Review

After eleven years, From Software have blessed us with another entry into the Armored Core series, and it fucking rocks. Any worry that over a decade of producing games with the Souls formulae has dulled From Software’s edge when it comes to developing games outside the genre are firmly dispelled in the first hour of the game.

I’m not a previous fan of the series, if I played an Armored Core game I was probably too young to remember, so I came into the series a fresh-faced pilot with a lot to learn and even more to prove. From the get-go, AC6 lets you loose into a mission with a simple, versatile load-out, a little tutorial, and a stunningly large environment to wander around in to get yourself comfortable with the controls.

Credit Steve B.

And you’ll need to get comfortable with the controls. AC6 is a little unwieldy to start off with, as you cycle through your different modes of movement, targeting, managing your weapons, and everything else. It’s not intuitive without some practice, and things only change as you progress through the game and customise your mech. You have to learn the nuance of your weight and how it affects your boosting, your dodges, and then readapt as you tweak your mech to be better in some areas at the expense of others.

The tutorial doesn’t do much to ease you in to all that. It doesn’t need too, really. It’s something you can only learn by doing and the game throws you into an extended mission with some minor enemies and a boss-fight that won’t let you pass without showing some understanding of the core concepts. Welcome to Dark Souls Armored Core 6.

How good of a time you have in AC6 directly relates to whether you ‘click’ with the movement. It’s frantic, but thoughtful, and is directly under your control as the player. Do you want to bounce around the arena as a frantic gun-bunny spewing lead and only pausing to flex mid-air as you lob grenades down on the poor losers beneath you? Do you float omniously across the battlefield a a tetrapod armed to the teeth with as many heavy weapons as you can fit? Do you speed across the ground with tank-treads, doing your best Sherman impression?

Credit Steve B.

Truthfully, you should be doing all of that. Armored Core 6 encourages you to switch up your build per the mission. If your build isn’t working out for one part of the mission and you get sent to the game over screen, you’re given a helpful option to switch up your entire build.  You can save pre-sets and load them up, so it doesn’t even take that long if you dedicate some time to building different builds you enjoy.

This is key to the games replayability as well, as you push for S-ranks. Different missions need different approaches to get that 100% on, so definitely experiment with what you like, because:

Mech customisation is deep. Your locomotion is a single (but large) piece of the overall equation.

You could tinker with it all day. – Credit Josh Boyes

You have your four hard-points, for guns, launchers, missiles, shields and harpoons.  Slots for each limb, your torso, and the internals. (your Fire Control Systems,  Energy Generator, something and Boosters.)

Each piece comes with it’s own design philosophy leaning in a particular design space. You have light-weight arms that optimise firearm usage, encouraging you to Double-Trigger. There’s heavy-duty heads that improve your sensor range, enabling you to tag enemies (and secrets) behind cover, which you can use in sync with a long-range, missile-optimised FCS to attack them around the corner without fear of reprisal. Your choices matter, you can design everything to work in perfect sync to the aims you want to achieve. There are downsides, but you make up for those with how you pilot the mech. It feels great to have everything matter, even if they matter at different levels.

Perhaps more important than mechanical depth is the degree you can aesthetically modify your mech. You have an image creator to create your own decals (I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time making my favourite Space Marine Chapter Symbols), you have fine degree over how to paint your mech down to each section on each different part (and whether that paint is glossy, matte, and whether it’s dull or bright) and how weathered that individual part is.

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Legitimately the weathering options and how they interact with your chosen paint job are sick as hell. I know a lot of people like that Gundam look, and it’s iconic for a reason don’t get me wrong, but I fucking love looking like I’ve just crawled out of the scrap-yard. God let my mech turn on another day, and I’m making it everybody elses fucking problem. (as a side benefit, I’m using it as reference for my own weathering when it comes to Big Robots. So that’s another plus.)

Once you’re done obsessively painting up your mech in your favourite colour scheme, and plastering it with custom-made decals you made (or downloaded from other users), you’re going diving in and out of missions that are… aggressively fine. 

It’s really the only complaint I could pitch at the game, if I had to pick one. It’s not that some missions suck, they’re just… not very meaningful experiences on the first play-through. It can be less than five minutes of gameplay of blowing up a few enemies, doing the objective, and returning to the menu to go to the next. There’s secrets to go hunt, there’s side-bosses to fight for more mech-parts, but it isn’t a gurantee. There’s definite valleys across the campaign.

Valleys give ways to peaks though, and peak missions truly hit differently. When the game lets you stay in a level for a good while and stretch your robo-limbs out is when the game is at its best. You get to experience that flow-state that’s so important to fast-paced experiences like this, darting in combat, dodging on reaction and becoming one with the controls. Getting that experience shaken up by a boss encounter in a level also fucking owns, because for the most part, bosses rock, and they’re the peak of From Software’s boss design honed over their time making Souls games. Variety is the spice of life, and the bosses hit right every time. (One of my favourite ‘bosses’ was a giant Mining Crawler in the middle of the desert. It wasn’t even that hard, or mechanically engaging, but the awe of fighting something in that scale while you’re already supposed to be a huge robot made me feel great. Shadow of the Colossus vibes.)

For the most part, bosses are tough, and at first, overwhelming. Some bosses start with moves that flashbang me and leave me stunned with over stimulation, which promptly disappiates as I get sent back to the Game Over screen. Baletus, the End Chapter boss, deserves a swirlie for this. Easily the hardest boss I’ve faced in the game, and he’s the third you face. Like I said before, adapting your build is essential, and the skill will be playing these missions on replay to get an S rank (which requires you to never resupply, and never hit a checkpoint, forcing you to have a build that can make it to the boss and beat him.)

Looking up advice for this boss, I did get to realise how the rancid stink of the ‘git good’ crowd follows every one of From Soft’s releases.  I like difficulty in games, but it’s the purposeful ignorance towards From Soft’s game design of implementing seamless tools for managing difficulty and challenge that get me. It’s literally what makes From Soft so good at what they do. They will put challenges in your way and give you so many tools to adapt to it. But the prevailing brow-beat is that you should simply grind yourself into dust to overcome it. I appreciate the triumph of doing that, I do it myself, but man its a little sad if your first instinct after feeling good after beating a tough boss with no help is getting giddy because you get to join in the brow-beating on Reddit.

Moving on from toxic vibes to good vibes, the vibes presented in Armored Core 6 are amazing. From Software are no strangers to amazing visual design, and this game is a fucking treat. Environments are varied. You’re fighting through dead cities, massive facilities that make you, a big robot, feel small, rust deserts and icy tundras. There’s this dread of an unfinished apocalypse, a war that’s still being fought after everything has already come crashing down. You’ve got these gorgeous panoramic views of a world that’s declined, cracked, fiery skies with giant, towering facilities that look more akin to shanty towns than technological marvels.

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There’s melodrama that I’d dare call Kojima-esque. You’re have one-on-one duels in the rain, across the surface of the ocean, with an enemy that eerily knows more about you and your situation than you know about yourself. People utter ridiculous diagloue that is taken seriously by themselves and everyone else, before they let out a pseudo death-rattle that’s cut off by their mech fucking exploding. You get absorbed into it while knowing really nothing at all of the greater overarching narrative. (At least if you nothing about Armored Core, like me. No idea if this all makes sense to a series veteran. I assume not.)

It’s perfect. I don’t care that I don’t know what’s going on half-the-time. I’ve got no clue what Coral is, or what these Corporations are, or who I am, or what even an Armored Core is. I don’t even know if my pilot is allowed to leave the mech or not, there’s so many mentions of augmentation surgeries and how you’re one of early generations who lose their humanity in the process. Am I just built into it? Does it matter? Do I care?

Not really. It rocks without understanding. It makes me intrigued enough to go dive through the game’s earlier lore and find out if its equally as incomprehensible as this game.

Final Verdict

You should buy this game if you’re looking for a challenging, but ultimately rewarding experience. It’s controls are a little awkward, especially in Keyboard & Mouse (though I’ve friends who beaten me up with KBM just fine, so it could just be a Skill Issue) but if you can overcome that hump, you’ll enter a feel-good flow-state where you’ll feel like a certifiable badass.

It comes with extra bang for its buck as the game is geared towards replayability, but in an endearing way and not a soul-draining side-quest way like a lot of other modern games. Replaying missions for a better rank, secrets, New Game+ for new experiences and parts exclusive to the mode is a lot of fun, but is by no means required to make it feel like the game is worth your money. I’d say the only thing this game is missing is CO-OP, but hey, there’s PVP if that floats your boat at least.

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