Game Review: Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon

Platform: PlayStation 5

I've enjoyed the Armored Core series for a number of years (insert old jokes here). Entries in the series are pretty spread out. The first game in the series was released in 1997. That's 26 years between the first game and this, the sixth game. For all you math nerds out there, that's an average of 4.33333~ years between major releases.

Being a fan of big robots and big guns, this game is right up my alley. Or at least it is in concept. 

Armored Core games have always been challenging. You have a single mech under your control that you can spend credits to buy new parts and upgrades for to mix and match in order to build the mech of your choice. The idea being that various missions have different needs and strategies that will require you to purchase a variety of parts to put into different configurations so that you can achieve victory. A bad build can almost guarantee a failure of any given mission.

With AC6 though, even with a good build victory is anything but guaranteed. The very first mission where you have no choice but to use the basic mech the game starts you off with ends in a meat grinder of a boss that will tear through your mech in a heartbeat. For those new to the series, this can be a daunting start to a new game if not downright disheartening. And even in later missions the bosses seem to be designed to exploit the weaknesses that the mechs at that stage of the came will undoubtedly have due to upgrade availability.

As the game progresses, the developers have chosen to eek out which parts are available for purchase based on story progression. This means that no matter how difficult you find your current mission you are limited to the parts the developers have arbitrarily decided to make available to you. This is not a foreign concept as many RPGs deploy similar tactics by introducing new gear in towns that players come across in their adventure but the difference here is that players in a RPG can still continue to strengthen their characters through gaining exp and leveling up while there is no comparable mechanism in Armored Core 6. Your mech's capabilities are solely driven by the installed parts which are limited to what is available based on progression alone. Part of me would like to either see a greater variety of parts available earlier in the game or all the parts displayed even though players may not be able to afford them right away.

I'm all for grinding money to buy premium parts if it means I'll enjoy the game better by not struggling through battles designed to make the player struggle. Prime example, you can only carry 3 repair kits for the entirety of most missions. By the time you make it most bosses you've used most if not all of your repair kits. You are almost guaranteed to die at least once to the boss where you resume from the last checkpoint with full supplies but that limit seems pre-determined to make the fight as difficult as possible while giving the player the minimum amount of hope and confidence. Similarly, the bosses have defenses that exceed the capabilities of most weapons available at that point the game. If you don't have the perfect build it is almost impossible to win. They have designed some bosses to have weapons with limitless range, limitless targeting range, and massive damage output.

Even with one of the beefiest builds available, these bosses can kill your mech with 2 direct hits only. That seems a bit excessive for the first half of the game's first chapter.

Beyond the game's almost Elden Ring-like qualities in term of difficulty, the game is actually beautiful to behold. The arenas where the battles take place are typically somewhat confined spaces so the devs were able to put a fair amount of detail in environment. Almost everything in the environment can be destroyed and the things that can't make for excellent cover from incoming fire. There are some nice effects for the weapons and when opponents are defeated although the mech explosion animation seems redundant for all mechs. It would have been nice to see some different destruction/death animations based on the weapons used to inflict the kill shot or even just based on the different mech types. Why do they all have to blow up the same way?

The controls while operating your mech is pretty straightforward. I haven't seen too much in the way of confusing controls or complex button combos that the game requires to utilize the features of your AC builds. There is an auto-aim feature to help you identify enemies and different visual cues to help know when certain weapons are "locked on" or in range. I wish there was a way to lock-on to a target, especially in boss fights but if that feature is available I haven't found it.

At the end of the day, the newest entry in the Armored Core series feels very much like a true successor. When I play the game, I feel like I'm playing an Armored Core game. With your character not speaking and taking assignments for money (you are a mercenary after all), this entry follows the same patterns as its predecessors. There isn't much in the way of story or elaborate cutscenes, just minimal communication and mission briefings followed by combat. This is a no-frills tactical mech shooter. The game knows its lane and stays in it very well. There is on hint that the devs have tried to evolve this game beyond its humble beginnings over the last 2.6 decades.

But if you were to ask me what my main complaint about the game would be, it would be this: the near requirement to exit to the title screen when you're done playing. The game seems like it does some level of auto-save but if when you are ready to shut down the game you don't go through the game's system menu to "return to title screen" the game chastises you the next time you boot it up. If the game auto-saves why do I need to return to title by accessing a sub-menu from the game's main game menu? Why can't I just manually initiate a save and then quit the game like almost any other game allows? And if I choose to exit the game without returning to title screen but the game auto-saves then what is the purpose of popping up a window to scold me for not exiting the game in a particular manner of your choosing that is contrary to most other modern video games? Why am I the one getting in trouble for your decision to be different but expecting me to inherently follow in your odd footsteps?

Like most of my games, I haven't beaten Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon yet and there's a good chance I'll find another game to play before I do (ooh shiny!) but I have enjoyed what I've played so far. It is definitely a challenging game, almost to the point of infuriating but walking that fine line well enough that it makes me want to beat the levels out of principle. There are certainly some things that I would have preferred to have been done different by the developer but given my familiarity with the other games in the series there's nothing in this game that comes as a shock or surprise to me. The game plays fluidly. I haven't experienced any crashes or bugs. Everything seems stable and well coded, something a lot of other games today can't claim immediately after release with their Day 1 patches of 20 GBs or more or customer refunds offered because the game was released before it was playable (yeah, I'm looking at you Cyber Punk 2077 and No Man's Sky).

This is a game I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of games like the previous Armored Core entries or maybe even perhaps MechWarriors. I might also consider suggesting this game to anyone looking for a good challenge. However, I would caution anyone who sees themselves as a casual gamer or who is just looking for a game to sit back and play as a form of relaxation to steer clear of this title. There is nothing casual or relaxing about this game.

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