This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. And if you subscribe to The Escapist Patreon or YouTube memberships, you can view next week’s episode on Assassin’s Creed Mirage right now, as well as an uncensored version of this and every Zero Punctuation going forward!
For more major games Yahtz has reviewed lately, check out El Paso Elsewhere and ?, Mortal Kombat 1, Chants of Sennaar and Lies of P, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk, Starfield, Sea of Stars, En Garde! and Blasphemous 2, Baldur’s Gate 3, Viewfinder and My Friendly Neighborhood, and Remnant 2.
Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon Zero Punctuation Transcript
In the last few weeks I could have been reviewing the Rapture and someone in the comments would still have said “Yeah, yeah, you beheld a great beast with blasphemous names on each of its seven heads, when are you gonna do Armored Core 6?” Half of them going “Ooh it’s by From Software and it’s basically a soulslike with giant robots, you’ll love it.” And the other half going “Ooh it’s by From Software and it’s absolutely nothing like a soulslike, but you keep saying you’re sick of them and it’s got giant robots, you’ll love it.” I did try Armored Core 6 when it came out but bounced off at first, in much the same way the entire giant mecha concept bounces off common sense. I guess that’s kinda why I have trouble getting into giant robot stuff; if it’s trying to take itself seriously I keep getting distracted by nagging thoughts like “Why would you ever rely upon giant robots with laser swords piloted by one dude, rather than use the exact same materials to make, say, five hundred tanks? That could do more than one job at a time, and don’t require centuries of high level robotics research to ensure they don’t fall over?” But the constant requests and the brief gap in the release schedule wore me down. So I went back to AC6.
That’s Armored Core, not Assassin’s Creed. Or Animal Crossing. Or Asheron’s Call. Or Ace Combat. Or Assetto Corsa. Or Astral Chain. Jesus, what is it with video games and AC? Are they trying to subliminally inform the building manager that the central heating needs fixing? And fine, I admit it, once I strapped myself down and forced myself to give it more time, I eventually got into Alice Cooper 6, although not because it’s soulslike. It’s only like Dark Souls in that there’s a focus on one-on-one boss fights, an estus flask-esque healing system, difficult combat that involves a lot of running around in circles, and a choice of endings that comes down to whether or not you want to light yourself on fire. People will call anything “soulslike” these days, it’s never been a well-defined genre at the best of times. Ooh, Sonic the Hedgehog’s a soulslike ‘cos the rings are estus and the checkpoints are bonfires and you can summon a fox with two buttholes as a support NPC. Anyway, in Armored Core 6 you’re a mercenary who’s been brought to a planet full of potentially hugely destructive magic goo that a bunch of corporations are fighting over, a premise that reminded me of Lost Planet a lot in that I didn’t care much about that, either.
Initially the plot felt like little more than a slim excuse for making giant robots smack each other about, and there was a lot about the game I found intimidating on my first shake. Perhaps it was the first mission, in which the game goes “Right, here’s how you move, here’s how you fire your weapons, got all that? Now kill this giant flying robot death monster that wants to destroy you with a ferocity seen only in a desperately undernourished spider trapped in a bell jar with a miniature bacon sandwich.” And obviously I got stomped into a carelessly dismantled Meccano project, but over multiple attempts, I felt out the workings. I soon learned that trying to be clever by hiding amid buildings, moving in and out of range, etc, would result in the boss going “Hm. Interesting. Counterpoint: white hot stream of pitiless death.” But after several tries I managed to sustain consistent damage for long enough to fill the mysterious orange bar under his health, at which point his trousers dropped around his ankles and I did some serious damage to him while he was pulling them back up. Aha, this isn’t giant robot Dark Souls, it’s giant robot Sekiro. Except instead of perfect parrying over and over again you just shoot things a lot with a gun.
The other thing I found intimidating was going into the parts shop, as the game would spread a load of engine parts across the floor with a thousand stats attached and impatiently go “Whaddya want?” Cigarette poking from mouth like an extra in a Billy Joel video. But again, with time I figured out the best approach: construct an in-betweeny all-rounder mechanical evening suit that had decent stats, avoiding the tiny spindly kitchen utensil legs for the super light fast builds and the giant chunky flared trousers for the heavy tanks, and then pile as much raw firepower onto my shoulders as I could without my legs going bandy. After that, I stuck to the strategy of running in circles around the target, holding down all the fire buttons until the pants fall off meter was full, and then speeding in for a one-two laser sword wallop to the perineum. And pursuing this philosophy, I found Anton Chekhov 6 to be a game of very inconsistent difficulty. The regular enemies slow you down as much as the little dotted lines around the doors of an advent calendar, but every now and again there’s an absolute roadblock of a boss fight that I’d have to hammer away at for half an hour.
I appreciate the game intends you to mix up your build to suit the situation as there’s a special option on the game over menu for making a quick pit stop to switch to a nicer head and bigger trousers, but I powerfully couldn’t be arsed to do that. And who needs roomier trousers without an arse. Also sometimes the game’s nice enough to checkpoint you at the start of the boss and sometimes for every attempt you’ve gotta plough through two rooms and a cinematic that wasn’t terribly interesting the first time. And while we’re on the subject, I guess the story’s about as effective as one can get considering every NPC is a faceless voice on a radio, and could conceivably be all the same dude putting on a variety of silly accents, but it was hard to get invested early on before the personalities had properly crystallized. Especially with the mission-based structuring that is always the death of pacing and flow ‘cos the game has to stop every five minutes to ask permission to continue and that tends to put me in a philosophical mood. Do I want to continue? Boy, that’s a hell of a question. I mean, I’d appreciate the rest but if I miss another Thanksgiving I’ll never hear the end of it. Oh, you meant in the game.
Nevertheless, as I say, I did find myself getting into Andrew Carnegie 6, and I think at the end of the day it came down to sheer spectacle. It’s sometimes hard to get a sense of the scale you’re supposed to be at. Sure, you can see little human-sized vehicles and stairwells and occasionally walk down a nine-lane highway like it’s a jogging track, but you could just be a dude in a model village cosplaying as a kitchen island. So to compensate the environments get even crazier with scale, which makes the notion that regular-sized humans use the space even more ridiculous ‘cos there are corridors and ventilation shafts that a person couldn’t walk across without a pack mule and a week’s provisions, but gosh darn it at the end of the day, all gameplay, interface and story niggles aside, it is pretty fun and exciting to flit around an entire ruined city dodging streams of explosions while keeping a bead on a target against the backdrop of a colossal industrial structure that makes you feel like an ant exploring a disused barbecue grille. And hey, five hundred tanks couldn’t do that. Or indeed navigate the Birmingham one-way system.