Armored Core has always held a special place in my heart, and after thirteen installments, they've finally introduced the ability to share my experience with friends. That's right, Armored Core is finally Co-op. I have to say, initially I was excited to be able to sit down and play through these missions with a friend, but how does it work, exactly?
From Software's Armored Core games have redefined robot (generally called “Mech”) combat in games, with a variety of weapons, armor, and fighting styles to choose from. Along with these customizable or upgradeable parts, and weapons, you're also given the option to paint any part of your mech however you please. Controlling your mech is a bit different than walking around as a character, as you'll use boosts to execute almost all movement – adjust your controls until you're comfortable with boosting, dodging, aiming, and shooting simultaneously, or even the single player experience is lost.
Co-op (or “partnership”) is brand new to the Armored Core series, so I'll try to be nice. However, I will preface this by noting how confusing and misleading their co-op menu system is. That is to say, there are two, very different ways to go about playing cooperatively with a friend starting in different menus. One of those ways works relatively well while needing some work, and the other is a mess that suggested co-op was a poorly designed afterthought.
First, the bad co-op, which is the exclusively co-op mode, located in the “multiplayer” menu from the start up screen. This co-op menu takes you down about 6 sub menus with lots of options that don't seem to effect anything, to a poorly designed lobby. The lobby allows players to chat, but no one can adjust their mech for a specific mission, so once you're in, you're stuck. Unless, of course, you want to backtrack 3-4 submenus and basically start over. Here's where my friend and I were kicked in the head; in this mode you can only co-op on missions that both parties have already completed. That's right, you can only play things you've both already played, and successfully finished. I'm pretty sure this isn't the point of cooperative gameplay, so I quickly became annoyed and wrote off co-op as “garbage” in this game.
Then, a few days after the first co-op mess, I complained about this co-op to a different friend of mine. He explained a much more effective way of playing co-op, and offered to sit down and school me. By choosing single player, then opting for the “partnership” aspect of the single player mode, another person can be invited in to your game to help complete a mission. There are still a few problems with this, but let me explain the real co-op experience, that didn't involve replaying anything. This "single player partnership" mode is often overlooked, and missed in many reviews and walkthroughs.
Though this mode is a significant improvement, co-op is still very limited. Certain missions won't allow you to have assistance from a friend – this limits the “whole game playthrough” on co-op significantly, and by inviting someone in after a mission is selected, the second player misses the briefing completely. After every completed co-op mission, you're separated from your partner, and have to play the “party invite game” every time. This leaves a lot of waiting, inviting, and loading, which may be considered inconvenient to most.
One happy note: for those that aren't very careful with their aiming, I am happy to report that there is no friendly fire damage to worry about! Circle your foes, and unload wherever you can to take care of business. Explosions make co-op fun! For those that want to hurt their partner, that's located in another mode.
Co-op in Armored Core is still new, and could use some work. Basically, while this is a step in the right direction, From Software has a bit of tweaking to do before I'd consider co-op on a regular basis. So, unless you get stuck in the game and frustrated often, or really need an excuse to talk to an Armored Core obsessed friend, stick with the single player.