Armored Core 4
AP. PA. FRS. KP. EN. These are acronyms you’ll want to acquaint yourself with if you hope to spend more than an hour with Armored Core 4. The Armored Core series has always been aimed at gearheads, and this installment is no different, featuring literally thousands of ways to create your perfect robot. However, Armored Core 4 also makes the actual combat exciting, a big step up from the previous games. While most of your time is spent in the garage, Armored Core 4 is a rousing success in that it combines in-depth number crunching with fast gameplay, for what is definitely the best game yet in the series.
Ritalin users and Grand Theft Auto fans take note: Armored Core 4 may not be for you. The tuning aspect of the game has more in common with Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport than it does with twitch-based action games. Don’t let the giant robots and loud guns fool you; this is a thinking person’s video game. You start off with a few basic parts to build a mech. However, you are dumped into the garage with little more than a tutorial on how to move your Next (the game’s name for the robots). From then on, you are left to your own devices to figure out how to build and pilot a well-balanced machine. The basics like attack power, defensive power, and weight are all provided for you up front, but pretty soon it’s necessary to dive into the depths of the schematics and really tune your Next. Literally hours can be whittled away balancing and testing a machine, and sometimes it’ll all be in vain. The demands of the missions will constantly have players tweaking and rearranging designs for their mech in the shop. Parts come in varying flavors of weight and power, but what is clever about the game is that there are never any “good” or “bad” parts. The original guns will be just as useful to some players, and the first tier of legs will satisfy many a designer. Crafting a Next that’s perfect for you is a long, arduous process that patient players will find rewarding and just plain fun.
Naturally, though, these robots will have to be used. There have been some minor changes to the way Nexts are controlled this time around. The quickboost has been added, allowing short and sharp dodges to be performed to get out of harms way. The overboost has been tweaked, as well, creating a massive amount of thrust at the cost of a sizable chunk of energy. Fighting has been changed too, and this is where the biggest improvement over previous Armored Core games comes: combat. In the single-player mode, players will be given four or so missions to tackle at will, eventually reaching the next chapter. Chapters are about ten missions long, but some missions are optional. Within these missions, players will be given an objective, revolving around destroying blank object or protecting blank object. While this is no different from previous titles, there is a huge difference in the way these missions play out. Combat is fast and furious, as the game puts an emphasis on boosting that was never present in the older titles. If you aren’t boosting, you’re usually doing something wrong, because standing still is a death sentence that will come swiftly to those who dilly-dally. Big explosions, lots of enemies, and some fantastic arenas make this the most intense Armored Core to date. Missions clock in at about three minutes each, so players will never have time to get bored of blowing up other robots. The difficulty of these short sorties will skyrocket soon after chapter 2, so lots of time will be spent in the garage trying something new for next time. There’s also a fun multiplayer component over Xbox Live, pitting eight players against each other or in teams of four.
The game looks absolutely gorgeous, too. Recent games on the PS2 have been less than pretty, but From Software has really raised the bar with this one. The lighting is extremely detailed, which is very noticeable when boosting or firing large rockets. It isn’t uncommon to have missiles streaming all over the screen at any given time, nor is it uncommon for all of those missiles to be exploding on-screen a few seconds later. There is some truly expert use of particle effects in this game, as explosions, dust clouds, and shrapnel are all extremely detailed. Environments are destructible too, which means that your expensive new gatling gun will eviscerate rooms as well as the competition. The game looks especially impressive in HD, as there are a few details that will be missed on a smaller set. The aural presentation is excellent too, thanks to some room-rocking bass and a great orchestral soundtrack. Armored Core 4 leaps into the next generation with fantastic results.
Not everything is perfect, however. For starters, the story is, to say the least, convoluted. You’ll lose track of it after the first hour or so, but it’s not a huge issue because the story really only plays out between chapters. Secondly, while menu-hopping in the garage, the game has to load… a lot. It’s not that the loading screens are long, but there are so many of them that players will wonder why they didn’t just spend thirty seconds loading everything in the menu system rather than dividing it up into lots of five second screens. Finally, the game is entirely inaccessible to casual gamers. The game gets excruciatingly hard later on, and also forces you to learn an entirely new system of acronyms and meanings, and throws very large numbers at you. Imagine learning how to build a computer, only your computer is five stories high and travels at about 600mph. The technical jargon and sheer depth will throw all but the most determined off track.
Overall, Armored Core 4 is a brilliant game. It combines the classic sci-fi cliché of giant robot battles with the obsessive tinkering of real world mechanics. Anyone who enjoys computers, cars, or other machinery will get a kick out of the customization aspect (from body parts to paint jobs) and mecha enthusiasts, will, well… love blowing the crap out of everything. If you have the stomach for a game where 8 digit numbers are the norm, you owe it to yourself to pick up this game. While it isn’t perfect, it’s certainly the best game of its kind on the Xbox 360, or any other console at the moment.