Armored Core 4 Review

For someone who has never played an Armored Core game before, the fourth entry in the series sure took a lot of getting used to. Mandatory training missions offered the obligatory hand-holding, but it lacked that concrete and tangible slam bang "gotta play it" moment that most action games have, or moreover, require. The first few hours proved to be a slog, wherein the game did nothing to present its structure or purpose to me, instead choosing to conceal itself within a legion of menus and convolution.

I suppose, if this entry is anything to go by, what the Armored Core hardcore are really into are menus. Entering practically any menu in the game sets off a domino chain of submenu upon submenu, and mazes of text that may or may not end with loading screens. They must really love these load times, too, as the fourth game sure loves to dish ’em out nice and long.

Nah, what the Armored Core devotees really love are big freakin’ robots. And what they really, really love is architecting them from the ground up.

A comparison to Gran Turismo isn’t out of place. AC4 plays to a similar gearhead mentality, in that every part of your machine is available to be customized and tuned into oblivion. Like, literally, everything. There’s the cosmetic stuff (which holds inherent value towards various parameters of your mech, such as defense and weight characteristics), but also the raw, not so obvious stuff like engines, computer chips, and radar systems. It’s entirely possible to play the game successfully while completely avoiding the more obtuse and technical aspects, but it’s there if you’re interested. There are even fake companies and product numbers attached to all of it. To me, things like this ended up defining what Armored Core was all about in the end; it wasn’t exactly the gameplay, it definitely wasn’t the story, and it certainly wasn’t the graphics.

Seems like Sega forgot to give From Software that "next-gen" memo; the game looks merely passable on the PS3. The mechs themselves — or "Nexts", as the game will have you call them — look good enough, but the backgrounds, environments, and effects are a joke. Visually, this game wouldn’t impress even the most naïve casual gamer. Aside from some nice lighting and bloom effects, the game feels very PS2. Let’s not forget that From Software was responsible for Otogi on Xbox, a game that visually rose above its action game brethren a few years ago. Folks, it’s no lie that Otogi looks better than AC4. Put them together and I’ll guarantee that most people would be fooled into believing that their years old Xbox game is the real next-gen title. It outclasses their new game, visually, in every way. Yikes.

The funny thing, though, is that underneath this ugly, convoluted shell of a game, a palpable addiction awaits the right kind of person. The gameplay itself is pretty useless left on its own, but coupled with the customization options — of which there are legions — limitless potential awaits. The key to unlock all of this nonsense lies in one’s patience; if you love giant robots that much, and can deal with the fact that the actual gameplay isn’t all that special, than this game is worth a look.

Basically, there are two facets to Armored Core 4: missions and building mechs. Unfortunately, the missions are far too drab, dull, and similar to work on their own. Usually involving "go here, kill this", or "stay here, protect this", little is done to add spice to a generic, predictable formula. Boss battles interrupt the slow pace to decent effect. No one in their right mind would work themselves through this game’s story mode to, you know, figure out the story. No, the missions are there for the cash. Missions exist entirely to earn you dough that will be used in the game’s real bread and butter: building a giant robot to your exacting tastes and preferences.

The classes and types of bringers of destruction are vast and limitless. Snipers, scouts, heavy weapons, grenadiers, lancers, and many more are available to combine and customize. This is the game’s true draw: to create something entirely unique to you. There’s a certain joy in seeing something that you labored for hours and spent millions of in-game dollars on just go wild on your enemies. There are a few particularly sticky missions about half-way through the game that serve as a threshold to bar progress for weaker players, scarecrows of sorts that ward off those without devotion. A palpable joy was earned in completely rebuilding my mech with high-end and expensive parts, and re-imagining it from the ground up to accommodate the difficulty spike. Seeing my "Bosskiller", as it was dubbed, soar to the heavens, raining missiles (and eventually destruction) on the enemies that stalled my progress felt like a true achievement.

For something so heavily minded on customization, it’s nice that Sega offered a robust system for trading them over Xbox Live and PSN. I’m positive that this title will earn itself a niche audience eager to swap original creations with each other; it’s just too bad that nobody will want to actually use them. Multiplayer is uninteresting and incompetent, as the maps, modes, and features define bare-bones. A few of the levels are flat, monochromatic arenas, while most are recreations of the boring locales offered up in the single player. It’s a total snooze, and a wasted opportunity.

And that’s kind of the catch with AC4; the actual gameplay feels unfinished. The parts of the game where you’re doing something, going somewhere, fighting or protecting something are kind of drab and decidedly "stock"; it’s all very by-the-numbers. In the way that this average, mundane game mingles with the limitless potential of its customization opportunities, a small and simple kind of brilliance will find its audience. So, in that sense, the gameplay wins by showing up. For most people, this won’t cut it. But for that niche market that eats this kind of stuff up, really, the sky’s the limit.



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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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