Armored Core 4 Preview
From Software's other big-robot franchise is headed to the new consoles in a matter of weeks, and we tried out the latest PlayStation 3 build.
The Armored Core series has been providing PlayStation owners with one giant-mech action fix after another since the original game landed seven years ago. Armored Core's developer, From Software, actually went to the trouble of creating an entirely separate big-robot franchise last year with the Xbox 360's well-received Chromehounds, which put a more methodically paced, squad-oriented spin on the genre. But Armored Core has always been about fast action, and that seems to remain the focus of the fourth entry in the series, which is a PlayStation 3 version that we've been tooling around in for some time now.
Armored Core 4 fits right into the established narrative framework of the series. A new world order--the Pax Economica--has been established, whereby power-hungry megacorporations have replaced national governments as the ruling bodies of the world. These companies are constantly at war with one another, and they produce a host of "armored cores" with which to fight their enemies. As a crack mech pilot, it's your job to take on these companies and try to liberate the human race, which is toiling in servitude under its corporate masters. The game doesn't present a lot of story; you get a narrated and nicely animated story sequence every few missions, and a mission briefing before each one, but otherwise, the exposition has been pretty sparse.
But Armored Core fans know the game is all about the robots, and that all seems to have been preserved here. As in past games, you gain credits by successfully completing missions that you can put toward purchasing a host of new robots made by the world's various militaristic corporations. Or you can use your money to simply enhance the armored core you're already using. You can equip a wide variety of different weapons, from plasma cannons and machine guns to explosive weapons, such as grenade launchers and cluster missiles, not to mention giant swords. All giant robots need a big sword. You can also customize the color patterns on your chassis and weapons to create a mech that truly fits your style (and matches your drapes).
So far, Armored Core 4 has presented a series of bite-size missions that we've been able to plow through in a short time. None of the levels have taken more than five minutes or so to complete, and a number of them can be knocked off in about 90 seconds. One interesting mission that marked the end of a chapter had us hunting down a remarkably skilled renegade mech pilot and putting a stop to him. His mech was being transported on a train, and we had to lie in wait and open up our firepower on him with the hope of crippling his mech before he could counterattack. When we approached this mission the first time with a default weapons loadout, the enemy pilot had plenty of time to power up his own mech after we opened fire, and he consequently gave us quite a fight. But when we approached this mission again with a more tricked-out mech later on, we were able to obliterate his mech before it got off the train car, which essentially ended the mission in a matter of seconds.
The rest of the missions we've seen have run the gamut of standard types, such as search and destroy, specific target neutralization, defense, and so on. One level dropped us on a suspension bridge and tasked us with shooting down a number of supply helicopters and their defense mechs as they passed by before then sending us to the ground to take out a similar supply train. Another mission took place in the desert in the middle of a ferocious dust storm that reduced our visibility to almost zero, so we had to rely on our radar to find the enemies we had to take out because we couldn't really see them even right in front of us.
The series' visuals have been appropriately updated for the new consoles, and while the environments and robots haven't exhibited exquisite detail so far, the game does present a cohesive aesthetic. Most of the missions have a prevailing tone to them. The desert mission set in the midst of a dust storm has an angry red look to it, while a frigid mission in which we had to defend an ice-breaking tanker from a host of enemy subs took on a bluish tint. The game makes extensive use of high-contrast lighting and other such effects to give it a striking overall presentation. Speaking of which, we've been especially impressed by the voice acting, which is used quite sparingly but is better acted than we would have expected from this type of game.
Armored Core 4 looks like it will provide plenty of the mech action that fans crave, even if it isn't making any major changes to the established formula. The game is due out in late March on both the PS3 and Xbox 360, so look for a full review around that time.
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