Armored Core 4 has arrived to the next generation of consoles offering updated gameplay along with a next-gen graphical sheen. Celebrating ten years of mech battles, the fourth edition hopes to keep battle alive even longer. Armored Core 4 has a lot to live up to, so I'm strapping into the cockpit to take a stroll in a giant metal killing machine in Sega’s latest, Armored Core 4.
I’ve invested more than a few hours with Sega’s Armored Core series over the last ten years. Even before I was into reviewing games for a living, I simply enjoyed them, and the Armored Core games have always been some of the best. Armored Core, Mechassault and 1998’s Shogo: Mobile Armor Division are the only “mech” games that have made an impact on me which says something given the amount of mech games that have been released over the years. The genre of giant robot mech’s can be sad underdeveloped genre that can often ends up on the bad side of gaming, even if you’re running on next generation hardware (Mobile Suit Gundam). It’s hard for me to admit it, but it’s unfortunate that I’m going to have to place Armored Core 4 in that category, the forgettable.
Armored Core 4 had a lot going for it, which adds to the disappointment. Sega has built a game that has the foundation to be another hit, but somewhere along the lines signals must have been crossed. Armored Core 4 comes at the player with a typical, “who cares, lets shoot” storyline that taunts the player to hit the skip button during the cut scenes, only to find out it doesn’t work. The more you try and get the storyline of the Nation Dismantlement War and the Pax Economica and the Ravens, the more you will be confused, so it’s best just to focus on the action. The action which is easy to get into is broken down into a short collections of missions that range from shoot this, to shoot that. If Armored Core 4 is in-depth outside of the mech creation, I must have fallen asleep at the wheel.
There are 30 missions in total in Armored Core 4 and only a handful of them are fun. The strong contributor to the lack of fun is the short mission lengths and simplistic boring objectives. It’s really hard to have fun when a mission can be completed in two minutes. It’s not like all the missions are quick either, if they are a little longer they seem to drag on a little too long which can be attributed to the boring objectives. The playing areas are also restricted in Armored Core 4 to a small area which should have been expanded and played out as major battles. Why Armored Core 4 has so many a restricted game field is beyond me and it gets worse, travel outside for a little too long and its game over. The restricted gaming area might be viewed as challenging to some gamers, but I found it to be annoying.
For changes Armored Core 4 has a few worth mentioning, for the good and the bad. One unwise change that has been made is mech overheating. Making sure you mech doesn’t overheat was always a major strategizing point to mech battles that is empathized in multiplayer play. It’s strange that they finally let you venture into water, and then they take away the heat mechanic in the game. Heating up and water in the terrain would have made for some real interesting online battles; unfortunately Armored Core 4 missed the boat with in this aspect. I should also mention that Armored Core 4 runs at a faster pace then before which takes away the illusion of piloting a huge heavy mech. I can understand the quickened pace to attract the new generation of attention challenge gamers, but I think this was another turn in the road that Armored core didn’t need to take.
A large aspect of Armored Core has always been about customization, and in this area Armored Core 4 doesn’t let anyone down. Like previous entries you can totally customize your mech right down to the smallest detail. You can create your own mechs and save and load schematics and edit any mech available in the game. Building custom mechs can become a fascination that is highly involved and if you get hooked you’ll be heading online for some real competition. Really, building mechs is only fun when played against friends, or online in battle. It’s not as much fun building a killer mech in the storyline; it’s the challenge of beating your friend’s design that is the real reward.
Cosmetically you can now make your killer mech more beautiful then before with the ability to graft decals on your mech, along with the ability to paint your Weapons. The interface has also been overhauled making it easy to apply changes. Armored Core 4 also introduces Primal Shields that are equipped to the body’s core which adds some extra protection. They have also changed around a few parts on the mechs so it’s not identical to previous games, but they changes are small are mainly related to boosters.
Multiplayer gaming in Armored Core is one aspect that Sega understands and they have built in a list of options to do battle with friends, this includes system linking, split screen multiplayer, and online play. The online matches offer up to eight players with a list of 2 vs. 2, or 4 vs. 4 styled deathmatches. I didn't have too much time to explore the online community, but I can imagine it could turn the tide for some gamers who are into competitive online gaming.
The graphic and sound department isn’t going to stop the mixed emotions for Armored Core 4, and I wish it would have, but it’s another mixed up bucket of bolts. The biggest hit to the graphical content are washed up environments which offer up as much variety as the Kalahari Desert. The levels are barren of almost all life except the mechanical pilot mechs that you face. Armored Core 4 also has a weird polish over all the mechs and environments that adds a little style, but becomes overused and bland. One technical aspect that comes into fold in Armored Core 4 is the particle effects, and the lighting. The shadowing off buildings and the lighting engine can be remarkable at times compared to the rest of the project. If the rest of graphics looked like these traits Armored Core 4 could have been one hot number.
The real story of success in Armored Core 4 is the variety and design aspects of the mechs. The clever designs help pull Armored Core 4 from the recycling plant. It’s nothing we really haven’t seen before in this franchise, but it is a little more detailed, a little more polished, and slightly more interesting. The customization has been streamlined, but there is enough content for mech-heads to study the unique design aspects from mech to mech. After I tired the PS3 version, it stacked up to the Xbox 360 version without a real noticeable graphic hit to either system.
Armored Core 4 doesn’t have enough fuel to power up this awkward version of Armored Core. From Software tried to move in a slightly new direction with an improved, streamlined customization and a quicker game pace, but it doesn't get the job done. The entire production feels unforced, with a overly complex storyline and repetitive meaningless missions. I wanted to love my sweet Armored Core action, but I have been denied. If you want the real Armored Core experience, I suggest you save your $60 and rent an older version of the game, Armored Core 2 for the Playstation 2 being my pick.
Gameplay: 5.5, Graphics/Sound:7, Innovation: 6, Mojo: 5.5 Final: 6 / 10