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Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle
Score: 83%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: From Software
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 (2 Wi-Fi Ad-Hoc)
Genre: Simulation/ Third Person Shooter/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:
If you want to see really good graphics on your PSP, look no further. Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle is beautiful, looking like a smaller version of a PS2 game on a wide screen. You will be treated to various views and even post-processing special effects while watching replays. In the A.I. mode, you don't have any direct control over your AC's actions, but you instead can use just as many controls to change your view in various ways. After a round, you get detailed data analysis of the performances of both of the AC's in the battle, charted and presented for your scrutiny.

One very useful graphical element of Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle is an easy to read chart that displays your AC's strength levels in various categories, such as Attack Power, Defense Power, Mobility, Engine Supply, Cooling and Rating versus Electronic Counter Measures, as well as your AC's overall Rating. These ratings are assigned a letter rank, which follow standard grading where 'A' is the highest and 'B' is the next highest, with the exception that there is actually a grade higher than 'A' - 'S', which is 'Superior'. The chart that I mentioned helps to display your AC's strengths with its surface area; the chart is a regular hexagon and there is a hexagonal polygonal shape whose corners indicate your AC's rating in one of the above-mentioned attributes. Your goal when building and tweaking your AC is to find a balance between maximizing the total area (which in turn directly increases your total AC rating) and specializing in specific aspects, such as Attack Power or Mobility. Certain enemies may require that you combine a special mix of high rating in a given attribute and A.I. that makes the best use of this attribute when building up your AC. This chart is available within the different building screens (such as Assembly or Parts Tune) by pressing the triangle button to switch your data view.

The sound effects are believable and the soundtracks are an appropriately up-tempo collection of songs that keep your blood pumping without attracting your attention away from the gameplay.


Gameplay:
Hmmm... How can I put this? One of the best things about Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle is that you don't have to play it. ...Mind you, that's not a slam - I like the game. It's just that every time you are about to start a league battle, you can choose to either manually control your AC (play it) or let A.I. control your AC for you. Either way, you do have your part to play, the difference is whether you're directly controlling you AC during the battle or whether you're watching your AC act based on the A.I. you've tweaked and tailored to your own strategy. Those gamers who are interested in artificial intelligence for games will find this aspect intriguing. You can configure basic aspects of your AC's A.I., such as frequency of jumping and dashing and offensive/defensive bias.

Difficulty:
The first Series - the B Series - is almost a joke. I proceeded all the way through the chart without even trying to pilot an AC by hand. I simply played around with a single AC and adjusted its A.I. with the new operations as I received them.

The R-Series ranking, however, will quickly stop your laughter. To get past the first opponent in this league, I had to learn the controls and manually control my AC. To get past the next opponent, I had to work over my AC. A lot. And switch to another AC and customize that one for the task. And switch back to the first AC and customize it. A lot. Everything was evaluated, from the parts used to the A.I. I was using. Then everything was optimized with the specific opponent in mind. After all this work? I'm much closer to beating this opponent, but I'm still working on it. Perhaps I took the easier B-Series league too much for granted and didn't learn as much as I should have, but the difference between the two leagues disqualifies it from being described as a "curve". That having been said, Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle has a rather steep learning cliff.

One thing that will help you to make better decisions is the chart mentioned above in Graphics and Sound. This chart really helps to take the guess work out of tweaking and upgrading your AC. Especially use this chart when selecting your inside parts. Some make a large change to your stats, while others don't seem to make a difference at all.

You'll also want to play around with the various A.I. settings quite a bit to see what they do - and how they work with the AC you've put together. One thing to keep in mind is that you only have to win your battles once, regardless of how many times you lose and retry. If your current setup looked promising but then lost in the very end, retry; slight changes in the next battle might put you on top. If you still don't win after a few tries, try to determine what is your biggest issue, then change your AC's parts, optimizations or A.I. to attempt to address this issue.

One additional note is that playing in tournament battles will help you. Even if you give up after losing and go back to tweaking your AC, you will be earning points to new A.I. processes that you can use strategically to increase your chances of winning future battles.


Game Mechanics:
I'm not going to complain about the control layout for manually controlling AC's in Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle. They weren't the easiest to manage - by a longshot - but this type of game seems to require more control than is easily allowed by the PSP. There is no single control on the PSP that I would say is awkward to use (with the possible exception of the analog stick with its short throw), but they get a bit gangly when you have to try to use them all together at the same time. Mind you, if you think you can find a better layout that would be less cumbersome, you can use the provided Key Assign feature to give it your best shot. I'm not complaining about the default layout, however, but rather I'm simply saying that there's an awful lot to control in Manual mode - with a whole lot of tightly-located controls to manage it.

This control issue is made up for by A.I. configuration feature. Since the game actually presents A.I.-controlled AC's first and foremost and presents the manual operation as if it were a little known way that is surprisingly allowed in league play, the difficulty of manually controlling an AC is easily overlooked. Mind you, it's not impossible, just not as easy as you'd want.

The amount of configuration and customization allowed in Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle is nothing less than amazing. Not only can you choose from hundreds of parts to build your AC's from (you manage a team of 5), but you can tweak each part's performance and color as well as customizing each of your AC's A.I. with their own unique base A.I. strategy, distributing your AC's processing prowess across different aspects of battle and utilizing special chips that allow an AC to use a special tactic for a predefined section in the time-line of the battle. You have a lot of control over your AC's control - if you lose, you can only blame yourself.

If you're into the Armored Core series and you're looking for some portable entertainment or if you have more than a passing interest in video game A.I., you should pick up Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle. There's a lot of challenging tweaking ahead of you.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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