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Armored Core 4
Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sega
Developer: From Software
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:
Oh, my God! Armored Core has never looked so good! Armored Core 4 marks Armored Core's first foray onto the PS3, and for the first time in quite a while, the differences are staggering.

The visual effects are phenomenal and the lighting of the scene in the background on the Menu screen is an oversaturated style that looks like artwork, but surprisingly, is actually a model of your Armored Core. I was dumbfounded the first time I hit the button that rotates the camera when on the Menu screen and got the same reaction from J.R. Nip when I showed it to him.

The customization options have been reworked, and you now have more camouflage options to select as well as a really cool "template" system which allows you to plaster decals on your AC similar to vinyl graphics for cars. You can't create your own graphics from scratch, but you can combine several designs from a wide selection provided in the game, setting the color of each one, then layering them to create your own design. These decals can then be scaled and resized and applied to the different components of your AC, allowing for completely custom looks. Tweakers like myself are likely to spend a good bit of time in this editor.

In-game, the general feel of the series is maintained, but a new slickness and polish is readily apparent. First of all, everything looks better, with upgraded graphics and special effects. Also, there is a new target camera that will appear in the upper left corner of the H.U.D. when you target an enemy, a la Chromehounds. It's also important to pay attention to your H.U.D. in the various missions, though, because some missions feature additional maps of the area or other information useful to the mission. This is more the exception than the rule, but be watching for it.

The sound effects are well done, as is the voice acting, although some of the more frequently re-used phrases get a bit cliche'. Also interesting are the FMV scenes that take an artistic, cinematic approach at setting the stage via a narrative.


Gameplay:
The familiar gameplay found in the Armored Core series is back, with a couple of upgrades. First, the target cam lets you know if you're targeting what you intended to, even at a great distance. This might not seem like a huge difference, but in certain missions, it really helps out.

Possibly the greatest change in the gameplay is the introduction of smart weaponry. The ACs you pilot in Armored Core 4 are a new type, called Nexts. The old familiar ACs are now called "Normals". The new Nexts have auto-targeting capability and can automatically switch weapons to the weapon that your AC thinks is best for the selected target. These can be turned on or off in the Options Menu, by the way. Some missions may go smoother if you set these options to disabled. Just food for thought...

In games such as Armored Core 4, that allow for a lot of customization, you may spend quite a bit of time tweaking this or that. This may not be "gameplay" per se, but it will invariably have a large impact on the enjoyment of the game. Armored Core 4's Configuration Menus seem logically organized and offer on-screen help, making them easy to use. The new "Schematic" feature that allows you to save your designs even if you can't afford to build them helps to avoid wasting time spent in designing an AC. This really should be in any game that allows customization, as it lets you plan your upgrade purchases in advance.

Armored Core 4 offers a few different multiplayer options. There is an Online Mode that allows for up to 8 players in a single game, System Link, which allows for up to 8 players on a single LAN and Split-Screen, which allows two players using only a single PS3.

The online play options include both Ranked Matches and Unranked Matches (Player Match). In addition, you can trade Schematics and image data with other players and check your online rankings and battle results. Online battle types includes Versus Modes for teams of equal numbers of players (1, 2, or 4) and a Free-for-All Mode (Battle Royal) for 4 or 8 players.


Difficulty:
There are a couple of difficulty options in Armored Core 4. These typically make slight changes to the enemies in the various missions. There are also settings that you can tailor to make the game behave more the way you want it to, however.

The new Auto-Targeting and Auto-Weapon Selection features can be turned off, for example. In most missions, however, these features lessen the difficulty. However, some missions may offer many more perfectly valid targets than you really need to concentrate on. In these cases, it might be preferred to disable the auto-targeting feature and manually target the specific targets you need to.

As is true of all of the games in the Armored Core series, the way your AC is configured will have a great impact on the difficulty level. In fact, your AC may need to be configured slightly differently between missions to better suit your machinery for the task at hand.

The other thing that can greatly affect your outcome is your strategy. First of all, pay close attention to the mission briefing to ensure that you're focusing on the proper objectives. Beyond that, if your AC is properly configured, most missions can be completed in a matter of two to four minutes. Any time I had trouble with a mission, it turned out that I either wasn't focusing on the proper objectives or I needed to make a slight change in tactics to change my situation.

Either way, though, missions are typically over quickly in Armored Core 4, whether you do well or not. The odds seem to shift quickly; I will find myself unable to complete a level, then make a small change and find the level to become much easier. Experimentation is your friend here. It can all be sleuthed out with trial and error.


Game Mechanics:
Armored Core 4 brings with it the increased graphics capabilities that you'd expect to see on the PS3, but the changes are more than just skin deep. The system for tweaking things is improved and the schematic system allows you to design and spec-out new machines even without being able to purchase the parts. This is a nice feature, allowing you to experiment with various designs before you can actually afford to build the ACs themselves.

One aspect that I really don't know how to respond to are the really short missions. Within two minutes, you can typically predict the outcome of any mission. This outcome can hinge on small details, such as changes in AC configuration or tactics. It seems that none of the missions are truly overly difficult, but it would take careful analysis of the mission, environment, AC and objectives to determine new approaches you hadn't considered previously. That gives Armored Core 4 more of a puzzle game feel at times... what thing do you need to change to go from losing to winning? Find that thing and change it to proceed.

In the end, Armored Core 4 breathes life into the series and does an excellent job of bringing the action to the PS3. Definitely a must-have for fans of the Armored Core series who are looking for a showcase PS3 title.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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