It seems like only yesterday when From Software dropped their long-running franchise on the gaming community. Now here we sit six years and seven games later with the fourth official chapter in the Armored Core universe, and for the first time in the series’ history a true upgrade to the formula. AC4 has been spruced up in the visuals department and toned down in the mechanics making it a more user-friendly experience that is easy to pick up while still managing to retain most of the depth fans have come to know and love about the series.
The first and most obvious upgrade is the visuals. While the past games all had the same look and feel AC4 retains a new gritty overtone that suits the series better than ever. The lighting is especially good with explosions lighting up the sky to the way your boosters illuminate the ground below as you traverse across the terrain. Depth of filed has been handled with a nice blur effect that adds to the dark and surreal world the game takes place in. The frame rate is smooth, particle effects amazing, and for the first time in the series the environments are somewhat destructible. Aside from a few clipping issues here and there the visuals in this game really go far in enhancing the experience.
Fans of the series will no doubt also notice the change in the game’s pacing. As opposed to earlier incarnations where missions would drag on endlessly, the developers have decided to spice it up with quick sorties that break up the action perfectly. The best part about this is that instead of sitting down with the game and jamming through one mission, you can now explore a variety of options without worrying about losing progress due to lengthy missions. The missions are also more than just your standard “go here, kill that” mentality, although there is plenty of that to be found.
In total there are 37 different missions and they will range from simple one-on-one battles with other mechs to destroying an onslaught of guided missiles. While each mission does have a pinch of variety you will rarely find one that lasts longer than five minutes, in fact most end up just over a minute long if you know what you are doing. This fast-paced action could turn off some fans of the genre used to slow moving behemoths, but then again Armored Core has always been a more arcadey experience so this new structure fits the game nicely.
To accommodate this faster game play mechanic the boys at From Software have completely revamped the boosting system in AC4. No longer will you find yourself running out of juice in the heat of a battle. Now your boost meter only depletes if you are going vertical or using the new super boost. This makes movement much faster and trust me you need it. This also eliminates the need to worry about overheating as the entire coolant aspect has been completely erased.
Even with all of these new ideas there is still one thing that makes Armored Core stand out and that is its customization aspect. With the fourth iteration From Software has dumbed down the overall experience a little, but there are still plenty of options here to toy around with. From the outset you will be given the option to choose between three distinct mech types that will fit your play style. These schematics are the name of the game and allow newcomers the ability to simply pick and choose a mech style that works for them. The customization is still available, but with the fusion of the shop and assembly sections into one central hub they are easier to navigate.
What is confusing though is the way items are purchased and equipped. For instance when you sell and item it is not automatically unequipped. This can lead to serious frustration as you attempt to leave the store only for it to inform you that you need to do this. It is also hard to decipher exactly what you are buying when leaving the shop thus leading to you purchasing items blindly most of the time. While it can be navigated fine once you get the swing of things, the initial frustration is more than enough to drive you crazy at times.
While the assembly interface, for the most part has been completely redesigned with new users in mind it can still present confusion with abbreviations and massive selections of parts. Whether you know the difference between an FCS and an FRS may seem irrelevant, but learning all the finer points is part of the fun anyways. Tuning can now be made automatic which eliminates some of the hassle although learning to tune it yourself will certainly bode better results in the long run.
In addition to the convoluted single-player missions (as if a coherent story was ever a part of the series anyway) you have a very functional online mode that will keep you busy long after the campaign has ended. This is where the game shines as fans of the series have long been clamoring for a true online mode. Taking your customized death machine online and totally embarrassing some poor sap across the globe is what AC fans have been waiting what seems like an eternity for and for the most part this game delivers. The maps are a bit disappointing with most of them consisting of barren wastelands the action is still smooth and certainly worth checking out if you are online. You can have typical one-on-one matches, four-on-four, and even up to eight player battle royals, all of which run extremely smooth across your broadband connection.
You can also trade your custom schematics online with buddies, but this does pose a hassle as you have to accommodate your FRS to their settings, which in the end becomes more of a hassle than its worth. Aside from the online mayhem you also have a collection of Data Packs that are unlocked throughout the single-player game. Each Data Pack is essentially a new combatant that you will face in a virtual arena. Defeat them and you will earn their schematic thus giving you more options to customize your mech. Overall there is plenty here to keep fans of the series playing for months on end.
With a revamped mission structure, online play, and brand new control scheme Armored Core 4 is a must own for fans of the series like myself. While there are a few glaring problems the core experience is still enjoyable. The dissolution of the cooling system and easier-to-navigate assembly interface will likely draw in some new blood for the series and the focus on a faster-paced action experience makes the game more accessible to the casual crowd. While not for everyone AC4 has more than enough for anyone willing to look past it’s minor shortcomings.