Giant robot fighting, a past-time that has been a fan-favorite for many, many years has finally come to the PSP. Now you can whoop some metallic ass anywhere at anytime, in case you are wondering what I am talking about, Armored Core has finally reached Sony’s handheld in the form of Armored Core: Formula Front – Extreme Battle. Besides containing the longest subtitle in franchise history, fans will find the same basic structure they have been accustomed to, with very little change to the core game mechanic.
The game starts you off as an architect in charge of tuning and crafting five AC units for battle. Here you will have to customize your team of AC units in order to compete in a series of battles. You will hundreds of parts to choose from and you will have to account for several different options such as attack power, defense power, mobility, energy supply, cooling, and VS ECM, which is your AC unit’s resistance to electronic countermeasures that can be used to disrupt radar and weapon targeting. All of these options need to be tweaked if you want to achieve the famed S-Rank AC Unit.
You sunk my Battleship!
Taking a franchise like Armored Core into the handheld arena can be a tricky proposition, for starters the game is known for its depth and customization. Handheld systems are usually known for quick fix gaming, combining the two could result in tragedy. Thankfully the developers knew this and have toned down some of the more tedious routines found in the console versions of the series. For instance you can now simply construct your AC and let it fight on its own. While this may sound boring to some, lots of fans of the series simply enjoy creating the mechs, not actually fighting them.
While this is a handheld version of the game AC aficionados should not fear, there are still plenty of parts in which to customize your creations. In fact there are anywhere between 30+ and 70+ parts for each section of your mech, which allow for plenty of unique designs. This has always been the highlight of the series and the first portable version does not fail to impress. The biggest problem with the AC series though is the steep learning curve and trial and error mechanics. Unfortunately this hasn’t changed for Formula Front; you will still have to try out each part on the battlefield before you can get a complete grip of its abilities.
Once you get your AC built you can store them in your garage and venture into the arena for battle. There is no story line here, simply a series of battles that will increase your rank and allow you to compete against better machines. While the lack of a story was probably the best move for a handheld game, it would have been nice to get a little background info on some of your opponents. The core fighting mechanic is what you have come to expect from the series, minus of course the dual analog control found in the more recent PS2 versions. Some of the battles can seem slow and tedious, but the nice part is that that there is a great level of strategy involved, so if your AC is designed for aerial battle then you will want to fight that way or you will surely lose.
Probably my biggest gripe is the loading time, it seems to plague almost every PSP title so far and AC is one of the worst. Whether I am loading up a battle or simply trying to navigate some of the menu screens the 30-second loading intervals tend to wear on my nerves and my battery power. Even after finishing a battle and wanting to view the replay I am forced to sit through yet another loading screen, almost makes me wish Sony had opted to go with some form of cartridge for their handheld.
Robots In Disguise!
On the audio and visual side I can’t knock the game too much. The models are damn near the same detail as its console brethren and the sound and music are extremely well done. The battles move at a blistering pace and rarely ever display a hint of frame rate drop. The only real complaint I have is with the on-screen clutter during intense battles, while I appreciate being able to keep track of every single stat, I don’t need to see them every second of the battle. Thankfully you can adjust the HUD to give you a better view of the action.
If the game relied solely on the battle system it would fall flat, thankfully there is plenty of customization options to play around with and even a cool replay feature that allows you to view your battle from several angles. The wireless multi-player modes are appreciated, but we would have loved to been able to get online with this bad boy, Armored Core has yet to see an true online mode and it seriously would benefit from one. It would also have been nice to be able to trade mechs or even wage them in battle like pink slip races. Overall though fans of the series will be pleased, we can finally take our Armored Core everywhere we go, and that is something that has been missing from my life for a long time. Highly recommended for fans of the series.