"If you play manually and ignore the AI, the chip bonuses are meaningless and the overall game simplistic... but those who defy conventional "control it yourself" wisdom and strive to hone their core's AI performance will be pleased by the depth of Formula Front: Extreme Battle."
This is a story of blood, sweat, and gears. This is a story of heroic competition and tragic defeat. This is Armored Core's equivalent of the pennant race. This is Formula Front: Extreme Battle!
Unlike past Armored Core entries, Formula Front eschews mission-based gameplay and sticks entirely to one-on-one, Virtual On arena combat. Don't be fooled! Despite the battle-oriented tournament format, mech ("core") customization is the game's definite focus. Winning battles often depends on seemingly minor upgrades and highly specialized fine-tuning, be it decreasing the radiator's weight by 140 pounds or increasing an arm unit's "aiming accuracy" by a paltry two points. Once the perfect core is built, the game offers a variety of paint schemes; each part can be individually colored, even down to the joints.
This quest for technical and aesthetic perfection was so addicting that I actually spent two valuable hours of my life drawing a custom emblem for my five-mech team. Unfortunately, since I suck at Armored Core Paint just as much as I suck at MS Paint, I ended up using one of the sample emblems. I chose the clover. I like leaves.
Nothing in Formula Front is ever purchased; you're given the keys to the Armored Core kingdom right from the start. You could conceivably outfit your very first core with the most powerful sword, the strongest armor, and the most intelligent head. The challenge is to recognize and match pieces together in a logical and efficient manner -- a mech loaded down with heavy armor won't be able to get close enough to stab anything. Missiles -- although weaker -- would be a wiser choice of weapon. There's one important rule: parts absolutely can never, never ever, be shared between mechs on the same team! This restriction actually forces you to diversify and experiment with different appendages, from flexible humanoid legs to speedy tank treads.
Even though you're allowed to build five different models, you'll have to pick a single core to champion your team when each battle begins. Every fight offers a choice between AI combat (which boils down to just watching the cores fight on their own) or manual control, which wasn't even available in the original Japanese version. The manual control generally makes the game a lot easier, because you can take advantage of subtleties in the terrain (such as hiding behind pillars in the factory venue) and closely monitor energy consumption or heat levels.
But that would be missing the point! Since it only has arena battles (NO missions), Formula Front's manual mode is nothing more than a limited "pocket" version of its console siblings. The REAL concept behind Formula Front is to build your core and then install an appropriate Artificial Intelligence system. The degree of AI customization is impressively large; you can alter behavioral attributes (such as how often the mech jumps), adjust ten different performance levels (such as how quickly it can locate an enemy's position), or install customized AI chips which control specific actions (such as prioritizing blade or missile attacks).
When facing a blade-swinging behemoth, it's wise to load a core down with missiles and enable the "keep your distance" AI chip. When an enemy core has a habit of raining projectile death from the sky, a highly mobile mech equipped with the "zig zag movement" AI chip will have a better chance of evading and closing in. Formula Front's all about customizing and designing a killer AI that complements the mech's physical design.
Even the opponents are excited about building new models. Through the email system, one rival kept telling me about his upgrades and battle experiences. He even talked about the first time he attended a promotional event and signed a bunch of autographs. LIKE I CARE. But... somehow... I do care. When I read Formula Front news stories about the top team being "bored" by the lack of competition, a part of me really wants to kick their conceited butts.
The only tangible rewards you'll earn for kicking butts are additional behavioral chips -- every gun, every energy sabre, every set of legs is available from the very beginning. If you play manually and ignore the AI, the chip bonuses are meaningless and the overall game simplistic... but those who defy conventional "control it yourself" wisdom and strive to hone their core's AI performance will be pleased by the depth of Formula Front: Extreme Battle.
They just won't be quite as pleased as if they'd instead imported Formula Front: International, which features fifty extra battles on top of the US edition's thirty-five.
Staff review by Zigfried (January 13, 2006)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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