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Armored Core 4 (Xbox 360) artwork

Armored Core 4 (Xbox 360) review

"Don't let the number on the end of Armored Core fool you: here we have a series that's run a lot longer than the aforementioned '4' would have you believe. Totalling eleven titles thus far in, FROM Software have steadily marched their mechanical army into the homes of players since the early days of the PSX. Armored Core 12 4 is the first game to feature on the newest wave on console, but itís very much a case of not straying from the beaten track."

Don't let the number on the end of Armored Core fool you: here we have a series that's run a lot longer than the aforementioned '4' would have you believe. Totalling eleven titles thus far in, FROM Software have steadily marched their mechanical army into the homes of players since the early days of the PSX. Armored Core 12 4 is the first game to feature on the newest wave of consoles, but itís very much a case of not straying from the beaten track.

Continuing the trend that started recently with Armored Core 3, players no longer use the shoulder buttons to change the pitch of your camera angle, doing away with the clunky but authentic feel of piloting a giant robot in favour of the tried-and-tested third-person norm of nudging the right analogue stick to swing your view around. Neither changed is the heavy customisation that players can and must undertake on their mech -- or 'Core', as the AC series prefers to call them -- if they hope to stand a chance against opponents who think nothing of outclassing any of the standard six machines you can choose to start with. Will you equip your Core with a quick-firing mini-gun or a hard-hitting bazooka? Will you do away with an adaptable weapon choice all together and graft on twin heavy assault rifles instead of standard arms? Will you stalk the battlefields on a bipedal base, use tank tracks, or employ an arachnid-like four-leg set-up? The build of your Core is just as, if not more, important than your skill as a pilot.

You're even encouraged to change your set-up on the fly. When a missionís starting position is on the opposing bank of a heavily-guarded set of missile stylos, an energy blade is no good, but long-range missiles are a must. When youíre forced to speed through a man-made smokescreen to strike down enemy NORMALS, sacrificing your radar system in order to graft a huge laser to your back is suicide. Thereís nothing wrong with buying that long-range rifle or that specialist bit of sacnning equipment for only the one mission before dropping it back in your store room to collect dust or even to sell back to your equippers. Not only is there nothing wrong with this practise, but itís oftentimes essential.

It's not just the strong AI or superior Cores that will drive you forward; the politically-themed plot will catapult you into short bite-sized missions with constantly changing assignments. You might find yourself skating over a shallow bay trying to strike down docked submarines that constantly litter you with tomahawk missiles while attack choppers buzz around your head like angry bees, while the very next mission suspends you a hundred feet above the ground on a railway bridge and charges you with stopping the incoming carriage before it either bulldozes you off your perch or the long-range artillery trained on you blasts your Primal Armour rating down to zero, sending you and your robot back to the scrap heap.

Primal Armour is another new spin on the franchise. This works much like an overshield; while it's fully charged, you'll take only minimal damage from explosive rockets, tracer bullets and melee weapons the size of your house. However, it can only absorb so much punishment, and other aspects of your Core rely on it as a power source, such as the Quick Boost that hurtles your machine in any direction to swiftly avoid incoming attacks. This forces you to strike a cerebral balance on how you dodge incoming attacks; you can't just weave around them in this fashion without weakening your overall defence.

You can boost without resorting to that option, of course, but not as suddenly or violently. You're free to plod along in any of the differing environments as fast as your legs (or tracks) will carry you, or you can speed yourself up by using your burners to propel you either forward or upwards. You can literally skate across blackened tarmac or lush hills as easily as you can dance through the backdrop of a dying sunset or attack jet-choked skies of perpetual twilight. Sometimes you feel like you need an extra set of fingers and a spare thumb or two to keep your Core on the move and launch whatever artillery you have grafted to it, but the mastering of the system is nothing short of one of the most rewarding experiences a video game can give you.

Should you wish to stray into the improved version of the arena (now dressed up as a simulator, letting you upload various NEXT Cores to battle), youíll need all the practise and experience you can lay your hands on. NEXTS are not your normal run-of-the-mill Cores: their pilots are linked directly to the machines, giving them significantly superior abilities than the lumbering NORMALS youíll battle out on the field. In the simulator, you can go head-to-head with the digital representation of your own allies or take on the highest-ranking enemy foes so long as you obtain their data. You obtain new simulation downloads after each successful chapterís completion, along with a new garage worth of mech upgrades to purchase, stock up on or employ. Winning these simulations gives you much more than a sense of pride: like the missions you undertake, thereís a significant cash bonus to be won depending on your performance and successful fights unlock greater bits of kit for your Core to abuse.

Keeping your cash high and your Core upgrades frequent is a must when Armored Core 4 has less of a difficulty curve and more a difficulty 400ft plummet. Failing a mission is not a finale, but a stumbling block, giving you chance to stop and rethink your position. Do I bulk up the armour, graft on a bigger gun and try to take out those long-rang cannons littered all over the canyon walls? Or do I lighten the machhine up and concentrate on zipping through the centre of the valley, dodging as many of the heat-seeking missiles as I can? Itís not just about shooting, itís about preparation, and itís about evening the odds with the right mindset and the right equipment.

The last mission in chapter 2 drills this lesson hom. Like in all times of conflict, whether Amazigh is a bloodthirsty war criminal or a hero of the people depends solely on which side you reside. His Core, the Barbaroi, is a light model; build for mobility but packing serious heat. Dropped off in the carcass of a once prosperous city, you lurk in the long shadows cast by the broken husks of what was once someoneís home, the setting sun sending hazy heat waves from the simmering, silent desert.

In time, a clumsy transport makes it way down the lonely, winding road, oblivious to your presence in this graveyard of buildings. Your choices are simple: you can hold position in their blind spot, only to rush the articulated truck, blasting and slashing it to smithereens before it has the chance to launch the NEXT into combat or you can stand in the middle of the road and invite the fight. In time, a third Core will join the fray, but what depends on nothing but which faction houses the highest bidder.

Armored Core 4 is not to be taken lightly. Take the time to immerse yourself into its world and never look back.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (July 04, 2007)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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