It's the job of a game to predict these kinds of problems and offer enough information to the user to make the customizing enjoyable for just about everybody. But that's not the case here, Armored Core 4 expects you to either guess at what you want or do some research independent of the game. The custom shop was so daunting it took me quite a few missions before I even dared buy a new missile launcher or chain gun. It wasn't until I started needing better weapons that I decided to try and decipher what felt like a foreign language.
There are a lot of problems with the custom shop, but the biggest has to be that you don't really get a clear idea of what the weapons (and armor/upgrades to a lesser extent) do. It gives you a nice grid that shows how your stats will improve, but that isn't nearly as helpful as you would think it would be. It would have made more sense if they showed you how it worked or gave you some detailed explanation of what the weapon is. And then there's the problem that the prices all seem to be hidden. You literally have to go out of your way to see how much these weapons/upgrades cost, which I didn't even notice until half way through the game. The game seems set up so that you will buy a lot of stuff without knowing the price and then pay as you exit the shop, but this means that you will likely leave the shop spending more money then you have, which means you'll have to go back and un-equip all of the stuff you bought and find your old weapons. It's one of the least user friendly arrangements I've seen in a game recently, it just felt like the people responsible for this set up went out of their way to make this a painful experience.
As you might expect the graphics in this next-gen Armored Core sequel are much better than the previous PlayStation 2 outings, full of detailed mechs and some nice lighting effects. The way the game shows heat, dust and water is all very nice, and the mechs themselves look fantastic. There are some real glimpses of brilliance as you go through the game, including some cool looking boss battles and night levels where you have to use a flare to see what to kill. But don't get too excited, because a lot of the levels in Armored Core are completely forgettable. There are entirely too many levels that are located out in the middle of a boring forest or desert, places that are lacking a lot of detail and are generally boring to look at. When the game is good it looks great, but too much of Armored Core 4 feels like they fell asleep on the job. That doesn't make these levels bad, but it would have been nice to see some more attention given to making these levels even better.
Aside from the main storyline, you also have data packs, which are basically arena battles. You choose an enemy and go up against it one on one for points and new weapons. This is especially fun when you've grown tired of losing on one or two missions over and over. In some ways I actually had more fun with these battles because it actually felt like I was doing something. As you progress through the game you will unlock more of these data packs, so there are always quite a few different enemies to battle when you need a break.
If you don't want to go up against the computer then you can also go online and take on real opponents. Since you spend so much time customizing your mech you would think that this would be a perfect online game, but you would be wrong. Very, very wrong. For one thing the game offers only a few levels, and none of those environments are even remotely interesting. And then when you actually want to create a game you'll find that you have almost no control over it, you're basically limited to choosing how many players you want and that's it. You can do the standard one-on-one to four-on-four matches, as well as a four- or eight-player battle royal. The action is fine, but it just feels like they could have done so much more with this experience. This is especially depressing after the good (though flawed) online mode in Chromehounds (which was also developed by From Software).
If you can get over some of the technical problems associated with buying new equipment and dealing with short (and often boring) missions then you should have a good time with Armored Core 4. I couldn't help but think that a lot of these problems could have been easily fixed turning this from a so-so experience into a must-own game. But even with its faults, Armored Core 4 is still a fun game that is worth checking out if you're into giant mechs and huge explosions. It doesn’t reinvent the genre or dazzle you with amazing level designs, but it does have solid controls and a lot of customizable parts. While it's definitely a good first effort on the next-gen consoles, I think a lot of people are waiting for that first great mech game on the Xbox 360. Too bad this isn't the one.
More On:Armored Core 4
With is short missions and cumbersome customizing options, Armored Core 4 isn't nearly as entertaining as it should be. But if you can get past some of the rough technical problems then you should be able to have a good time with this flawed but still enjoyable mech game.
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