You would think that mech games would be a perfect fit on a video game system. After all you're piloting a giant killing machine that you can customize and use to blow just about anything up. Mechs and video games just seem like the perfect fit, yet so often we have to put up with substandard games that end up taking all of the fun and excitement out of what should otherwise be an amazing experience. Armored Core 4 is one mech game that manages to get a lot of things right, but at the same time I can't help but feel that with only a few minor tweaks it could have been a much more enjoyable experience.
Not only is this the first next-gen Xbox 360 Armored Core game, but this is the first time the series has hit the Xbox 360 at all. Before this we had seen the Armored Core line (which included both numbered sequels and spin-offs) on the PlayStation platforms. As an introduction to the series Armored Core 4 is as good a place as any to start, but due to its painfully short levels, lame multiplayer, and difficult custom workshop some Xbox 360 owners may be left wondering what the big deal was.
When you start up the game you get this amazing cinema introduction that is full of detailed graphics, huge explosions and cool looking mechs. It really makes you think that there's going to be something cool on the other side of this carefully produced cinema. Unfortunately there isn't, after you start the game you have to put up with boring cut-scenes that advance the story at a snail's pace. The story itself is completely forgettable and the only thing that really matters is that it sets you up for dozens of short (albeit fun) missions that you can take in just about any order.
At the onset you can choose from several different mech types, each with their own specialty and stats. From there you are on to tackle your first several missions, which all involve killing a bunch of enemies and surviving to the end of your mission. The first thing I noticed when starting Armored Core 4 was that all of the mission felt very short, some of them were only a few minutes in length. If it wasn't for the graphic fidelity I might think that this was originally intended to be a PSP game, the missions are just very short and to the point. While the game's difficulty does increase as you move through the 37 missions, the length of the missions is still a little too short. In your typical mission you are dropped into an open wasteland and are tasked with taking out the leaders of the opposition. This means that you have to find and defeat the main enemy (which is generally the bad guy with the largest mech), which takes no more than five minutes and sometimes as little as sixty seconds. And then after you've done that a little message will pop up and tell you that the mission was a success and then it just fades out.
Thankfully there are missions that are more interesting than just going in and killing a bunch of bad guys, but to be honest that is what a good chunk of these missions have you doing. Some of the levels are nothing more than variations on the traditional escort mission, such as having to protect a large boat as it cuts through the icebergs, protecting an airfield so that the "good guys" can use it to launch further assaults, and so on so forth. There are a few other types, including some fun one on one battles that remind me a little bit of Sega's classic arcade game Virtual On.
But let's be clear here, what you do in the missions isn't the real problem. Even when I was doing nothing more than blowing other guys up I was still having a great time. My problem lies solely on the fact that the missions are just too short, it seems that just about the time I start to have fun the mission is over and I'm off to the next level. Part of me really wanted to see them do more with these levels, but the entire game plays out where you just go in and do one thing and then you're out.
For the most part the mechs handle fine, they are occasionally a little stiff … but then again, we are talking about giant mechs. Your mech does all of the basic stuff, you can use your energy to fly into the air and sprint straight ahead. But the real fun of a giant mech is the weapons, and Armored Core 4 definitely delivers in this department. From the get-go your mech will feature four different weapons, two that are stored away and two that you can use at any time. Each of the two main weapons are mapped to the A and X buttons, and if you get bored of those weapons you can select the secondary weapons at any time. This means that you can have everything from a short range to long range to everything in between all ready to go at a moment's notice, which makes your mech ready for any situation the game throws at you.
If you've played an Armored Core game (or really any mech game for that matter) then it won't come as a surprise that you have a lot of different weapons and upgrades at your fingertips. You start out with only a few different items you can buy, but as you progress through the game (and play the bonus missions) you will be able to select from an impressive collection of weapons, armor and upgrade chips. The problem is that there's just so much stuff that it's often confusing to narrow down what you want. While I'm sure some gearheads and mech enthusiasts won't have a problem deciding on parts, it's worth mentioning that those of us who haven't been studying mechs for twenty years probably will feel a bit lost and overwhelmed.
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