I've always respected the Armored Core series. It has never disappointed, but there are times it certainly has been a bit less than expected. When the series made its way to the Playstation 2 platform, it lacked a punch. I'm not sure how to describe it, but all the elements were there, but it never pushed through the barrier of extraordinary.
Fast-forward to September 16th, 2008 and you have Ubisoft's next installment of the series out for fans. Armored Core For Answers is both exciting, exhilarating, but also still missing something. Read on for more answers (no pun intended).
Looking for all the right answers (pun intended)
The gameplay for this installment of Armored Core can be split in two ways: Simple and Complicated. Mom always said that you should say the good before the bad, so here goes.
The missions for the game are simple in nature, but there is a gradual difficulty to them as you continue to get better and better. I think that the missions are very straight forward with purpose. They kind of reminded me of the missions from an ancient game called Wing Commander. You're sent out to do a job, you earn some dough in the process and you get have a chance of ranking. That's the basic jest of the storyline version of Armored Core. Now, one of the cooler features of the game, which most reviewers probably won't take notice of is the storyline itself. It's not just something that was simply thrown together and pushed out so that mechs can fight. It seemed to be very-well thought out and intense for this series. You start the game, outside of quickly loading content on your hard drive, by choosing a side. It ranges from violent corporation that is out to financially rule the world to an independent agency. Now, again, it's all part of a storyline so ultimately you'll fight the same type of fights, but the story will certainly change a bit as you play.
The variety of Armored Cores available in the game was amazing. I love different choices and different fits, there's always something for everyone. It reminds me a lot of Robotech and Battletech, so you'll have to excuse my excitement on the large variety of ACs with different weapons, and strengths and weaknesses. Each set of ACs changes with the group you decide to join. So the big-wigs generally have the bigger, stronger ACs that pack a punch, but don't have much to offer in terms of speed and maneuverability. Regardless, I love the choices you get and the path you must choose to get those choices.
Anyway, most of the gameplay is pretty straight-forward and fast-paced. The missions are single by nature as you are asked to either take out something or get an objective cleared by... well... taking out something(s). The speed of which all of this is done is very impressive, as you'll be sent to quickly accomplish your goals with side quests optional. There are plenty of little things to do on the way to clearing your objective. For example, on the second mission you'll have a large booster strapped to your ACs back and you'll be just shooting through/above an ocean on your way to taking out a floating base armed with a giant gun. On the way, as you're pretty much going super-sonic speed, you've been asked (optionally) to take out carriers in front of the large base. You don't have to, but if you take out enough you'll be rewarded with a bonus (won't give it away). Throughout the entire game it's like that. Again, the game isn't a complete cake walk, so don't expect it.
The not-so-great part of the game, one in which I immediately knew this was going to be an issue, was the control scheme. If you want to survive in the game, go through training. If you don't go through training you'll be consumed by frustration and heart-ache as you'll certainly be loving on the visuals of Armored Core For Answers, but not loving on actually participating in them. When we review titles we typically go without reading instructions the first go around (or at least I do) to see what the regular video gamer sees/experiences. It's rough for Armored Core For Answers, there's truly no way to simply skip out on learning the controls. To survive and enjoy the game thoroughly, you'll want to make sure the controls are memorized. You'll want to identify your flying and burst controls, your camera and Armored controls, your two guns and your RA controls. All of these things need are on a need to know basis by you, which means you need to know them. With that said, the HUD doesn't lend you much love either, as you've got to keep up with more than two things going on with the HUD at any given time. Again, this isn't a knock, but it will frustrate some folk to no end. I just want to make sure you're prepared for this type of commitment to the game. For me, I thought everything was detailed perfectly. I think that if you're going to commit yourself to a title, like Armored Core, than you'll want to learn everything about it. People take this series very serious and you have to be ready when you finally take that step online. The best way to describe the HUD for this game is probably a Battletech simulator I once tried in Chicago on a weekend trip in the 90s. There were over ten indicators inside this simulator which all served a very serious purpose. If I didn't keep up with them than my arse-was grarse (ass was grass).
Visually appealling, and still fun
There's nothing quite like turning on your PS3 and seeing one of the best introductions to a video game in some time. It's like watching a movie trailer and just getting pumped up (see Dark Knight trailer for example)! As with Armored Core For Answers, the visuals are definitely intact. The textures on the ACs are so damn detailed. They look as if they've been carved meticulously out of clay and somehow imported into a video game. You can see the parts move and react to the order you've given through the controller. It's just neat to see all of these necessary parts react through the visuals of the game. There are very few games out there that can boast the usefulness of such details.
What's also neat about the AC in this series, particularly this game, is that you'll be able to heavily customize yours. By winning images and using a nifty color system, you will be able to make your AC truly yours. Now, with that said, you also have a very (and I mean VERY) extensive range of tuning your AC to your liking. There are more than 28 different ways to make your AC better. It's like a small version of Gran Turismo, but with gigantic robots. That's details that most games of this type simply don't feature. This is probably one of the reasons the game survived amongst all of the garbage of this genre.
Now, AC aside, the environments are HUGE! They're very big, detailed environments that are mostly easily destroyed, but still seem to captivate the eye. It isn't perfect, there are times were the visuals are a bit lame. For example, there is a base mission where you must just fly through a series of corridors in a base taking out ACs left and right. The visuals are basic (not a Microsoft pun) as the corridors are large, un-detailed tunnels. There's nothing special about them. Yet, the game has such detailed places like the very first mission where's you're on top of a structure floating on water. Hell, even the training environment is active and detailed; sand is blowing in the desert with structures standing in the middle. Overall, love what they did with the environments, but there are moments of lackluster visuals.
Get your ass kicked online, but have fun doing it
The online gig is starting to find its way onto every game these days. Armored Core For Answers is no exception. It belongs on a game like this and it works well on a game like this. Unlike Soulcalibur IV, which suffered from awful lag, Armored Core For Answers works well online. So much, in fact, that I got my ass constantly kicked on it. It wasn't because of lag! I'm humble when I lose and I lost big time. Thee are few ways to play online, they are: Ranked Match, Player Match (for those with multiple love-ones.... haha! just kidding), Quick Match, Custom Match and Create your own match. You've also got co-op play online, which is great. McGehee and I always talk about co-op online and how it should be in every game of this type, and thankfully Armored Core doesn't disappoint. Anyway, you can see how great the online play is and I can attest to it.
So with all of these things, customizability, online and single-player play, is this game fun? It all comes down to your dedication to that control scheme it sports. If you can be patient, get use to it, than yes you will have some fun with it. If you can't, than you're barking up the wrong tree. This goes with the 'value' portion of the review. If you can be patient it's certainly worth $80. If you can't, you might feel a bit cheated. The controls control everything in Armored Core For Answers. It determines if the offline and online fun is worth the trouble.
In my view, I think Armored Core For Answers is worth your time and effort, but I can understand the controls issue that it might provide to some players.