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Armored Core: Formula Front Preview

Scheduled release date:
November 2004 (Japan)
Release Date:

The Armored Core series has a small but loyal following in North America, but it's pretty huge in Japan. That said, will the series' North American distributor, AgeTec, take the plunge and release Armored Core: Formula Front here?

Armored Core: Formula Front is a pair of related games–one for the PS2 and one for the PSP. The PSP game actually looks just as good as the PS2 game, making it one of the few titles that fulfills Sony's "promise" that their portable has the same horsepower as a PS2. The interesting thing about both versions of Formula Front is that they're not mission-based action games like the other iterations of the AC series have been.

Instead, developer From Software is fashioning Armored Core: Formula Front as a strategy game. Players don't control the robots directly in battle, but instead assemble the robots together, assign certain traits to the pilot (via behavior sliders), and then issue general commands during battle. The battle itself plays out automatically while the camera orients itself and swoops around to provide the best, and most cinematic, vantage point.

From what we've seen, what the game lacks in hands-on play it gains in sheer beauty. The mechs and backgrounds in Formula Front are way more detailed than the mechs in previous Armored Core games, and, since the developers don't have to make the environments as expansive as in the past, they've kicked up the level of detail with loads of new flame, heat, water, and transparency effects. When a robot fires a missile volley, you can actually see the hatch covers pop open and watch scortch marks form on the robot's shoulders as the heat from the rocket engines burns the robot's metallic hull.

So how will it play?

Players will assemble a garage of five mechs, or "Cores." Like previous Armored Core games, each robot consists of a head, a body, a leg set, an arm set, a generator, a radiator, and optional weapons for the left arm, right arm, left shoulder, and right shoulder. The cash earned from battles can be spent on better parts or used to tune them. After assembling a mech, players will assign the pilot a personality by adjusting a set of five sliders that refer to offense, defense, counter-attacking, and close-range and long-range styles. Once this process is done for each mech in the garage, players pick the order that their Cores will fight in battle, and then the battle begins.

During battle, there's very little player interaction. You can pause to change fighting styles on the fly, but otherwise the fight plays out as a TV-style boxing match where you're mostly a spectator. The camera angle changes on the fly (close-up, chase, picture-in-picture, black-and-white, blur) and initiates dramatic slow-motion when exciting happenings occur.

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