From Software's Armored Core franchise has been one of the leading mech-series' out there. Having debuted way back on the original PlayStation, Armored Core serviced those who wanted games like MechWarrior on a home console. Though not quite MechWarrior, Armored Core's immense customization features showed gamers something they haven't seen before in a console game. With that, Armored Core was able to quickly garner a fan base and the attention of the press, too. Though, with time, the franchise began to age. The controls started to feel clunky and cumbersome –perhaps too robotic– and the action suffered too. Praise for the game ranked around the average levels, but fans still seemed to enjoy the titles. Now that we've entered another generation of consoles, we will soon see the third generation of Armored Core unravel. Come March, Sega will be publishing the fourth Armored Core title in the US…and it looks like we're in for some changes.
The game is more intense and far quicker than it's ever been. Imagine Armored Core fused with Konami's Zone of Enders, and you've got yourself a recipe for intensity. Battles will involve mayhem, a barrage of attacks, multiple enemies and speed. But Armored Core 4 will continue to feature its trademark customization options by allowing you to do whatever you wish with your mech. Upgrades and new mechs will come to you by purchasing them with the money you earn after completing every mission. If you're at all familiar with the series, you know that customization options are there for you to use or not use — you don't have to indulge in them in order to beat the game. That said, expect to see just around 30 mechs featured in the game.
You will have to play through 37 missions, one of which is a tutorial. The structure is similar to past games, as the objectives are never too complex. You'll be required to complete a majority of the objectives you're given to be allowed to advance to the next mission. If you're a perfectionist, you will be free to display your perfecting craft by going back and completing whichever objectives you left undone.
Much like before, AC4 will feature a single-player combat/arena-like mode where over 40 other mechs stand to square off against you. If you find yourself not overly keen on fighting artificial intelligence, then take your game online and battle against 7 gamers in a number of online modes. Likewise, offline multiplayer is also included, but is limited to a two-player split-screen battle. How unfortunate, a game like AC4 would seriously benefit from a 4-player mode and single-player mission co-op play.
Visually, Armored Core 4 is exactly what you'd expect; flash, flare, and eye-candy. One of the game's nicest visual assets that we've seen thus far is the interaction you have with some of the environments. You are able to destroy much of what you see (as is only proper in a game featuring enormous mechs), and my does it look nice. Some of the environments will deform at the hand of your actions, and believe me; you may find the destruction to be quite a bit of fun. Additionally, explosions and effects (particularly the water effects) are a sight to behold. Obviously you're going to want to make a game like AC4 look as punchy as possible, and it looks like From Software isn't holding back. With the power of the next-gen consoles, we're finally done looking at blocky machines, as AC4 sports some really good looking mech detail. At any rate, it's certainly nice to see an Armored Core game look this nice; we just hope that From has AC4 running with a smooth frame rate.
We're excited about getting our hands on the newest AC title. We're hoping it ends up as good as it sounds – especially since I'm aching for some chaotic ZOE-esque mech action for my PS3. Armored Core 4 is expected to ship this Spring — current release date says March 20th.