Armored Core is a time honored series that began in the late 90’s as a mech sim combined with a 3rd person shooter to provide something gamers had never seen before. When the 1997 demo disc came to our home, Armored Core for the Playstation 1 was on it, and I played the game to death.
The series is known for its customization of your robot, taking missions and fighting opponents either in the missions or through an arena mode. This game in particular, 4 answer, was published by Ubisoft and developed by From Software, who has developed much of the series to date. Ubisoft is well known for publishing other titles. Although I don’t know how much influence the corporation had on the development of 4 Answer, the game certainly seems to be polished, at least mechanically.
Without further adieu, let’s begin the review proper.
The learning curve for 4 answer is much less than other entries in the series. The game starts you off with a tutorial mode that will make sure you know what you are doing before you begin. I prefer control style A; it just feels right to me. Selecting a corporation isn’t a big deal; it just starts you off with a newbie craft that you can change later. Pick whichever one you want. For further testing, there is a test mode under the ACSIS menu.
Like older games, 4 Answer lets you conduct arena matches sponsored by the game’s league of corporations. You won’t earn too much money facing earlier opponents, but it’s something to do either during or after the main game’s missions.
Missions are generally fun and follow a logical sequence of events, but some of them can get tedious. However- those tedious missions can bring good money that you can use to customize your machine. In addition, I have to go and wander around to find enemies, which is indicative of a map that is a little big. The environments are destructible however- something we have come to expect in this day and age. That or there isn’t enough action. Sometimes the game prompts you to ‘go it alone’ or to select a hired hand. I firmly believe that consorts are a waste of money, even on hard mode. If you don’t like how the mission turned out, you can always replay it afterwards to try and reduce your repair bill.
When you play in ordered matches you face opponents for cash and equipment. Beware though- you can only get so far with a starter craft. I got about five or six opponents in with a basic craft and began having my butt kicked. In general, the minute you lose your primal armor, which is a lot like a shield, they will begin to eat you like a piranha. Basic enemies throughout the game will mostly stand still and act dumb, however there are some that are smarter. Some AI such as the pilot behind Wonderful Body are just plain stupid. Some have so much armor that if you aren’t conservative with your shots, you will run out of ammo.
The weapons in the game are a lot of fun. Some are hard to use, but can be incredibly powerful if they hit. I personally like back mounted grenade cannons. They feel cheap, but a well-placed shot will devastate even a NEXT. Laser blades are pretty much useless in this game except for multiplayer duels and the one mission here where you have to take down GA America’s Arms Fort.
Arms forts are enemies in the game that set 4 Answer apart from every other game in the series. Earlier games had giant ass enemies here and there, but not in the numbers encountered in this game. There are really two ways to defeat an Arms Fort: the easy way and the hard way. Most of them have a blind spot. If you take advantage of this fact you can deal massive damage while remaining largely unscathed. Sounds like poor design choices to me. If you feel like being cheap, or as efficient as possible- there are ways to avoid taking big hits when fighting these monoliths of 3,000-5,000 people hell bent on killing you.
Some fire massive fireballs. It is good practice to avoid being hit by said fireballs. They hurt. I have no idea where some forts get the power to fire shot after shot in quick succession, but I digress. Like here. How the hell did I not get hit by that shot? Twice! I should be dust. If you’re not careful, blasts will not only take out your primal armor, but you will sustain around 40-50% damage. Not fun.
The controls in the game are rock solid, responsive and in the case of flight- sensitive to the press of the shoulder buttons. I’ve never had any issues with the controls. The learning curve to pick the game up is light to moderate, making it an easy game to get into. If you need to, control options can still be accessed under the ACSIS menu. Everything seems to make sense. If none of it makes sense to you, you can always custom map whatever you want.
The game features intuitive menus and a kind of key that can be accessed by pressing start. This shows you what you can do with the menus and comes in real handy during the assembly process.
For a game that only puts out to 720p, 4 Answer doesn’t look half bad at all. At some parts in the environment you can tell they skimped out, particularly with buildings and solid walls. Sometimes levels can seem a bit bland, but that’s what you get in a post-apocalyptic scenario. Some fights, like the Spirit of Motherwill mission will push the PS3 to its absolute graphical maximum. This shows because at times the PS3 will begin to chug along as it renders all of the stuff going on with that encounter. For the most part the game is smooth, polished and well done. From Software has always done a good job, but I feel that Ubisoft may have had a hand in some of the polishing.
Armored Core would not be what it is without complete and utter customization of your craft. You will spend as much time modifying your machine as you do fighting with it. If that kind of work bores you to death, you may want to try an arcade style 3rd person shooter.
Other than the great gameplay, the crowning achievement of 4 answer is the ability to press Square in the assembly menu to sort any part by a plethora of factors: from fire rate to load to energy cost to armor protection. Good god, I have spent so much time building NEXTs it isn’t even funny. This sorting ability makes it easy as cake to effectively select what legs you need for a particular load out- something that was slightly more complicated in earlier installments of the series. You can literally mix and match whatever you want. The number of load outs has to be astronomical.
4 answer introduces stabilizers which help balance your craft’s movement. You can also take advantage of instabilities by moving faster in a given direction, OR you can create those instabilities on purpose. FRS memory is unlocked by completing missions and defeating arena opponents gradually. These points can be used to fine tune your machine in every way. I generally like to put early points in primal armor, then generator output. You can save designs you like, in addition to loading other schematics. If you have all of the parts you can load a schematic and boom! You have the craft ready to go sans FRS enhancements.
The story is pretty standard and at times bland- but you can get into it if you really try. A league of corporations has taken most of mankind to the skies after the Earth has been polluted by Kojima Particles- the stuff that NEXTs run on for primal armor. Some were left behind on the surface- and formed colonies. One such colony is Line Ark.
The league involves your major political issues reflected in today’s society: corruption, pollution, morality and ethical dilemmas. Eventually a new organization, ORCA will take prominence against the league and attempt to punish the corrupt organization. How so is up to you to find out. The voice acting is well done. If you know your anime, the game is narrated by the gentleman that did the voice of Treize Kushrenada from the English dub of New Mobile Report Gundam Wing.
Missions you take in the game will affect what comes next, though in free play mode you will be able to select any mission, access the hard mode and face any opponent NEXT. There are co-op options, but in order to play the single player game co-op both players need to remain on one screen. It isn’t ideal.
The weakest part of 4 Answer’s lineup is the multiplayer. It’s here, but the split screen is just awful. They letter box everything and shrink it down, making everything hard as piss to see. Why was this necessary? I have no idea. You can also play LAN to eliminate the split screen issue if you have another copy of the game and another Playstation 3. I’m not sure how long the servers are up for this game, but there were many ONLINE matches going on, with many of the players being Japanese and American. They’re ruthless. If you think you’re good at the game, they will shred you to death with laser blades and other instruments of death. It’s nuts.
*5 second cutaway*
This game has to be one of my all-time favorites. I would go so far as to say that 4 Answer is a hidden gem that can be found on both the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360. Complete you can find it for around $19 dollars. It’s not by any means extremely rare or anything, but according to my sources the game is beginning to become uncommon. It’s definitely worth your time. I’ve spent around 120 hours inside of the game and I paid $30 for it back in the day. That equates to around 4 hours per dollar, a great value in comparison to a $60 game on the market that provides, at most 20-30 hours of gameplay for a hour/dollar ratio of about 0.5. This means that for me, 4 Answer was eight times the value of a standard $60 off the shelf game.
I gave this game an amazing score of 93.9/100 back in the day. Giving it another look now, the combined score weighs out to about 93.6/100, making it my #16 best game of all time.