Mech games may seem to many to appeal to a niche market. If you look at the wide variety of mech games out there it is obvious that there must be many gamers out there that enjoy this type of game. I am one of them, I even bought Steel Battalion! One series that I have always enjoyed is the Armored Core series, so when I was handed Armored Core 4 a big smile appeared on my face, sadly that smile was not destined to last.
AC4 puts you in control of a next generation mech called a NEXT. As a mech pilot you carry out missions for cash. Completing missions furthers the storyline and the cash allows you to upgrade your mech with new parts. The game concept is much simpler than previous titles in the series, though the game does retain stat heavy mech customisation for those who want a near unique machine to suit their play style or situation. This is far, far more than rock, paper scissors.
Generally the missions feel like set pieces rather than an involved section of gameplay, with each mission generally having one goal and testing one element of the gamers skill. An example of this might be sniping long range weapons. You start at the ideal distance for sniping, you snipe from behind buildings ensuring you don't stray into range, the only challenge is when three enemies approach you, which can be dispatched before they are anywhere near you. There is no exploration, there is little choice as to how to approach a mission. I have played on the rail shooters that feel less linear than Armored Core 4's missions. Very occasionally it is possible to find a fun battle though these are remarkably rare.
I was quite surprised by the games difficulty. In an attempt to attract more casual gamers the game is quite easy. I did have problems with a few missions though these weren't down to a lack of skill on my part it was more likely to be that I couldn't quite work out what I was supposed to be doing.
Controlling your mech is relatively straightforward and is quite customizable. One problem I found was that the battle areas are way too small. It's very easy to get carried away and jump to high altitude in the middle of combat only to fail the mission for leaving the area.
Graphically the game feels like a first effort at a next gen game. Whilst models are quite well detailed the levels are just plain dull. It is odd that levels have received such little attention, especially as there are many fancy effects used for the various weapons with lighting techniques and huge explosions being the norm. Some of these issues would barely have been acceptable had the game been a 360 launch title.
The games cinematics are rich, well put together with some top class voice work, which is slightly odd. This is for two reasons. Firstly, the rest of the game doesn't seem to have had anywhere near much attention as the various CG sequences, so you'll witness a remarkably rich snippet of story promising immense battles, only to be dropped into an uninspired set piece where you have to blow up some missiles. Secondly, the storyline doesn't seem to relate to the gameplay at all. It feels like the game has been made and the storyline has been added at the last minute in an attempt to justify why you are doing the missions.
There are lots of small issues I have with the game which add to the overall frustration. You have to manually save your game, which I often forgot to do and when the game crashed (which occurred a few times) I found myself having to start again. Once the games tutorial finished there was no further guidance at all. I'm not the kind of gamer who needs his hand held for the first 10 hours of gameplay but I would have liked a slower introduction to mech customization than was offered, because of this lack of guidance I found customization frustrating and far from user friendly.
Another annoyance is that whilst you can see all the details of an item before you purchase it, you don't get to see the price unless you press a button to display it. It feels like the developers have tried to alienate anyone other than the absolute hardcore fan. The interface as a whole feels quite unfriendly.
To be honest I didn't customise my mech too much, I didn't really need to as most of the game can be done with the standard build, had the customization been easier I would probably have spent a lot more time creating the ideal mech.
As a fan of mech games I feel let down. The series has provided some good titles in the past and it is bizarre that the game has taken a step backwards. To get the most out of this game a gamer will have to be very forgiving and also stat obsessed. I simply can't recommend this as a game to buy, if you are a big mech fan, rent this before you commit to spending your cash.