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Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle

Reviewed October 2005 by Corbie Dillard

Publisher: Agetec
Developer: From Software
Release Date: November, 2005
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Genre: Action/Strategy
Price: $39.99

When Armored Core was released in Japan, it left a lot of gamers wondering what happened to the normally high action content found in previous installments of the Armored Core series. The developers had taken the game in a more strategic direction, all but eliminating the action style combat of the previous releases. This time the game allowed the player to build and customize their mechs, but instead of allowing the player to control the mech in battle, the AI takes over and carries out the battle itself. Knowing that US gamers weren't going to stand for this elimination, Agetec took it upon themselves to rework the game's battle system, adding in the much loved manual battle controls, and once again putting the player back in charge of piloting the AC mechs during the arena battles. The end result is a game that still retains the extremely deep strategy of the original Japanese release, while also giving the player the choice of using the original AI battle mode or the new and improved manual controls. So whether you prefer strategy or arcade action, AC Formula Front Extreme Battle has something to offer.

The story in AC Formula Front Extreme Battle is fairly straightforward. Armored Core battles have become the era's most prolific form of entertainment. These highly modified AC mechs battle it out in many different arenas to the ultimate enjoyment of the fans. Architects who build and customize these mechanical wonders pit their creations against other AC mechs in competitions that reward them with more powerful parts that can be used to make their AC mechs even more effective in battle.

Gameplay

The sheer level of depth and customization in this game is staggering, to say the least. The game basically gives you the power to customize just about every aspect of the game, from the AC mechs that you create, to the AI control of the game's battle system. You must first choose a mech to customize. Everything from the individual parts of the AC mech's body, to the color of paint is almost infinitely customizable. You can switch out different body parts, add different types of firepower, all of which have different power and weight characteristics, and even tweak the AI system to determine exactly how you want your AC to behave in combat. As you win arena battles, you'll acquire newer, more powerful parts, as well as more AI control options that will continually add more strategy to the game. How much time you put into these modifications will greatly influence how well your AC will perform in battle, which makes this customizing a vital part of the game.

Once you've put your AC together and customized it to your liking, you get to take it out into battle and evaluate its performance. Here you're given two options. You can choose the "AI" control option and allow the game's AI to control the mech for you in battle, or you can choose the newly added "Manual" control option and take the reigns of the mech yourself. Using the AI option is a nice feature for gamers looking to play the game more as a strategic challenge, putting more emphasis on the actual building and customizing of the AC mechs themselves. Those looking for a little more arcade style action can jump directly to the manual controls, which put you in charge of piloting the AC mech around the arena with arcade type controls. The manual controls allow you to move your AC around the arena using the analog stick. You're also given a button to fire your primary weapon, a button to cycle between different available weapons, as well as a button to use your AC's energy boost, which if used correctly can give your AC a noticeable speed boost as well as allow your mech to jump up and fly in the air for a short amount of time, depending on which direction you're pressing the analog stick. The shoulder buttons also give you the ability to perform a sidestep move, that comes in handy when you need to move from side to side without taking your aim off of your target.

The controls in the game are fairly easy to pick up, although some players may feel a bit overwhelmed at first with the speed and agility with which your opponent ACs tend to move in battle. It won't take long for you to get a grip on how to use the different functions of your AC to efficiently carry out attacks on your opponents. While the manual controls offer a very arcade-like action experience during the arena battles, you still have to keep an eye on your AC gauges which monitor your energy and heat situations, and have a direct effect on how your AC behaves and reacts during these fights. It may seem like a lot to have to stay on top of, but after a few arena battles it will become almost second nature. Overall the manual control system has a very intuitive and playable feel to it that definitely adds a nice twist to the strategy side of the game that action gamers will surely appreciate. It's just nice to finally have the choice of what type of battle you want to take part in, instead of being forced into watching the battles from the sidelines.

Multiplayer Mode

The game features a wireless battle mode which allows players to create and customize their AC mechs on their own PSP system and then connect wirelessly via the PSP's ad-hoc function to pit their mechs against each other in one of the game's many combat arenas. As in the normal game, this can also be done using either the "AI" or "Manual" control options.

Graphics

Graphically, Armored Core Formula Front sports some pretty impressive visuals. You'll get a taste of the eye candy the moment the opening cinema begins playing, but the good looks don't end there. All of the AC mechs in the game are extremely detailed and move quite fluidly, even when the action in the battle arena becomes intense. The arena themselves will look a little flat and plain at times, but this isn't really due to any limitations in the game's graphic engine itself, just more to the fact that most of the arenas are typically wide open spaces in themselves. There are a few minor instances of polygon clipping when the camera zooms in a little too close to the action taking place, but it's really nothing to complain about. Normally everything onscreen moves at a brisk and constant frame-rate, and has a very crisp and smooth look to it. It's becoming fairly obvious that developers are gradually becoming more comfortable and knowledgeable of the PSPs graphical capabilities, and it shows with this game's presentation.

Sound

The music in AC: FF has a nice up-tempo, techno edge to it that manages to carry the intensity of the game quite well. All of the musical tracks have a much synthesized sound to them, complete with some really menacing distorted bass guitar sound effects, that come together to form a soundtrack that somehow manages to perfectly keep up with the intense battle scenes taking place in the game's many arenas. As fitting as the soundtrack might be, however, it's the game's sound effects that really take center stage. Every single gunshot in the game sounds about as realistic as you could possibly expect from a video game. If you want a real treat, connect your PSP to a good set of speakers or plug in your headphones to hear all of the deep bass of the gunfire and explosions. It may not be quite up to motion picture standards, but the game's audio effects easily get the job done in more ways than one.

 

Screen shots:

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Conclusion

It's nice to know that video game fans still have a voice in what they want in a video game. When game fans began voicing their displeasure of having the control of the AC mechs taken out of their hands in the PSP release of Armored Core: Formula Front, Agetec listened and reworked a large part of the game in order to place the control back into the player's hands. The end result of all of this hard work is a game that will not only appeal to the strategy crowds, but also action gamers across the country as well. Most players will never be able to fully reach the sheer depth of the gameplay in this game, but many will have a lot of fun trying. Now Armored Core fans can finally have a game that they can take on the go without having to sacrifice the quality of the console versions. The bottom line is, AC fans got exactly what they asked for, and then some.

Playing Hints and Tips

- Keep an eye on your AC gauges during arena battles, as it can be easy to lose track of them and overheat or damage your AC.
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- If you find yourself losing battles in the arena, remember to go back in and make changes to your AC, as well as adjusting the AI controls. These small details can make a big difference in arena battles no matter how skillful you are at the manual combat controls.

- Stay moving as often as possible, even if it means using the PSP shoulder buttons to use your sidestep move. If you become a stationary target, your opponents will take advantage of it by hitting you with everything they've got.

When choosing your AC, make sure you try to get a good balance of offensive and defensive capabilities, not to mention using customized parts that aren't too powerful or too heavy for your AC to handle.

 

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

While the style of AC: Formula Front doesn't lend itself to graphical prowess, there's still a lot to love with the sights in the game. The mechs themselves all display a good amount of detail and move quite fluidly in action. Some of the arenas could have used a tad more detail, but it's hard to complain given the variety in all of them. Steady frame-rate, and a "knock-your-socks-off" opening cinema highlight the quality of the visuals.

Sound

Musically, the game's upbeat musical score carries the weight of the intensity found in the arena battles perfectly, but it's the sound effects that seem to stick out the most. Great use of variety and authenticity in all of the gunfire and explosions bring a level of realism to the game that exceeds most sound effects found in many of today's action titles. Don't forget to bring the headphones with you when you play this one.

Fun Meter

You'd be hard pressed to not have fun playing this game. Not only does it cater to the strategic gamers it was originally created for, now it also offers the shoot em' up action arcade gamers crave. Tons of variety and depth in the gameplay system make for a game that will take up many hours of your time, and yet manages to offer up enough action to keep things feeling fresh. One of the better action titles released for the PSP so far.

Addictivity

With all of the different customizations in the game, not to mention the many different arenas to unlock, there's a lot of reasons to keep gamers coming back to this game time and time again. You could play this game for a long time and still not even crack the surface of all of the different gameplay options it has to offer. Suffice it to say, if you love a deeply strategic game, this one will keep you busy for a long time to come, and if you like action, you'll find your fair share of that as well. Put simply, Armored Core: Formula Front Extreme Battle offers the best of both worlds.

Total Score= 4.25 Dragons, 85%



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