Armored Core 4 is a bit of a tricky game to review...For starters, it's been available for purchase for over 4 years now and it still only has 7,006 tracked gamers, with only 226 being able to complete it. Yet, the game is still here and I feel that it deserves a review for anyone who may come across it for cheap in a used games bin and needs a bit of guidance.
The game is a mech fighter. Unfamiliar with your terminology? You are a pilot in a gigantic robot suit of armor. We're talking a couple dozen feet high, several tons heavy, with guns, swords, missiles, and jets to destroy the opposing forces. You customize your mech the way you want with the weapons and equipment available to better destroy various targets. We're talking your basic fare when it comes to mech fighters with a bit of a sour twist: no real understanding of a plot or storyline.
You are given very little when it comes to the information surrounding your missions and the reasoning behind your objectives. There are a few cut scenes with some info but the majority of your information comes in briefings for each mission. The game definitely needed a more refined story but as this is Armored Core 4 and not Armored Core 1 or Origins, there must be some assumed plot carried forward from previous games to better help the player know who you work for and why. I was a bit disoriented when it came to starting out but after a few missions, I really didn't mind not knowing as the gameplay is the same: destroy, defend, don't die. Rinse and repeat gameply (more on that later.)
If you are looking for a story, this isn't it.
Story: 3 out of 10
To define the look of the game is very challenging as there are two main elements to study: the mechs and the locations. Let's start with the mechs: they look quite good, to be completely honest! The customization options you have to paint your mech any colour you wish and to apply it to very specific parts is quite incredible. You could make your mech look like it's wearing a t-shirt and jeans, if you worked on the paint long enough, but that would need some serious dedication from one of the 7,006 people who have played this game. I was able to paint a few parts of my mech then lose interest (I'm not into that level of customization) but I bet it would fascinate anyone who enjoys controlling every bit of their creation. And considering the people I saw in Japan playing these kinds of games in arcades, I bet there are some seriously brilliant mechs out there.
The backdrops for your missions vary from great to downright terrible with the former being the describer most used (fortunately for our eyes!) When fighting in the Arctic Ocean on a tanker, the look is quite impressive! Subs surface to fire on their target as you ride along and defend your cargo, all the while the tanker is breaking ice flows with its mighty hull. You play one mission in a desert at dusk, making the heatwaves shimmer across your field of vision. Frustrating? Sure, but it looks amazing!
Some of the city scapes, however, disappoint. When I'm picturing a massive robot storming through the downtown core of a metropolitan location, I want more buildings to climb, more bridges to cross, even some traffic to avoid. It's as if these are evacuated cities with no source of life ever existing there for centuries! A bit more variety in my cities is what I need.
The menu graphics are quite simplistic and easy to look at, though lack of information on the acronyms and terminology used in their menu system. Even a tutorial to show you where things are (like the Simulator, which accounts for a lot of achievements) would've been nice.
Graphics: 7 out of 10
This is where this game starts to falter: gameplay. The game essentially follows the same mission path with the only real variables behind the locations and the time of day. Your main focus is to destory; plain and simple. You follow your HUD to target enemies, you push your X and A buttons to fire, you wait for the explosion, you repeat the process. Sure, the reasoning may change, such as destroying supply vehicles vs. destroying fellow mechs, but the purpose remains the same. But again, what would you expect? You are a giant robot with jets and cannons! I don't expect to be hanging really high banners for ticker-tape parades or going to the moon for exploration but variety would have been nice. There's something to be said about escort missions that require your mech to have to carry the target rather than just shooting your OGOTOS and watching the magic happen.
The difficulty difference is so great that it is unbelievable that 226 people have actually completed this game fully! You'll be challenged in the Normal difficulty; you'll be ripping out your hair in the Hard difficulty. And then they expect you to obtain high rankings! Wow, From Software is expecting a lot of their gamers.
Some of the missions are a breeze (Juggernaut on Hard is an easy 10G) but some are just so downright difficult that I couldn't imagine completing them all with a high rank so the achievement points! I congratulate all those who finished the game 100%! You should receive your own mech to pilot and save us from evil!
Gameplay: 5 out of 10
The sound is something I really enjoyed about the game. The mechanical grinds and groans from the weapons and robots sound pretty good! There is music throughout the game that is forgettable but I was more interested in the impacts and explosions from my weaponry.
To be honest though, when I was really done with the game and just wanted to grind it out, I had a TV show on in the background to listen to, so I really can't mark this game low for that reason.
Sound: 8 out of 10
If you are a grinder with your achievements, you are going to have a lot of gameplay on your hands. The ranking system for this game looks at elements such as ammo spent, damage received, and mission time to determine ranks. But getting over a C for some missions is just so damn hard that it will take multiple playthroughs, various tweaking to your mechs, and lots of effort to get where you want to go. The Simulator mode is a nice touch but will not prove challenging if you follow my solution here on TA.
Customization is the fun part that is enjoyable: building your mech to your specifications and fighting style is awesome. Have fun with it and constantly change! I've posted some mech schematics from another gamer that I found invaluable to completing this game. Give them a try then find your own!
Replay Value: 7 out of 10
Overall, the game is hard but has it's redeeming qualities. It took me four years to get above 2 achievements but when I finally gave this game time, I realized that it wasn't as bad as previously remembered. Just hard as hell!!
Overall: 6.5 out of 10