Armored Core: Formula Front -- Extreme Battle

Those who can't do, coach. And those who can't coach, write confusing impressions of games they can't understand. I tried my hand at robo-coaching and let's just say that no team of giant mechanical warriors will be dunking Gatorade over my head any time soon.

I mentioned on Friday that I was going to bring my Sony PSP with me for the 3-hour drive to Portland this weekend and I did. And while I drove the entire way on Saturday morning, Kristin drove the majority of the way home, thus allowing me to get in some additional playtime before commenting on this game. And now that I have logged about 4 or 5 hours with this game I'm ready to admit that I still have no idea whether or not I would ever recommend it. In fact, the more I play it the more confused my feelings get.

If you've never played an Armored Core game then you're not alone. This is my first foray into this long-running franchise and the basic premise of the game is that you are given access to hundreds and hundreds of mechanical parts and weapons, from which you assemble your armored core (AC). Assembling an AC means sorting through tons of data for each type of part and picking the model that helps you achieve the design you're striving for. Each part, whether it be a right arm weapon or a radiator has a certain weight, a certain energy consumption, specific defensive energy ratings, etc., etc., etc. Granted, the game helps you immediately see the benefit of one part over another by color-coding improvements and downgrades and by also assigning a letter rating to the basic overall characteristics of the AC as a whole. Pick the wrong part and you might see your AC's cooling ability drop from a B rating to a C or D.

So much of the game is based around the design of the AC that when it comes to the actual battles (strict ladder-style tournament system: no story, no explanations, just fight) you actually are encouraged to forego direct control of your AC and instead program its AI. You first assign various attribute points; then you adjust sliders dictating its movement, battle, and aggression style; and finally you load programs into the AC that prioritize its actions in 30-second blocks. The AI system is ingenius and it works very well from what I can see, and I'm grateful for it. Especially since there's no way I could control one of these AC's with the PSP's control setup. Of course, most people aren't going to like spending all of their time designing a giant fighting mech that they then watch fight automatically, but I don't mind it. The battles have a 3:00 limit and most are over within 30 to 60 seconds.

So far so good, right? Maybe. This game isn't for everyone, but up until this point I do think it's for me. Where I start to lose my adoration for it though, comes a wee bit later. You see, the first league of battles is easy. You build your AC's and you go and whoop some ass and you win all sorts of new prizes and AI programs. All was well. Then I entered the "Regular" league. I adjusted my Cores to make use of some new parts and I won the first battle on the first try -- the Rank 30 battle. But immediately after that, the AC I just beat got retrofitted with some new gear and is now demanding a rematch -- a rematch I can't decline. And now he cleans the floor with me. I've spent over 2 hours adjusting my AC's designs as meticulously as possible and I can barely even knock off 1/3 of its hit points before he blows me to bits.

This is where I have to really play "robo-coach". I have to study the enemy. I know that in order to win this battle, I have to inspect the enemy, write down all of its part numbers and look them up to see where a weakness might lie. This takes time and definitely starts to wander over to the "feels like work" side of the fence. And that side of the fence is most certainly not greener. I know that if I do this, I'll likely win the battle and start advancing again. But do I want to?

Oddly enough, it was my friend Brad whose wedding I attended this past weekend who turned me on to the this game. He wrote the review for this title over at and he warned me that the learning curve would be extremely steep for someone with no prior Armored Core experience. He wasn't kidding. If you own a PSP and haven't ever played a game in this franchise before, I would as of now advise you to stay away. Unless you're a stats whore and love number crunching. I am, sort of, and when I succeed with my designs in the game, I enjoy it. The trouble is that I'm not finding much success and excitement is rapidly turning to frustration.

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