Since the last gaming article on Flower, one might expect a post on a relaxing and casual game, but I want to talk about Armored Core for Answer instead; the latest game in the line of the Armored Core series is everything but casual.
I hadn’t played an Armored Core game before, but as a vocal mecha lover, I wanted to give it a shot after I had jumped through a bazillion hoops to make a Japanese Playstation Network account and downloaded the (also entirely Japanese) demo. I started up the game, enjoyed the horribly designed menu – a real stalwart quality of Japanese games in general – and went straight into the first mission.
I lasted about 30 seconds. I was literally blown away, mentally and ingame, by a 3000-feet (about a kilometer) high walking fortress with six long-range cannons firing projectiles the size of a bulky SUV. At that moment I realized that this was a game that was practically tailor-made for me.
But I think very few people are like me when it comes to games like these. I have absolutely no idea how From Software, the creator of the Armored Core mecha game series, manages to stay in business; their games rely completely on the love of the fanbase and people who like games that feature more calculations and numbers than most math books. The individual mecha parts like arms, legs, fire control systems, generators, side boosters, bottom leg stabilizers and much more combine into hundreds of millions of different war machines players can create. Any newcomer is immediately gaping at the sheer hardcore-ness of the gameplay.
It’s clear that their budget is not amazing; graphics in ACFA are mediocre, the environments are drab and sparsely decorated with a few objects (although some are truly stunning; possibly again a lack of budget to hire the level designers) and the intelligence of your computerized opponents is nothing short of hilarious. A good example: I was playing one of the missions where you have to take out an enemy NEXT (the term for the large mechas in Armored Core) and I approached him with a jet-engine boosted speed of 1200 miles per hour. Once in range, he acquired me as his target, started jet-boosting all over the city, and once cornered activated his ‘over boost’, a powerful reactor-powered jet thrust. He was flung out of the narrow city environment, into the air, and proceeded to fly in a straight line. I saw the little dot in the sky shrink, shrink to the size of a pixel, and eventually disappear.
I think I waited for a good 10 minutes for him to come back, but it wasn’t happening. I had to restart the mission. In another mission, I moved below an enemy that was on a bridge, and he proceeded to fly in circles for 6 minutes until I shot his head off. These kind of hilarious stories are quite common in the ACFA community.
However, it’s not intelligent enemies, a solid storyline, or great graphics that make Armored Core so fantastic for mecha geeks. If you compare it to its western equivalent, Mechwarrior, it’s clear what sets it apart. Walking war machines are always slow, lumbering hulks in games; nothing like their Gundam or Macross anime counterparts. Armored Core does feature this lightning-fast play style; you can charge into an opponent in fractions of a second and slash him with a long laser blade. A tap on the right button can fill the sky with so many homing missiles that it blocks out the sun. Fighting in Armored Core, offline or online, is epic. There’s no other word that can adequately describe it.
It’s truly an easy criterium to judge if you want to play this game or not; if you like series like Evangelion, Gundam, or Macross for their mecha fighting, you will love it. Download the demo for your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 and try it for yourself. If you barely know what a mecha is, don’t touch it. It’s that simple.
As a last story, my first online game is pretty noteworthy.
I went into battle at the Kitasaki Junction, a massive derelict highway interchange, with my lightweight LAHIRE-based mecha, armed to the tooth with gatling cannons, fast seeking missiles, and a pair of laser blades tucked away. My opponent was a seasoned, high-ranking player in a midweight unit with a set of huge laser cannons and machineguns.
As the battle commenced, I targeted my opponent, and fired off a flurry of missiles. In a dash, I moved through the forest of highway lane support pillars, my opponent following and using his massive laser cannon; evaporating and disintegrating metric tons of concrete in my wake. Once through the now-ravaged intersection, I quickly turned around, boosted into the dust cloud, and launched myself right into his field of view. I launched my missiles, and my gatling cannons were firing non-stop, chipping away at him. In a heated aerial battle, we both were severely damaged, and in a moment of disarray, a powerful blast of his lasers blew me back into the ravaged highway sections. As I recovered, I hid behind a thick section of concrete supports and took a deep breath. My ammo was out. The missiles long fired. With one hit, either one of us would die. I had only one shot at this.
I detached the gatling cannons and took out the dual blades. Behind me, I heard his fast erratic boosts in the air, ready to evade any aerial attack I had in store for him. I guessed his laser cannons were on their last supply of energy, and I knew that once I had drained those, he would have to face the short half-a-second delay of switching to the machineguns. I opened the rear engine of my unit, charging the Over Boost. In a flash, I flew up into the air and abruptly stopped the engines, and two beams of powerful laser fire fired up in the air, where I would have been if I had continued boosting. In a moment of instinct, I boosted forward as hard as I could, right towards his silhouette hanging in the air. I saw the two laser cannons fall past his sides as he purged them. My two laser blades cast a blue light on his torso, and I soon heard the familiar crushing and slicing sound of the blade meeting his cockpit. I hung there, in complete silence, only the constant beeps of my unit warning me of critical health, as I saw him fall down to the sand and the screen faded to black with the text “WIN”.
Needless to say, after this, my hands were sweaty and cramped. It lasted only 3 minutes, but it felt like it paid back for the game in those precious seconds.
To top it off, I can recommend checking out this HD quality version of the intro movie to get an idea of the general gameplay:
And yes, that rather large contraption in the cinematic is the walking doomsday machine that annihilated my virgin gaming skill confidence in my first playthrough of this game.
You should’ve seen my face when I beat it, though.