Bad Apple Cores

I wasn't particularly fond of Armored Core 4. That is to say, in a previous article, I included it in a top 10 list of the worst games I've ever played. So it only seems fair to give Armored Core: For Answer the credit it's due. The main campaign mode, set in the Armored Core 4 timeline, tells the story of a not-too-distant future, where humanity has become so careless about the environment, that the surface atmosphere of the planet is all but unbreathable. Elite portions of humanity have been relocated to gigantic, airborne ships known as Cradles. A few mega corporations remain on the surface world, mining and refining the resources needed to keep the Cradles operational.

These corporations are at war, and you assume the role of a mercenary-for-hire. These wars are fought by standard mechs (known as Standards), next-generation mechs (known as NEXTs), and rediculously huge armoured fortresses (known as Arms Forts). The sheer firepower of these Arms Forts is staggering, as witnessed in the opening movie sequence. Successfully destroying these with your single, lonely NEXT is nothing short of amazing at times, as you witness the incredible power at your command.

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The Graphical Design And Animation...
...of the various Standards seems to be kind of a rushed job, but they're just fodder, anyway. The real threat comes from enemy NEXTs and Arms Forts, which are pretty well-designed. The English voice-acting was surprisingly good. Each mission briefing is presented to you by a recognizable corporate agent, some with rather amusing personalities. In between missions, the cutscene narrations were likewise extremely professional. Some characters during the missions themselves were a little stereotypical, but overall believable. Your mission handler was perfect for the role; cool and approving on your successes, grating and irritating on your failures. Every time I hear her say, "I should have known better," I actually get a little mad! Condescending little bitch.


The music is probably not what you'd expect from a game about giant robot death-mobiles, but I personally found it to be epic and refreshing, full of pianos, stringed instruments, and choir voices. It sounds like they hired an actual orchestra to perform the various tracks.

Your progress through the game is determined by the missions you select. You are typically given a choice of two or three available missions from various corporations, as well as the rebel groups, Line Ark and Orca. Who you side with determines the outcome of the story, and even pits you against characters who might have been allies had you chosen differently. There are three possible endings.


At The Start Of A New Game... are given a choice of which basic mech type you would like to pilot: Light, Medium, or Heavy. During the course of the campaign mode, you earn additional parts to customize your mech, as well as money to buy additional parts in a shop. Upon completion of the campaign mode, all shop parts become available to you. There are also several parts which are acquired as mission rewards.
You're given the usual assortment of handheld weapons: rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, laser cannons, railguns, rockets, and missiles, and also more powerful, back-mounted variations of these. When deciding which types of weapons to install on your mech, it's important to factor in a lot of variables.


Variables such as the weight, balance, aim accuracy, and speed of your mech, what range you intend to fight at, and what your mech was designed to do, as well as the mission itself: what your targets are going to be, and where you'll be engaging them. Many missions become a lot easier if you take the time to equip a weapons load intended for that particular mission. If you're going to be fighting in tunnels, grenade launchers will serve you well. If you're going after high profile targets, such as Land Crabs or Arms Forts, a powerful laser blade is invaluable. Among each weapon type, there are several individual weapons by various manufacturers, each with varying stats and attributes, such as Attack Power, Range, Ballistics Velocity, Weight, Rate of Fire, Ammo Capacity, and Energy Usage.


Combined with the dozens of stats on the hundreds of available mech parts, this can all become very overwhelming at first. Once you understand what each stat actually means, however, it becomes pretty simple stuff. While there were a few weapons within each category that I tended to favour, I'm sure that my selections would have changed if I was building a different type of mech.

The customization in AC4 was a nightmare. I spent the better part of an hour figuring out how to build a mech, deciding what I wanted to build, and then actually building it. I saved my work, and tried to use it on my next mission. I was informed that I didn't have available parts to use it, and the mission would not start. I apparently built a mech with parts I didn't have.


If I didn't have the parts, why were they even showing up in my build inventory? And why was there no apparent way to distinguish between the parts that I didn't have, and the parts that I did? Customization in AC:FA is much more intuitive. I was able to figure it out right away. Only the parts that you have are shown in your build list, so whatever you put together, you will be able to use right away.

Some of the stats on the various parts are of questionable purpose. There is a small info window that can be opened, which attempts to explain the function of a given stat, but often the description leaves you as confused as the stat itself. Thankfully, the most important stats are pretty much self-explanatory.


In addition to building your NEXT, you now also have the ability to fine tune your creation. Completing a mission with an S ranking unlocks 5 "FR Points", or Tuning Points. These can be applied to whatever stat you wish, augmenting your NEXT's energy output, turning speed, aim accuracy, and much more. Once you're ready to take on the Hard Mode versions of the missions, scoring an S ranking will net you an additional point.

And you're going to need them, as the Hard Mode missions tend to throw in a lot of random elements, such as booster malfunctions, or enemy ambushes. These surprises did well to make the missions much more challenging. Colour Edit was also a lot of fun.


I daresay I've spent more time making up paint schemes, than playing the actual missions. You're given 16 slots for custom colour designs, and I've filled them all, even discarding many designs along the way. Each slot has six spaces for individual colours. This involves a set of RGB sliders, which may be daunting to a lot of players, but really allows you complete and total freedom to incorporate any colour imagineable. While it may be tempting to make up six individual colours per design, I've found that my best looking mechs use either two, three, or four colours, with some spaces as duplicates.


In Addition To The...
...single player campaign, there is also system link, online co-op, and multiplayer matches. It's also possible to have two players on the same console, but the split-screen is exceedingly small. Rather than giving each player half of the screen, it gives you a fourth of it. Yeah, it's tiny. Mission co-op would have been nice if they'd added additional enemies, as most normal enemies are pretty much toast to your souped-up NEXT.

Unfortunately, this game, like many others, is a casualty of Client-Side Server Syndrome. High profile games such as Super Street Fighter IV have their own servers. Whenever there is a discrepancy between the server and the client (player console or computer), the server wins.


This prevents cheats and glitches (at least the ones that aren't already part of the game). AC:4A does not have its own dedicated servers. Instead, the host's own console acts as the server in online matches. This, in turn, opens the door for all sorts of bugs, glitches, and modifications. I hesitate to use the word hacks, or "hax", as many of the people who engage in this kind of behaviour like to brag about hacking the servers. In truth, this is not exactly a lie, but it is a misrepresentation.

As for AC:4A specifically, there is a very abusable bug known as "White Lock". When targetting an enemy mech, your reticle turns white around the target. Once you have achieved weapons lock, that reticle turns red.


The bug is that targetting must be processed by a weapon on your right side. If you have no weapons on your right side, you have White Lock. This means that your weapons will never be able to achieve lock on a target. On your screen, however, your reticle may appear to be red, but you really don't have lock on your target. The only way to tell that you actually have White Lock is have someone else be destroyed, and then have them watch the match through your vision. To them, your reticle will appear to be white.

The Host, of course, can never be White Locked, since they are the server.

What this means?


The Host can start a match, jettison all of his right side weapons, and start a large torrent or other file transfer on his computer, lagging his internet connection (although this part is optional). To everyone else, he will appear to be teleporting all over the screen. Typically he will have a laser blade equipped to his left arm, and little (or nothing) else. Since he will be White Locked on everyone else's console, he won't appear, to them, to have weapons lock. Even without the optional lag-inducing torrent, he will appear to be attacking in an unlocked direction, though on his own screen, he is really tracking you. The big picture? He can hit you with his blade when he doesn't even seem to be anywhere near you. Factor in, additionally, hacked damage modifications to energy weapons, and he can make the game very unfair, and very not fun, very quickly.


And so he ruins the game for everyone else. No one wants to play with someone like that. Eventually, people simply stop playing, leaving these "133t h4xx0rz" to prey on the ever-dwindling supply of unsuspecting victims. What happens when they are the only ones left? Once the damage has been done, they simply move on to destroy another game (such as Lost Planet). At the time of this writing, there are only a handful of legitimate players left in AC:4A (or even AC4, which had the same exploit). That people actually enjoy ruining games like this is disgusting, and is a prime example of how the Internet has done just as much harm as good to the gaming community.


While The Internet...
...has bridged gaps across the entire world, allowing us to play with people we've never even met, it also allows the games we love to be ruined by people who cheat. It only takes a few to destroy an entire community, and AC:4A is one such example. White Lock is a big part of the problem, to be sure, but even without that particular bug, hacked damage modifications would still be an issue. Understandably, it's not possible for every game to have its own dedicated servers, especially lesser-known games by lesser-known companies. There really isn't any solution, other than word-of-mouth warnings to our fellow players who to avoid playing with.

Armored Core: 4Answer Was... entertaining solo playthrough, and should have been a thoroughly satisfying multiplayer game, but its biggest problem is the players themselves. This title may keep you busy for a week or two, but once you've S Ranked everything, there's little else to do. And that's a real shame, as this game really is pretty damn good.

- PurpGuy -

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