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Armored Core: Formula Front - Extreme Battle PSP

Published by 505 Gamestreet
Developed by From Software/Agetec
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £29.99

Armored Core: Formula Front – Extreme Battle, an introduction.

A few years ago we reviewed Armored Core 3 on the PlayStation 2 and were quite impressed by the game. In fact all things considered the Armored Core series offers some of the best mech based games you can find on any console. Given how much we liked Armored Core 3, I was pleasantly surprised when we received Armored Core: Formula Front – Extreme Battle for review. It's the first time the series has been on a handheld format and all things considered the game has turned out quite well.

What's the game about?

As we've just mentioned the Armored Core series are mech games (naturally though in the series mechs are referred to as an Armored Core). The series has always gone for a simulation feel rather than an arcade experience and it's for this reason that the series has managed to gather a loyal following over the years. In Armored Core: Formula Front the idea is to take a team of five Armored Cores (referred to as AC in the game) and compete in league games. As the head of the team (or architect, as the head of the team is called in the game) you'll be responsible for customising and optimising your Armored Cores and making sure you provide a team that can be successful. As well as the rather lengthy single-player game you can also have a two player battle and exchange game data with a friend who also owns a copy of the game.

What's good about the game?

The first you'll have to do when starting a new game is to create a team name. Once you've done that you'll be taken to the central menu from which you can access your team data, the garage, news items and league matches. You begin the game having just acquired your B license and your team has just entered the Bottom League. The idea is to get promoted to the Regular and then the Top League whilst acquiring better licenses on the way. For each battle, you get to pick one of your five ACs and you'll also have a choice of whether to control the AC yourself or whether to let the AI handle it for you.  

In order to give yourself a chance of gaining access to the higher leagues, you'll have to customise your ACs not only to make them as strong as possible but also suited to deal effectively with their next enemy. Formula Front is very impressive in this respect and there are hundreds of customisation options (ranging from aesthetic to components) so you can setup your AC exactly how you wish. Everything about your ACs and team can be customised. You can even create your own emblem. Most of the time in Formula Front you'll want to let the AI handle the battles. Whilst this may seem an easy way out, it's actually not, as you have to study your opponent and program the AI using the AI Tune facility. There are 10 different AI performance parameters that you can allot performance enhancements to. Each parameter can have up to 10 performance enhancements but you only have a fixed amount of performance enhancements to allocate so you have to apply them in areas where you think it's important. You can also alter various aspects of the AI behaviour that affect the combat attack range, range of actions used, move priority (for dash, jump and run) and general tactics. In fact the game allows you to essentially program the AI for each AC, which is truly impressive. Naturally you can choose to test all of your alterations before a league match to see if they've worked.

What's not so good about the game?

The load times are the biggest disappointment in Armored Core: Formula Front. Whilst they aren't the longest load times we've experienced on the PSP, they certainly are quite lengthy and help to break up the flow of the game. During the early stages of the game you'll receive e-mail type messages that show you how to modify the AI and explain how to make the most out of customising your ACs. These messages are great to be fair but you could really do with all this important information before you even have your first battle. Thankfully I explored all the menus and managed to figure out most things. Many gamers won't do this though and they would feel lost. The game manual is OK but there's a fair bit of complexity in the game and the manual doesn't really fill you in like the tutorial messages do. Handling the battles manually, you'll find that the controls probably don't feel as responsive as they should. This isn't a major issue though (although I admit it might be a problem for those who don't want to learn the complexities of tuning and programming the AI) because you'll get far better results from learning to customise and program the AI correctly.

How does it look?

Armored Core: Formula Front looks very good and I would certainly class the graphics as PlayStation 2 quality. The ACs look and move quite impressively and whilst the environments don't look anything special they are more than good enough for a game of this nature. The battles are actually quite enjoyable to watch which is very important given that the best way to play the game is to let the AI handle the battles. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the graphics though is the frame rate which remains supremely smooth throughout.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

Armored Core: Formula Front is fine for deaf gamers. Whilst there is speech in the game there is only a very small amount and it's certainly nothing of importance. Virtually all of the information is shown in text and deaf gamers will be able to fully enjoy the game. In some of the e-mail messages you receive there are movie files that you can watch. These vary in nature and can be tutorial movies and can also be news files that show you some of the latest battles. There is no speech in these and text is used throughout, making them completely deaf gamer friendly. As we mentioned earlier the game manual is OK but doesn't really go into enough detail to fully explain the game's complexities.

Final thoughts.

I never thought I would enjoy a mech management game but that is essentially what we have with Armored Core: Formula Front – Extreme Battle. Running your own team of ACs and being able to customise every aspect of each AC, as well as their AI, actually makes for an addictive experience. The level of complexity and depth here will truly impress fans of the Armored Core series but it could probably be a little too much for those who are expecting the game to simply be an arcade style shooter (something the series has never really been).

Overall Game Rating: 8.0/10

Deaf Gamers Classification:

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Armored Core: Formula Front - Extreme Battle is probably unlike any other game you've played before. Whilst it can be played as a mech style shooter you'll get far more from the game by getting involved with the intricacies of customisation and fine tuning the AI behaviour of your ACs. Definitely a game for Armored Core fans.