• Armored Core Formula Front Review - Sony PSP

    Upon news of the PlayStation Portableís release, a slew of launch titles were announced. Among these was another entry into the successful Armored Core: canon, this time going by the name of Armored Core: Formula Front. However, due to the control limitations of the PSP, a direct port of an Armored Core game was not feasible. Despite this setback, Toshifumi Nabeshima and his team at From Software managed to find a solution to this problem. The solution lay in the seriesí former instalments, most notably that of Armored Core: Master of Arena and Armored Core: 3 Silent Line; both games had a customisable AI function. To solve the control issues in Formula Front the controls were, very simply, removed. The playerís role now is purely to customise their AC and its AI. Matches are setup against other AI ACís, run without player intervention and rely purely on the playerís prior competence at AC and AI customisation.

    For the most part, the game is fun and satisfying. The AI constantly has to be adapted because opponents utilise different tactics and weapon setups; therefore many matches take on a problem-solving aspect. This keeps the game cerebral and engaging. AI customisation, as a whole, is also very well implemented. The AI for your AC is situated in its head, which means a good choice of head (such as one with a radar and a high number of ďperformance pointsĒ - more on this later) is clearly important.

    AI customisation is split into three categories: character, performance and operations. Character determines the manner in which your AC will move and react to the enemy (such as long or short distance to your opponent and aggressive or defensive tactics) and, moreover, certain facets of character conflict with one another, so you canít just max-out each value.

    Performance determines the intelligence of the AI. Each and every head also has a certain amount of performance points, and the larger the number the more intelligent your AI has the potential to become. The important word here is ďpotentialĒ, because any aspect in the performance roster (such as geographical awareness or heat and energy management) can be maxed-out, but it can and will leave other aspects lacking. Therefore, your AIís intelligence is only as good as you make it. Operations are the final part of the AI customisation equation. These are AI chips that offer a specific tactic or complex manoeuvre that would be otherwise impossible via the character and performance categories. The chips work over periods of thirty seconds and cease to function after that time.

    All three categories need to be customised to work in harmony with one another and the ACís part configuration. Setting a sniper AC to short range with poor geographical awareness and a chip that encourages your AC to detach itís parts is tantamount to disaster. It is impressive, though, to realise that the massive parts list (with over four billion possible combinations) and the deep AI customisation all mesh so very well together.

    Formula Front does have its faults, However. Despite the AI being particularly well thought out, it can be a little infuriating to begin with that you are unable to directly control your AC, especially when a loss is received due to a mistake that a human player could have avoided. Admittedly this is purely down to the playerís quality of AI customisation, but it can initially grate.

    Secondly, the AI has trouble utilising back weapons. For example, a tank equipping heavy firepower wonít always switch to its more powerful back weapons unless the right arm weapon is left unequipped. Admittedly, back weapons are used by the AI, but the only sure fire way to guarantee that those dual grenade launchers will come to bear is to actually not equip a right arm weapon at all (this is also a tactic an enemy AC also uses, so itís clear that From Software knew of this glitch).

    Thirdly, the language barrier is terminal for players who are non-Japanese literate. All the parts descriptions and AI titles are in kanji, which will leave players flying blind and, as such, it is highly recommended that importers abstain on the Japanese release and wait for an English language version to surface. If you have prior experience with either Armored Core: Nexus or Armored Core: Ninebreaker, though, then the nuances of AC customisation should be second nature in Formula Front (it uses the same parts list after all, though with a few additions). Admittedly, the AI will be something of a mystery, but the game will at least be playable.

    There are also some loading time issues, with many of the customisation menus taking more time to load, access and exit than they really ought to. It is also needs to be said that the new garage music is possibly the worst in the series, and can really irritate during an extended session of AC customisation.

    The last slightly unfortunate aspect of Formula Front is that the game itself is rather short. There are only two leagues available on the PSP version (though a third is planned for the PS2 release, hence warranting the connectability between the two versions). Completion can be easily attained in under five hours, if you can understand how the AI and AC customisation works.

    Admittedly, the latter point is somewhat moot simply because Armored Core is a series that is predominantly focused on human versus combat. Formula Front is no different in this respect and wireless versus against another playerís roster of uber-AI ACís is a lot of fun indeed. Formula Front is also a game that exudes a real visual flair, from the stunning opening FMV to the general design and layout of the menus and user interface. The teams that also make up the Formula Front world, and their subsequent funky iconography, really make for a different feel (especially for an Armored Core game). Graphically Formula Front is using the Nexus and Ninebreaker engine, though obviously toned down. The new arenas and the cleaning up of some older arenas also look stunning in-game. The weapon effects and explosions, again, are also visually impressive and do admirably show off the capabilities of Sonyís new handheld.

    Overall, Formula Front is a brave, new and fresh attempt at pushing the Armored Core franchise into uncharted territory. It is also a lot of fun to play, and that is the only endorsement that really matters.

    Score: 8/10

    Text by Olly Barder
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. Asura's Avatar
      Asura -
      I remember trying this, many years ago, but not really getting into it despite being a big Armored Core fan.

      I seem to recall having the UK version, which actually did let you control your robots, whereas I think only the Japanese one only had you build & command them.

      Still a very nice idea; exactly the kind of quirky stuff I don't feel we see enough of on console today.
    1. Asura's Avatar
      Asura -
      It would appear I'm the only person here who played this I'm actually a bit surprised.

      Japanese, niche, bastard-hard, quirky... That should be like crack in this place.
    1. Super Grover's Avatar
      Super Grover -
      Thanks for the review Olly. This has been on my list of games that I have always been in 2 minds whether to purchase or not. Looking on eBay, it seems around £5 for a used English copy is the going price. I think I'll be buying a copy.
    1. S3M's Avatar
      S3M -
      Review is a bit out of date as there are three different releases of Armored Core Formula Front and even Ollie would agree. PAL and USA version adds in playable ACs the later Japanese International release includes a number of extras not found in either. There's a bit more about the PSP game here there are other PSP AC games but they only got digital releases in Europe.
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      I've got reviews of the others too I think. I'll bung them all up.
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      I've put Nexus up and I have Ninebreaker and the "international" version of Formula Front too. And a million* of Olly's other reviews of mecha games.
    1. S3M's Avatar
      S3M -
      Quote Originally Posted by charlesr View Post
      I've put Nexus up and I have Ninebreaker and the "international" version of Formula Front too. And a million* of Olly's other reviews of mecha games.
      Yeah all the AC games are great, best ones are the later Xbox360 & PS3 game, earlier games lacked the pace and scale needed for some of the battles.

      Nexus is a good game however and two discs worth of content mean it's a big package.
    1. Asura's Avatar
      Asura -
      Quote Originally Posted by S3M View Post
      Yeah all the AC games are great, best ones are the later Xbox360 & PS3 game, earlier games lacked the pace and scale needed for some of the battles.
      As stated in the other thread, I liked the first one and the later ones, but not those in-between.

      I think the reason, upon reflection (with what you've said above) is that the first one was comparatively slow-paced, more stompy. Many of the stages were in buidings and enclosed areas and you could take your time.

      4/ForAnswer on PS3/360 involve the player nearly always moving, and if you want to (especially with the version updates) you can pretty much fly without stopping. Thing is, these games have very different controls to 2/3, and I suspect that's why I got along better with them.

      Basically I felt that 2/3 cranked things up, but 4's control changes restored the "balance" of the game somewhat.

      Expert AC players probably didn't need to worry about this, but suffice to say, I can do things in 4 in terms of movement I just can't do in 2, in terms of moving/firing/aiming at the same time.
    1. Super Grover's Avatar
      Super Grover -
      So I've gone and bought AC FF Extreme Battle off eBay for £4.99. I presume I can actually control my mechs in this one then (it's a PAL version)? Not that I mind too much, as I usually suck at these type of games.
    1. Asura's Avatar
      Asura -
      Much as I'd like to play Formula Front again, I suspect I would really struggle with it after playing the new games. The older ones didn't have twin-stick controls (naturally the PSP one doesn't either).

      The PS1 Armored Core, if I remember correctly, had turn/move forward/backward on the D-Pad, strafe left and right on L1/R1 and (this is the kicker) look up/down on L2/R2.

      Thing is, it had level structure similar to a lot of FPS games of that era (and titles like Gungriffon and Mechwarrior) where although the game was 3D, the vast majority of the game was sort-of 2D - in that you didn't need to look up/down very much, and the very generous auto-aim meant that you didn't struggle too badly with the controls.
    1. S3M's Avatar
      S3M -
      Quote Originally Posted by Asura View Post
      Much as I'd like to play Formula Front again, I suspect I would really struggle with it after playing the new games. The older ones didn't have twin-stick controls (naturally the PSP one doesn't either).
      Nexus, Ninebreaker and Last Raven all feature twin stick controls onwards so late PS2 games. Some of the PSP versions are a bit tricky without them, but you can customise the control scheme for a better fit the default controls where always terrible.