(PSP Strategy) Armored Core: Formula Front

I’m cross-posting this from Gaming Trend for those of you who do not frequent that site. Yesterday I picked up Armored Core: Formula Front for the PSP, and now that I’ve put about two hours into the game I thought I’d share some of my initial impressions.

First, the original version of the game was roasted in the Japanese press and by several US sites that imported the title before it was officially released in America. Their main reasoning for such a harsh verdict was that once you spent all of your time building these wonderful mechs, you couldn’t actually fight in the arenas manually. Instead, the various AI chips you built automatically played the arena games for you, and you were forced into the role as a spectator for the duration of the contest. With the official US release this has been changed. Before a match begins you now have the option of choosing manual override (you control the mech) or automatic (where the AI fights and you watch). This should please alot of people because those who are looking for a pure strategy game can choose one option, whereas speed junkies can choose the alternate option.

Okay, on to the game itself. Armored Core: Formula Front is basically one gigantic mech garage game, wrapped around a rather simplistic league match system. The true heart of the game is when you build and customize mechs from hundreds of options divided into categories such as: head, core (chest), arms, legs, boosters, FCS, generators, radiators, extensions, back and front optionals, etc. It amazing how many build options they wedged into this game. Besides all of the obvious customizations there are multitudes of smaller ones that can dramatically change the outcome of an arena bout. You can find equipment that reduces lock-on times, increases stability when hit, improves reload rates, enhances radar readouts, cancels enemy missle-lock ons, and dozens of other small yet vital ways to adjust your particular loadout. Then you can even “fine-tune” almost every part by redesigning them in the parts tune lab, which allows you to incrementally adjust a module’s inherent characteristics (weight, cooling, energy consumption).

Next there is the AI tuner, which sets and alters the AI’s basic characteristics. For the people playing this game as a pure strategy title this is one of the most important aspects of the game. Here you add intelligence points to categories such as enemy assessment, terrain assessment, attack execution, defense execution, energy management, overall piloting, weapon utilization, combat style and temperature management. I’m happy to report that this aspect of the game works very well. As a test I threw a bunch of points into the defensive categories, but very few into enemy analysis and weapon proficiency. When I sent my mech into the arena he was elegant and swift, easily dodging many enemy assaults. Unfortunately he couldn’t shoot his way out of a brown paper bag.

The graphics in Formula Front are absolutely beautiful, easily some of the best I’ve seen on the PSP. The mechs look spectacualr and are intricately detailed. All of the design screens are wonderfully detailed and animated, so the game consistently feels vibrant and alive even when just poking around in the labs. The various arenas are somewhat less detailed, but I think this was a necessary sacrifice to keep such a high level of mech and weapon burst detail. I don’t think anyone will complain about this aspect of the game.

The music is basic electronica which can be turned on or off at the player’s discretion. There is no voice acting in the game.

Actual combat, as stated earlier, can be manual or automatic. In manual mode you merely watch the battle, change the camera angle if desired, and then wait for the after battle statistics. In this mode you basically design, build and manage a group of mechs as the AIs you create do the grunt work. If you decide to become a mech jockey, I’m happy to report that the controls are responsive and fluid. (to the extent of how well you designed the mech)

Overall I would rate the game a solid 80%. Add 5 points to that if you are a gamer who could spend all day tricking out his stable of hardware. The game definitely gravitates toward the strategy crowd. Even with the inclusion of manual combat over 90% of the game is still preparation for the arena.

There are two basic faults with the game. First, there is no true storyline to the game. I would have enjoyed a more fleshed out world with a higher degree of personality, but realistically this game is meant as a simulator. Thus, all of the enemy orqanizations feel somewhat faceless and similar. Most world information is given to you via news clips or e-mail that you receive and read. Second, you have so many mechs (5 on your team) and so many readily available parts to choose from that the level of upward progression feels somewhat stunted. In others words, I believe most of the goodies are available 30 seconds into the game.

<edit> I forgot to mention that one other cool aspect of the game are the AI routines that you win. Before sending a mech into battle there are 30 second slots that you can fill with specific commands. Three examples are “Zig-Zag and close on target”, “Attack with hand-to-hand weapons only” and “Keep distance and fire with long range weapons”. There are hundreds of these routines (think of them as cards) to collect. You then need to determine in which 30 second timeslot t to place each routine. When the AI mech goes into battle he will fight according to the parameters of these routines. If you choose NOT to fill these slots, the AI chooses what it believes is the best path to victory.

Any load times worth mentioning?

This is the exact type of game I love…hundreds of parts and routines to max out your mech…I love that you can just watch and that is the preferred way to run the matches…that way, your design and AI programming is tested to the fullest. Too bad I just sold my PSP…I might have to pick one up again someday.

Sounds really interesting thanks!

With this and Lumines and GTA:LCS and the Metal Gear Acid series and the new Katamari game, I’m sad that I will never own a PSP.

Any load times worth mentioning?

It takes about 10 seconds to load the arena missions, and 3-5 seconds to launch the various different lab areas that you navigate while preparing for combat.

Gamespot just posted a very level-headed review of the game. They gave it a 7.5. The reviewer notes that controlling the mech in manual mode can be very difficult. I also felt this way initially until I realized that I needed to buid a mech that centered around the type of pilot I actually am. In other words, since I have the reflexes of a sloth, using close range weapons and quick-fire missles wasn’t doing me any good. I was getting slaughtered in over 75% of the matches. Frustrated, I took a step back and thought “what type of mech would I TRULY use if I was a pilot?”. I needed to stick to sniper rifles, long-range missles and options for decreased lock-on times. I needed increased jumping capabilities to flee from a quickly approaching enemy. Once I built a mech that mirrored my abilities, I won 7 matches in a row. I need to reiterate that this is a relatively complex strategy game. All those stats you see in the garage are there for a reason.

http://www.gamerankings.com/itemrankings/launchreview.asp?reviewid=652580

Game Freaks gave it a 5.9, ripping the game because “I regret to report the rest of the PSP crowd that Armored Core: Formula Front isn’t the action game you’re looking for.”

Again, the game isn’t even designed as an action game. It is a strategy/simulator title, that allows for action elements if you decide to jump in the cockpit.

http://gamefreaks365.com/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=778

Sweet, I was going to start a thread on this but you fired it up first. Let me just say that I’m an absolute mech junkie, the kind that can spend days tweaking out parts and builds. Given that, I should also note that I burned through my PSP battery the first day I played AC:FF, then continued to play with it off the AC adapter for another 3 hours, and I STILL haven’t started the actual league play yet.

I LOVE the concept of being the owner/manager of a mech gladiator team, and after about 8 hours of play, I still have 1 mech left in my garage to modify. So far, I’ve just been systematically building and tweaking the other 4 mechs in the garage, then testing them by pitting them against 5 different pre-built AI mechs to see how they deal with various enemy types. I don’t even touch the manual controls, because I’m playing this as a pure strategy game.

So far I’ve built up a “jack-of-all-trades” mech (rifle + sword + missiles), a speedy close-combat mech (shotgun + sword + maxed ECM and speed), a missile-boat hover mech, and a 4-legged sniper mech. The last one in my garage will probably be worked out as a grenade/cannon bomber tank-tread mech. The core of the game is building, tweaking, and testing your designs, and as such, I’m in heaven so far. I love building what I think is a perfect design scheme, then rigging up the AI and seeing where I went wrong or right with my AI parameters in combat testing. If you get as excited just thinking about this kind of stuff, then you’ll probably love this game as well.

Right now I’d give it an 8.5/10, +1 point if you’re a huge mech tweaking junkie and don’t need no stinking manual controls.

Actually, this game would be absolutely brilliant if they included the recruitment and management of pilots instead of just AI tweaking. It would add another layer of depth having to recruit and match various pilots and their skillsets with your built mechs, and then possibly still have some sort of influence as to how you think the mech should be optimally used in battle.

How cool would that be if you hired some brilliantly-skilled but hot-headed pilot, put him into a long-range mech with general orders to “maneuver and fight from long-range”, only to have said hothead deviate from the plan and do his own thing because of a lack of discipline? Or that, despite this, his own skill is great enough that he still wins?

Dealing with personalities and finances would make this type of game the complete mech team managing sim.

Dealing with personalities and finances would make this type of game the complete mech team managing sim.

I agree, especially on the personality argument. It is the one point that really keeps it out of the 9+ range for me. I’d love for their to be a tavern where variious pilots throw out insults, challenge your team, and basically hold discussions about the game world.

Right now I’d give it an 8.5/10, +1 point if you’re a huge mech tweaking junkie and don’t need no stinking manual controls.

I actually prefer to let the AI fight because of the anxiety level you feel knowing that you have no controloverf the outcome once you leave the garage. It also adds an extra layer of complexity to the game.

Yeah, I love watching the AI fight, the tension of seeing it implement your strategic guidelines and hoping it’ll pull off the win. Plus, it really lets you sit back and enjoy the graphics and weapon effects of the two combatants, something that can be missed in the heat of a manually-controlled battle.

Also, this game is like a graphically-souped-up, instructionally-toned-down version of that PC game, MindRover: The Europa Project (in which you built robots from various chassis and parts to do things like race, or battle, or patrol, etc. and then manually designated the wired connections for each component in conjunction with logic functions to dictate the robot’s AI). That game had me addicted for many nights, back then.

Anyone know if this will run on a 1.5 PSP? I still can’t give up homebrew.

I’m guessing that it is 2.0 since their is an option on the UMD to upgrade to that version.

I’m guessing that it is 2.0 since their is an option on the UMD to upgrade to that version.

My AI mech just got leveled by an absolute beast. He was pushed up against a wall and the enemy mech came in with a shotgun and melee weapon. It was ugly.

Time to go back and refit… :)

Yeah, I’m really digging the close-in Shotgun/Sword combo, although my current mech sporting this has pretty flimsy armor in compensation for its blazing speed and S-level ECM. Unfortunately, it means he either wins very quickly, or gets slowly whittled down to death. I’m tempted to try this out on a Hover chassis, but intuitively I think the Reverse-Joint Legs are the best for a speed rusher with decent all-terrain agility.

BTW, anyone know if there’s an Infrastructure multiplayer mode for this? Or possibly just email save files with my team of mechs to others? I’d love to see a Qt3 Armored Core tourney go down.

I still have Mindrover on my computer…I go back to it quite often to try and design a bit faster or better vehicle…really good game.

I just built a Tank-Leg AC with that giant back-mount Laser Cannon that takes up both Back slots, coupled with an EO-Core (for extra emergency firepower) and Double-Bazooka Arms, and it’s just nigh-unstoppable in initial tests. That back-mounted Laser Cannon is just wickedly powerful, and can kill in about 3 direct hits, plus seems to do splash damage on near-misses. Plus, since it’s coupled with the Tank-tread Legs, my AC has full mobility while it’s firing this cannon. I’m not exactly sure what part of the AI settings did this, but the AI is smart enough to switch to it’s EO weapon on fast opponents, since that shoots and tracks rapidly, then use the back laser or its bazooka arms when the enemy gets near walls or somesuch to take advantage of splash damage. What’s funny is that, statistically, the game rates it as an overall “C”-level AC, with an E-rated Defense and Mobility, B-rated Cooling, and C-rated Offense, Energy, and ECM; yet, it’s managed to beat all my other designs in 1-on-1 testing, which consist of 2 A-levels and 2 B-levels.

So you can actually pilot the mech in this game? All the time? Because that’s pretty much all I need to know to count it as reason 1 to buy a PSP.

That being said, the people who say the mechs are difficult to control probably say that about all the Armored Core games. The mechs are notoriously slow to turn and aim and such, but once you get used to it it’s not bad.

That being said, I find the idea of designing mechs and sending them off to fight intriguing, but I would like if I could play them myself as well.

I’d just like to say fuck you all for blowing my holiday budget. :)

I’m a total mech whore and reading this thread has basically condemned me to purchasing a PSP in the next 24 hours. I may not even make it through lunch.