by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Armored Core 4 & r & & r & Rated Teen; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & P & lt;/span & art of the pleasure of fighting in a crowded city is the mayhem that can be caused by throwing cars around and crushing pedestrians. But while the designers of Armored Core 4 made sure that their cities were full of skyscrapers and wide, battle-worthy streets, they forgot the people and stuff that makes a city a city. In Armored Core 4, when the Mechs start tearing through town, there's hardly anyone around to scream and run underfoot.
A Mech is a fighting machine that is usually shaped like a massive suit of SWAT armor. Like lumbering, robot Godzillas, they tower over most typical tanks and fortifications. They simply walk over people. Some Mechs transform into giant humanoid robots (Robotech: Battlecry) and others into vehicles (Lost Planet: Extreme Condition). Flying Mechs hover over cardboard-box sized buildings like Mothra. And though it can shoot the windows out the buildings around it, a Mech's real foes are inevitably other hulking Mechs.
Armored Core 4 tries to enliven its Mechs with some artificial speed. The Mechs end up zooming across the sky or sliding along the ground as though they were being pushed by the hand of an enormous hyped-up child, swinging them through space faster than they could ever travel. Giving these large, complex machines the ability to dart around cities like jet-powered ice skaters takes away from the Mechs' scale and undermines the clunky Mech aesthetic the Armored Core series is known for.
THE GOOD: Each one of Armored Core 4's pre-fabricated Mechs was lovingly designed by someone who knew and geeked out over the difference between a pair of Hilbert-G7A arms and a pair of Linstant/A arms. There are Mechs that look like frogs and leopards, and others that look like streamlined tanks. There are Mechs that bulge with metal musculature, and others that look as glass-bricked as the buildings scattered around the game. There are even plenty of ways to "build your own" Mech. But the Mechs don't perform as differently as they appear. They tend to move at the same basic rates and fire the same fundamental weapons. Only the basic statistics serve to distinguish the Mechs, making much of their detail unfelt, if not invisible.
THE BAD: Armored Core 4 shares the same washed-out color palette as the PlayStation 3's Resistance and the Xbox 360's Gears of War. The look is stark, and it compliments the bleakness of large-caliber combat. The bland look also lends a (perhaps unintentional) challenge to picking monochromatic enemies out of the monochromatic landscapes. But both Resistance and Gears of War used their respective videogame systems to render the depth of their environments in great detail. Small objects and enemies could be seen from far away, growing bigger over a long period of time. In Armored Core 4, enemy Mechs first appear as blips on my radar, and for much of the game's ranged battles, the fights feel like submarine skirmishes as I fire at enemies I can't fully see. When the approaching Mechs do pop into view, they've been firing for half a minute.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Among the zippy combat, the bulky Mechs and the fuzzy graphics, the parts of Armored Core 4 barely connect.