Review: Unlike 360's ?Core,? this mech system has ALL the parts.
Armored Core enthusiasts that have been tweaking and testing their robot creations for almost nine years can finally bring their favorite mech franchise on the road. Agetec and From Software have successfully translated the long-standing PS2 series to Sony's portable system in the form of Formula Front ? Extreme Battle, though the later part of the title may be an overstatement. Before it was brought to the U.S., the Japanese version of the game released without the ability to manually control your mech in battle. In effect, gamers in the land of the rising sun were limited to customizing their robots and then watching the computer simulate the fighting. Even with a chance to try out manual or AI gameplay in the U.S., the battlefield isn't very extreme and won't please arcade-seeking gamers. However, hardcore Armored Core fans should be happy with the emphasis on customization and strategy, nonetheless.
Much of your time in Formula Front is going to be spent in the garage where five different robots can be assembled with parts and tweaked to precision. It's all about researching your mech opponent's strengths and weaknesses, countering its abilities by adjusting your various mech parts and then sending your newly-configured robot onto the battlefield. Anyone that loves customization will likely spend hours scrolling through the hundreds of available mech parts. The process has a trail-and-error feel sometimes, which will appeal to strategy-loving gamers and immediately bore those that require more than menu system intensity.
The game's objective is to rise from the bottom of the league system and achieve an S-ranked team. Doing so isn't an easy task, though, because the learning curve is tremendous. There are so many options among the 15 different part categories that range from head to booster. And, it doesn't stop there as each segment of your robot body can be tuned. Additionally, the AI of your mech can be tweaked in case you go for the artificial intelligence route over of the manual gameplay. While an AI mode battle is in progress, you're stuck on the sidelines only able to watch from varying camera angles and fast-forward time TiVo-style. Through the AI tweaking menu, you can assign chips that tell your mech to move during one of six 30-second intervals. These maneuvers, which are acquired as you win battles and progress in the game, include zigzagging around and hovering over an enemy to take it by surprise.
The simulated AI gameplay, believe it or not, is more fun than actually going out and manually battling another mech robot. Even though the controls are pretty intuitive with the analog stick to move, shoulder buttons to strafe, and face buttons to attack, evade and switch weapons, you're never as good or as fluid as the computer. As a result, it's much more fun to focus on crafting the perfect mech for a given battle in the menu than to manually test it out on the battlefield. So was the inclusion of manual mode a waste? Not at all. While it isn't the ideal way to play, the fighting gameplay is worth testing out. If the game released in the same form as it did overseas, I'd be as ticked off as the unenthusiastic Japanese gamers who wondered what it would be like to actually control the mechs. Given the chance to go through manual mode put my brain at ease and kept my mind on the stats.
Besides being clear and well laid out in terms of the menu system, the battle mode graphics for Formula Front at least make the game look extreme. Mech movement is fluid, the frame rate never dips and everything is highly detailed. Even though the arenas are a bit sparse, your concentration is going to be on the robots mounting attacks on each other rather than the surrounding environment. The same goes for the oh-so-standard robot sound effects and the (read: sarcastically) oh-no-they-didn't techno music. In the end, the entire presentation does a nice job as replicating what we've seen from the series on consoles, which is a top honor for any PSP game and, more importantly, is going to please fans of the franchise.
In addition to climbing the single-player league system, the game includes an ad-hoc multiplayer mode so that you and a friend can wirelessly battle your bots. Sadly, no online multiplayer mode is included. You'll have to hope that one of your buddies is also a hardcore Armored Core fan and has a copy of the game, too.