There's only so much rusty machinery you can fit inside a hangar, as the saying goes (or maybe doesn't go. It's not actually our saying). But Armored Core 4 - actually the 13th or so entry in this long-running giant robot blowstuffupathon series manages to fit more than most. We took the PS3 version out of its hangar (although there's also an Xbox 360 model in the works) and onto some seriously bleak battlefields - then made them bleaker by exploding everything we could.
The biggest departure from previous Armored Core games is this version's foray into the big wide world of online gaming - a realm barely flirted with in previous PS2 entries (especially in the US). You can take your mech, customized as you see fit, online to battle against up to seven other Core owners. True to Armored Core tradition, customization plays a big role in the game, and not merely in a visual sense - the gamer with the strongest mech really does have the strongest chance of winning a battle.
However, the "strongest mech" is a fluid term - there's a real rock-paper-scissors relationship between a mech's weight, speed and firepower and a mech that obliterates a certain type of opponent in a particular locale might be a doormat in another scenario.
Thus, optimizing one part of your Core may enable greater strength in that department, but at a cost elsewhere. In fact, there's more attention to detail here than ever before. With the tuning options of a robot Gran Turismo, the key is to find a good balance between a mech's various attributes. Pre-battle preparation is therefore vitally important.
Another interesting feature of AC4’s online play enables the trade of parts, and even whole mechs, with other players from around the globe. (There's no word as yet on whether the final code will be playable across international borders, but we expect this to be the case.) There's clearly potential here for a community to rival the group that continues to support From Software’s previous next-gen project, Chromehounds.