Today a friend and I grabbed copies of Amored Core 4. His copy is the PS3 version, while mine is the xbox 360 version.
I'll just skip to the chase and say that the game is definitely not worth $60.
The graphics are solid and sometimes beautiful, the customization screens are fabulous, the controls are infinitely better than previous titles, and the overall production values are actually quite high. Unfortunately, the Achille's Heel of Armored Core 4 rests squarely on the shoulders of the godawful missions. Quite simply, they are far too short. I played the first 13 mission and none of them lasted over 90 seconds. Some were as short as 30 seconds. If this was a game for the PSP or DS I could understand that design decision, but on an actual console it is laughable. Missions this short have absolutely no sense of dramatic buildup. You are simply dropped into a hotzone, and you come out with all guns blazing in an environment that is claustrophobically small due to invisible walls that keep you from exploring all that wonderful cityscape featured in the graphic engine's respectable draw distance.
This alone makes the game one of the most frustrating I've ever played, because the actual combat is wonderfully dynamic and incredibly fast paced. Unlike Western mech games, the mechs in Armored Core are supremely agile and move with incredible grace and fluidness. You'll spend most of your combat time boosting and strafing, narrowly missing the streams of missles and plasma fire that snap past your cockpit as you return fire with your own stable of deadly weapons. Unfortunately, just as you acclimate to the speed and feel your adrenaline kick in, the mission ends. Or you get killed because you accidentally boosted to an area outside the boundaries of the cramped mission landscape. In another strange design choice, several mission have you take these super agile mechs and just -STAND- on a waterefront or bridge and shoot down waves of incoming enemy fire. Compounding this frustration is the fact that these are some of the LONGER missions.
After completing a mission, you are rewarded with money, various upgrades, and a ranking. After that it is back to the wonderful customization screens which allow you to change just about any possible area of your mech. There are a significant number of upgrades available for your mech, and a player could easily spend hours just cylcling through choices in weapons, radar, jammers, emblems, color schemes, etc. It is truly a tweaker's heaven. Its just a shame that an hour of tweaking is rewarded with less than one minute of gameplay. So, in essence, Armored Core 4 can be divided into 85% of your time will be in loadout screens, 5% will be watching obtuse storyline elements, and the remaining 10% will be in combat.
In regards to the differences between the PS3 version and the Xbox 360 version, the most obvious was the framerate. In scenes with intense firefights the 360 verion was visibly smoother than its PS3 counterpart. This is not to suggest that the PS3 framerate drop was crippling to the gameplay, as even with that difference both versions remained very playable. Also, as seen in various Internet videos, the PS3 version is slightly more washed out and brighter compared to the very DARK screen on the Xbox 360. In fact, on the 360 I had to turn up the brightness toggle several steps to make myself comfortable with the screen. Graphically both games are nearly identical, and despite reports that the PS3 version suffers from more jaggies, neither my friend nor I saw any true difference. As I had mentioned in a different thread, buy the game based upon your controller preference.
Speaking of which, despite my contempt for the sixaxis controller in comparison to Microsoft's offering, both games were responsive to any and all commands. You have the option of choosing from a few preconfigured mappings, or you can remap ever single button on the respective gamepads. At first I remapped by weapons to the trigger buttons, but I soon discovered that boosting and strafing is SO important that I returned them to their default face button settings.
Overall, Armored Core 4 is another one of those games with a few moments of brilliance inevitably hampered by several poor design decisions. This game would have been superlative if From Software created missions that were something more robust than 1 minute ADD sessions of high tech combat.
Buy this game if:
-You love tweaking mechs and don't care about combat
-You are a complete mech junkie that can look beyond some very large design flaws
AVOID this game if:
-You hate frantic gameplay that demands swift response times
-You can't stand tweaking and retweaking your vehicle in a garage
-You want complex gameplay missions that slowly build in intesity and length
-You are looking for the next Mechassault, Mechwarrior, or Chromehounds