Armored Core: Formula Front - Extreme Battle
Reviewed by Michelle Thurlow
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-01-16 PSP Action T (Teen) FromSoftware / Agetec

Formula Front - Extreme Battle is the latest offering in Agetec's Armored Core mech warfare series and the first installment of the franchise to make the jump (or should I say "boost") over to Sony's swanky handheld system. Players assume the role of "architect", whose responsibility it is to assemble, customize, and maintain a squad of five warriors used in one-on-one mech combat against the CPU or other human members of the Formula Front Association League.

The mechs themselves are unmanned machines (u-ACs) that presumably allow for maximum destruction without the extravagance of virtual human carnage. In Manual mode, gamers pilot their metallic automatons via remote controls consisting of the PSP's thumbstick and corresponding buttons that launch missiles, spray bullets, and swing laser blades in a fashion similar in concept to the Battlebots television show. Unfortunately, the CPU-driven Armored Cores are simply too adept to be defeated manually even on the easiest levels, making Manual mode damn near redundant outside of the versus battles one can engage in with other human players.

In AI mode, your Core executes combat moves according to the parameters you've established in its AI tuning. You can, for example, customize whether your robot will focus energy on its defense tactics or concentrate on accurately carrying out offensive maneuvers instead. Moreover, as you participate in subsequent battles and quite literally "cover more ground," the Formula Front Association rewards you with operation chips permitting you to allocate additional abilities to your already tricked-out alloy warrior. Once you've completed programming your robot's combat protocols with the appropriate parameters set and chips inserted, you can sit by the sidelines like an emperor at a gladiator match and observe your mech assault its challenger until either one or the other's Armor Points (life meter) reach zero. All I can say about that is, "Those about to fry - we salute you!"

Formula Front's gameplay consists of analyzing your adversary's creation's capabilities and limitations, then assembling a mech that will most swiftly and effectively prevail in a bout with such a competitor. Err in pitting a sluggish tank-like Core in a melee against an agile jackrabbit of a mech, and you're asking to get roasted more quickly than a package of chicken wieners at a Sunday school picnic. Once you've assessed the relative debilities of your rival's machine, your next step is to access the Garage sub-menu where you'll scroll through literally hundreds of parts descriptions offering you statistics and other minutiae regarding how assigning a particular item will affect your robot's battle performance, positively or negatively.

Developers vaunt that Formula Front features "stunning visual quality," and I can attest that it requires precious few seconds for the player to perceive that this statement is no vapid boast. I encountered no problems with clipping, pop-up, collision detection or frame rate, and I would even go as far as to avow that the game's graphics actually look superior to those of many PS2 titles. Robot and arena textures are nicely rendered, if not incredibly varied and somewhat claustrophobic, but detailed light effects such as spotlights and sunsets give the game a stylish touch. Agetec has even gone to the trouble of designing the heads-up displays and other menus to be aesthetically pleasing, for crying out loud.

Clearly the strategy-heavy gameplay of Formula Front indicates that its developers were looking to please seasoned fans of the mech warfare genre. With a learning curve steeper than the cost of a Barbra Streisand concert ticket, Formula Front comes off as a niche title, albeit a pretty one. Still, a beginner mode or tutorial would have helped newcomers to the series feel less intimidated by the mind-bogglingly diverse menu selections and allow less hardcore gamers to join in on the fun.

Special thanks to Mel Kirk and Agetec for providing a copy of this title.