Armored Core For Answer

Gamestyle Archive intro: always partial to an Armoured Core experience, or is that Armored? This PS3 edition came as somewhat as a disappointment.

 

Writer: JJ

Published: 2008

Developer: From Software

Publisher: Ubisoft

Set a decade after the conclusion of Armored Core 4, the bizarrely named For Answer is the latest instalment in the burgeoning definitive Mecha series. Despite numerous attempts From Software’s efforts have given us more lows than heights, can this buck version the trend?

Unfortunately not is the straightforward answer, as From Software have stuck to the same formula and delivered a mission based game with the emphasis on building your own Mech. This is all fine and well but after countless instalments and more horsepower under your console hood, Gamestyle is frankly expecting much more nowadays.

Our love for Mecha experiences started with the original Psone Armored Core and Sega’s sublime Virtua On release. We even went to the trouble of Steel Battalion and somehow managed to overcome its emphasis on realism. Even with some dubious releases in the series such as Armored Core 2, we’ve stuck with it as on occasion it does produce something special like Armored Core 3: Silent Line.

The storyline in For Answer is very thin but essentially you are a mercenary for hire who can pick and chose sides. What missions you decide on will limit your options further in and result in one of three different endings, yet the plot is dispensable. From Software continuously refuse to integrate the player into the story and seem content with mission briefings. Gamestyle isn’t expecting another Zone of Enders or Front Mission but the potential is certainly there for more. The range of missions is a positive aspect that will throw various challenges and requirements your way before you can even consider seeing the an ending.

For Answer features a colossal amount of customisation options, in fact double what appeared in Armored Core 4. There is little here you cannot tinker with having spent your credits in the shop as you continuously try to create a fighting machine that matches your style of combat. As ever there is no right or wrong way and the mission structure as it is stands means that on numerous occasions you will have to amend your design to overcome a particular challenge. The core strength of the series remains the combat, which can be beautiful to watch, and wonderfully fluid to experience. There is little your Mech cannot achieve, whether its long range or close quarters combat and you always have the option to take to the skies.

Yet you’ll struggle to find any combatants online to really appreciate this ballet of mechanical violence. The servers are eerily quiet with no versus or co-operative play available and sadly it’s to be expected in such a niche title without seemingly the Japanese players being available for duty. This leaves you to hire wingmen on certain missions although we do query why this feature isn’t available for every job you take on; after all their services come out of your bonus. Apart from offline LAN play you can also try to rise up the ranks of top 30 in offline order matches. Now these are particularly enjoyable as the AI and opposition firepower gradually increases. Several times we raced through a few matches only to eventually hit a brick wall that sent us scurrying back to the garage to re-evaluate our design.

Visually Armored Core For Answer is pretty drab and futuristic with the emphasis on numerous enemies. The only positive aspects we can identify are the speed of combat and the impressive size of enemy combatants on the odd occasion. The Earth it seems has been scorched and little survives except these roaming mechanical beasts in drab and mundane environments. Given From Software’s visual fair previously seen in titles such as the Otogi series this is nothing short of very disappointing.

Armored Core For Answer is really only for fans of the series, which Gamestyle does count itself among. However even then our patience is starting to wear a little thin as From Software seem content to churn out these unremarkable editions without really building upon the strong combat and customisation features, making this title very hard to recommend.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10

Full Auto 2: Battlelines

Gamestyle Archive intro: the archives are littered with titles you may have reviewed yet cannot recall much about. Full Auto 2 Battles is such an example.

Writer: JJ

Published: June 2007

fullauto2

Vehicle combat has always been an oddity, with few releases outside of the Mecha genre offering a worthwhile experience.   Twisted Metal Black is the obvious exception, but this apparent difficulty does not dissuade further developers from trying more times than gamers care to remember.  The law of averages concludes that eventually a worthwhile contender will appear, but Full Auto 2 is far from being a worthy dark horse.  Apparently the success of the first Full Auto prompted the rapid fire sequel we have here yet how many different perspectives can you bring to a rudimentary genre?

Arriving like a cross between Mad Max and Richard Morgan’s Market Forces, Full Auto 2 places you in the role of a secret government agent, inserted into a car with a secret mission, that is to destroy all the gangs from within.      Advise comes from a rogue AI that slowly opens up as you progress to provide warnings and details on new possibilities.  As for the storyline, well it never gets off the starting line, and after all we’re all here for the carnage and not some engaging tale of good against evil.  Just why are these gangs standing up the government?  Could they actually be heroic citizens, saying, “enough is enough” or “no more car taxes”, these possibilities actually keep Gamestyle engaged more than the game play itself.

While you have a small selection of modes on display (arcade, offline multi-player and online) the main thrust of Full Auto 2 is the career mode.  By naming it as such is already misrepresentation, as it’s just a selection of mission types wrapped around the AI attempting to deliver a story that is ultimately pointless.   Why the gangs slowly allow you to improve and gain more weaponry is beyond us – any decent crime lord (or revolutionary depending on your point of view) knows to cut down a threat with maximum force before it can grow.  James Bond does not start with a pistol before getting his hands on a machine gun half way through, then finally a rocket launcher.  Nope, he’s full tooled from the off as the mission requires, but the government here have not taken a similar approach, with cutbacks being fairly evident.

The experience itself consists of rampaging along a lapping circuit avoiding obstacles and enemy fire, whilst trying to achieve the primary goals (and if you’re good enough) secondary goals that deliver more goodies.   The bonuses can be worthwhile such as new vehicles, or totally pointless examples such as new skins.  The goals at times may consist of taking out a particular vehicle, or coming first in a race.  The actual goals are well designed, with each requiring improvements in driving ability, aim and course knowledge.   Trial and error is certainly a staple procedure here, unfortunately you will have to wait while each level reloads and we have to question why.

The environments are nice and crisp with plenty of details you fail to notice at your average speed, never mind the fountain of violence that can often spring up on any given bend in the circuit.   However unlike Burnout, which Full Auto 2 tries so hard to follow and outdo, it lacks the speed or adrenaline factor.   Any thrill from taking down a worthy opponent is lost through the myriad of options and buttons you can call upon to dilute the experience.  You wanna jump back for a second?   Try out those thrusters?  Mores the point how can you see over the bonnet with those huge machine guns on it?

You really have to dispense with your sense of realism and knowledge of cars, before Full Auto 2 starts.   No matter what weaponry you plaster over the front of rear of your vehicle, it will handle exactly the same and hit those top speeds all too easily.      The handling is way too sensitive, Gamestyle has never driven a vehicle that is so responsive and never loses speed when navigating bends.  Nought to sixty in a blink of an eye, at least you have visible damage but it does not affect handling or speed either.  The aggressive AI has its limitations and can be outrun or out thought when you realise taking out anything but the primary target is a waste of time and effort.

Full Auto 2 tries so hard to be enjoyable with its arsenal of weapons and distinctive car designs.  It is very much like a combat version of NASCAR, with large numbers of cars going around a bland circuit at high speeds.    It may appeal to a minority, but this is no Destruction Derby.

Gamestyle Score – 5

PDC World Championship Darts: Pro Tour

Gamestyle Archive intro: a Playstation 3 review from 2010. This one is interesting as the top of the review has a tagline that would be incorporated into the site itself.

Writer: CT

Format: Playstation 3

Published: November 2010

PDC darts PS3

PDC World Championship Darts: Pro Tour excellently recreates the atmosphere of the marvellously over-the-top sport. All the stars are present, as are all the venues. The only thing missing is a decent control system.

Words by Chris Thornton , playing on a Sony PlayStation 3.

The presentation of PDC World Championship Darts: Pro Tour is done well. Although the graphics look dated at times, the atmosphere during the matches cannot be faulted. Most of the work has been done by the Professional Darts Corporation, who have managed to take an essentially dull game, and added the theatrics of a WWE wrestling match to make it watchable. The game captures this perfectly, and the various venues that you will play at are highly entertaining.

The close-up graphics of the dart boards are superb, and it looks particularly realistic. Unfortunately, having the other half of the screen taken up with a particularly unrealistic version of Phil “the Power” Taylor (or any of the other big names of darts), ruins the effect, but there are a variety of different views to choose. With full commentary from Sid Waddell and John Gwynne, there is a great feel to playing matches, and when you hear your first “Onnnnnne Hundred and Eiiiiiiiiighty” declared to the whoops and cheers of the audience, you get a real sense of satisfaction.

The career mode is the main game mode, and it offers a good deal of depth. You can create your own player, customising appearance, clothing, darts, throwing style, and even giving them a suitable nickname. You are then able to progress through the tour calendar, competing in such events as the UK Open, Las Vegas Desert Classic, and the Grand Slam of Darts. Prize money is awarded for finishing well in the tournaments, and your rank and rating increases. It may not be perfect, and Gamestyle would have liked more detailed customisation and levelling up systems, but with a good variety in the tournaments, it’s sure to keep you occupied for countless hours.

Pro Tour is let down by its controls, however, and this proves to be a fatal flaw. There are two stages to throwing a dart; first you aim, guiding a target reticule to the right spot on the dartboard, locking it in place with the shoulder button, and then you pull back the right analogue, flicking it forward to launch the dart, simultaneously releasing the shoulder button. The speed in which you flick the analogue stick determines the power, and the horizontal accuracy is determined by how straight you flicked the stick forward.

Gamestyle found that due to the position of your thumbs, however, it was nearly impossible to flick the stick “straight”, which seemed to be vertical. It’s awkward, and thanks to the pesky knuckle and angle of the thumb as you hold the controller, straight for us was more at an angle, meaning that the darts invariably went to the left. This can be rectified by aiming to take this into consideration, but the actual launching of the dart is far too random to be able to to this with any confidence.

If you don’t release the shoulder button, you can take a practice throw, which can help determine the power before you throw. Gamestyle found that it seemed like only millimetres between throwing a dart that fell short, and a dart that went wildly over. You can take as many practice shorts as you like, but it won’t make a blind bit of difference, as each thrown is completely different to the next.

There are two options of aim assistance, but even on the maximum setting, Gamestyle found their darts missing their targets, particularly frustrating when trying to get that all important double to win. There is a practice mode, which allows you to throw darts in a non-competitive surrounding, and this seems to have a different throwing system. In this, there is a tiny window just after you have flicked the analogue stick, which lets you seem the power and accuracy before your release the shoulder button. It’s useful, as you throw more accurate darts, and its unknown why this isn’t available in the actual game. As it stands, you have you release the shoulder button almost before you’ve set the power, which makes the whole thing a bit of a lottery.

Pro Tour offers Move compatibility, but this too is wholly inadequate. Firstly, holding the Move controller like a dart is awkward, with the accessory being too large and bulky to be comfortable. It also suffers from the same problem as the control pad; you release the Move button to let go of the dart, but then you have no way of knowing the power of accuracy, relying on the physical action of moving the controller through the air. As you invariably snap your arm back, after you’ve gone through the throwing motion, if you don’t let go of the button at the correct point, it registers the pull-back, and reduces the power of your shot.

Gamestyle understands that there is a need to make the throwing system a challenge, so that getting a nine dart finish is the rare achievement it should be, but the method employed in Pro Tour just isn’t consistent enough. As a result, it’s a slog to progress through the career mode. The random nature of the throw means that you can never master it, and games often become those of chance rather than skill. The matches themselves take long enough (and you inexplicably get punished for suspending one, should you not want to play it out in the full hour sitting it will take!), but it isn’t helped by having to take multiple practice throws before you chuck your dart in anger.

It’s a real shame, because Pro Tour offers so much. The career mode is accompanied with a party mode, which has a plethora of dart-based games to play. These include Round the Clock, Killer, and Cricket, and are far more entertaining that the traditional game. It’s a crime that these are only available to be played with friends, and you can’t take on the CPU. The same can be said of the online multiplayer, which only allows you to play the traditional games.

PDC World Championship Darts: Pro Tour is a near perfect example of a good game that is completely undone by its controls. The content would probably appeal to both hardcore and casual dart fans alike, but the fiddly and inconsistent throwing mechanics are enough to put anyone off playing.

Overall 4/10