Armored Core for Answer is a hardcore game. There is a brief tutorial, but then the game just starts kicking your ass. There is no hand holding, there is no “casual” mode. This is a game designed for people that want to jump in a giant mech and really go to war. Fine, but is it any fun?

The premise behind Armored Core for Answer is that a bunch of mechs are fighting each other… Okay, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but there are so many acronyms being thrown around that I kinda got lost in the geek-speak. What I do know is that large corporations rule the planet (don’t they always?) and are fighting amongst themselves for resources.

The planet’s surface is basically unlivable, so a bunch of Cloud Cities are constructed for people to call home. The resources being fought over are essentially the fuel to keep the Cloud Cities afloat. You are a mercenary taking contracts for these different corporations, which leads to branching storylines and different endings.

As I said in my opening paragraph, this game is hardcore. The starter mission was incredibly easy and probably set me up for failure for the next few missions — I was not prepared to take my enemies seriously. Once the first mission is completed, you are presented with some options: there are usually two or three story missions to choose from, as well as a one-on-one battle to increase your rank in the mercenary organization.

I originally thought that I had no chance at a one-on-one fight because I’m just in some starter AC (that’s Armored Core, the name of the mechs in the game) and would get my ass kicked, so I decided to go for a story mission. Less than a minute into said mission, I was exploded. I had failed. I decided at that point that I had best take my 300,000 space bucks to the shop and beef up my AC. Oh, but then I found out that I was piloting a newer class of AC called a ‘Next’. Alright, so that explains why I’ve been seeing that word so much…

Looking at the stat differences between what I had and what was available for purchase, I didn’t think there was enough of an incentive to spend my hard-earned space bucks for such a minimal upgrade. On top of that, you can get a more detailed breakdown of even more stats that makes it so much more complicated that my brain hurt and I left.

I decided to check out the one-on-one battle, and after the mission briefing, I thought I may actually have a chance. I started the match and noticed that I actually had more health — err, armor — than my opponent. This gave me the impression that I should surely have a chance at beating this dude. Sadly, I was mistaken yet again.

After failing to rank up and previously failing to complete my story mission, I decided to play the other story mission option, the one that paid less money (dammit). I tried to follow my instructions and blow up all these bad mechs in record time, but I soon found myself with very little ammo and not a whole lot of health left. I managed to complete the mission, but my six-figure paycheck was reduced to a mere 19,000 space bucks due to repair costs and my expended ammo. No big deal — I’ll just replay the mission later when I get a better Next.

Wrong. I replayed the mission later and didn’t get any of the money I supposedly earned for a job well done. This means that whatever mission you choose and whatever outcome you get, you are stuck with it. My sob story should serve as a warning for those of you that think that this is just an action game with mechs — this is freaking war, man.

Fans of the Armored Core series will be well at home here. There are so many different parts to collect and stats to analyze that it really boggles the mind. Once I got a better understanding of what everything meant, I bought a tank chassis and some grenade cannons and turned my bad fortune around.

In almost every way, Armored Core for Answer is a significant improvement over Armored Core 4. The graphics are more crisp (and there is a neat visual refraction from the heat of your boosters), the textures are better looking, the game gives you a bit more options on what you want to do (which was my biggest issue with AC4). I also really dig the art style, but if sci-fi mechs and shit aren’t your thing, you may feel differently (and I’d wonder why you were even reading this review).

The controls aren’t really bad, but they leave a lot to be desired. For example: you would expect the triggers to fire your weapons, and the shoulder buttons would (naturally) fire your shoulder weapons — this is not the case. Instead, all of your weapons are mapped to the face buttons, the shoulder buttons switch between weapons, and the triggers use your different levels of boost.

The Y button is also a super boost, which sends you across the map in a flash, but you can also combine the Y button with the shoulder buttons to do an area of effect blast. My main problem with this is that if you hold the shoulder buttons and hit any other face button (which are your weapons), you will drop that weapon to lighten your load. I’ve accidentally dropped my main offensive weapons in an attempt to use this Assault Armor blast, and that totally screwed up the mission for me.

What’s ironic is that the controls are completely remappable, but no other button layout seemed to make as much sense as the default controls. It’s strange that I have the option to set up the buttons however I want and still not be satisfied with them, but it’s an odd truth that I felt the need to mention. I mean, they do grow on you after a while, but they never quite feel intuitive.

One of the stat affecters that will really see some micro-management is the Memory Chips you earn as you progress through the game. There is a whole separate customization menu just for assigning this Memory, which does anything from boosting your turning rate to increasing how quickly you lock onto targets.

While ACfA doesn’t have the ability to make the insanely unconventional designs of its spiritual sister, Chromehounds, it does feature more parts than the previous Armored Core. The design process can get quite complicated, however, because things like your weight, energy capacity, and even your balance are affected by every part you stick on.

For example: having a huge cannon on one arm and a measly energy blade in the other is going to throw of your center of gravity. There are actually stabilizers that you can use to try to correct your imbalance, but ultimately that is just wasted space weighing you down. And yes, your weight does affect how fast you can move. The balance issue I’m not too sure how much it affects, but supposedly you are easier to knock around if you are not properly centered.

The story is so convoluted that it does almost detract from the overall experience, though action junkies that don’t care about story should remain unaffected. The story missions themselves are actually more varied than I expected, the highlight being the Arms Forts — humongous mechs that stretch for what seems like a mile and stand 1,000 feet tall. The first one I went up against had me starting the mission strapped to a huge booster rocket, zooming past the front lines to get to the Arms Fort and destroy it.

The sense of speed was quite exhilarating, flying directly at a huge mech that was miles away, barely visible, that was shooting plasma cannon blasts at me that were larger than my Next. Needless to say, I played that mission multiple times and was usually destroyed within a minute. Ultimately, I did get close enough that my rocket broke away from me and I was attempting to blow this damn thing up, but I never did. That mission was just too hard, and I ended up taking a different path.

Even though the missions are tough, the difficulty adds a more gratifying sense of accomplishment when you succeed. I’m sure a lot of people would just say the game is too hard and skip it, but there certainly is something to be said about perseverance — this game will definitely test you.

You can also tackle the missions in online co-op, which actually would make the difficulty of the missions a little more bearable (not that I would know since none of my friends have the game). There was supposed to be (and it advertises on the box) an offline co-op mode, but that seems strangely non-existent.

There is also a competitive online versus mode, but I never found enough people online to really test it out, and there are only a few hundred names on the leaderboards. I guess not too many people are into that aspect of the game, or maybe just the game in general.

Building your Next is probably half the fun of Armored Core, so people that wouldn’t be interested in that kind of thing are likely not going to enjoy the game quite as much as those that would. If you generally enjoy the minutiae and attention to detail something like this offers, I think ACfA is probably one of the best games in recent memory to satisfy that craving.

Overall, I would definitely recommend a purchase of Armored Core for Answer to all fans of the series, or anyone that likes a lot of depth or customization in their action games. I think it’s still possible for the average gamer to have a good time with it, but I think the depth might be a little overwhelming for most people. What it does, it does pretty well, but I would suggest a rental first just to be safe. At the very least, you’ll get to watch a pretty awesome opening cinematic.

7.5