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Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon Essays

Essays 25 August 2023, 14:48

author: Krzysiek Kalwasinski

History of the Armored Core Series

The release of Armored Core 6 is nigh! This is a good opportunity to look at the origins, and analyze further fate, of this series. Here's the story of Armored Core franchise.

The beginnings of the Armored Core series date back to early 1997. Then the original installment appeared on PlayStation. At the end of the same year, it launched in the United States, and by the middle of the next year, arrived in Europe. Since then, no less than fourteen different games appeared in this franchise, on top of a few spinoffs and remakes. And now it's time for Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon. Let's look at the beginnings of this series and how it has evolved and performed over the years.

One man's food...

The initial plans for the first Armored Core differ quite significantly from the game's eventual shape. The creators wanted to make a game of a more adventurous nature, without such rigid division of missions. Eiichi Hasegawa, a programmer working for FromSoftware back in the day, created a version partially based on what was found in King's Field – another flagship series of this studio, today remembered as the predecessor of Souls. We're talking no loading screens during world exploration. Unfortunately, with the change of concept, when the team finally decided to divide the game into missions, the entire code went to the bin.

Many stages of the production process of Armored Core worked on a trial and error basis. A large part of the vision was abandoned, and the idea for the game came quite suddenly, when Yasuyoshi Karasawa had some downtime during the development of King’s Field II. The team created several mecha prototypes, which looked like dolls of cardboard, and when they managed to set them in motion and teach them to fire rockets, it was a pity not to use the potential for a successful action game. Because even though their appearance could not be described as impressive, their movements certainly were.

However, the company lacked a specialist in robot design, so they contacted Shoji Kawamori, even before PlayStation hit the market – a well-known creator of scripts, Japanese animations (such as The Vision of Escaflowne or Patlabor) and a specialist in all things mecha, known from, among others, in Ghost in the Shell. All FromSoftware knew was that it was a studio making "hardcore games for hardcore players." He was surprised that their workplace was so organized, but as soon as he was introduced to the concept, he immediately knew he wanted to be a part of it. However, he was concerned about ensuring that the development of subsequent models is not overly complicated.

In this way, we come to one of the more interesting ideas that the Armored Core series is strongly associated with. Building mechas. The creators did not plan to implement this feature at the very beginning. Efforts were made to make the prototypes look attractive, but during the discussions agreement was hard to come by, as each member of the team considered a different project to be optimal. At one point, Kawamori stated that he would have to create many different robots. The next day, however, it was decided to change the approach and give players the freedom to create their own models. In this way, this revolutionary concept was born.

The implementation of the new idea posed many challenges, as hardware limitations, gameplay balance, and artistic consistency all hard to be considered. The creators wanted to ensure proper diversity so that the game wouldn't favor certain builds over others. That's why every component we use to build subsequent models has its own advantages and disadvantages. There are hundreds of thousands of combinations, which is impressive even by today's standards. There were supposed to be more parts, including head, torso, arms, legs, boosters, etc. However, the creators wanted to further divide arms into three sections. Getting so detailed would have created too many challenges. Naturally, the concepts that were devised in the initial installment have been integrated into all the following editions, with suitable enhancements.

Raven, I have a job for you

Armored Core is also exceptional in terms of economy and the way it executes subsequent missions. During the first pass, it's impossible to complete all of them, because depending on successes or failures, we gain access to different operations. Achieving success is linked to better reward, but also we have to cover the expanses of ammunition and repairs of our mecha.

So, taking contracts from the corporations can either entail huge debts, or sizable wealth. Currency is needed not only for purchasing parts, but also for making deposits before undertaking some of the tasks. Too much debt and failures, however, lead to our pilot being subjected to experiments that deprive him of his humanity – and instead gaining combat-ready enhancements.

The combat gameplay also made a lasting impression back in the day. It was fresh, as the gameplay was highly dynamic and very interesting. The player-controlled robot could perform quick dashes, take off, use a variety of weapons at the same time (all kinds of firearms, from pistols, to rocket launchers and energy swords), which in combination with customization capability increased replayability. Especially since the missions, although they mostly involved eliminating enemies, were quite varied.

In the creation of the game, it would be unfair to omit the contributions of Sony, which helped fund the production and the engine that was developed for their games, which took over a year. This had a positive effect on the quality of the game, which was praised for its stable fluidity and impressive graphic design, in which explosions, overall details, and lighting were particularly impressive. The game sold and was received well enough to warrant more games in the same series. Armored Core: Project Phantasma and Armored Core: Master of Arena both appeared on PlayStation. And both of them would be called "DLC" in the 21st century.

"New" order

Armored Core 2, which came at the dawn of the next generation, for the second PlayStation, also deviates a bit from what was initially planned. The creators wanted to enable robots to transform into planes during gameplay. The concept was dropped, but instead, other novelties appeared that breathed fresh air without changing the characteristics of the series. Due to the greater capabilities of the new gaming platform, weapons and some elements could be animated separately. The speed of movement was slightly reduced in favor of more defense, and at the same time, a mechanic was added for covering large distances in short time. Also introduced was the ability to change the color and information displayed on the HUD.

As with the first part, the second also received a standalone expansion, albeit only one – Armored Core 2: Another Age. Compared to its predecessor, it increased the number of missions at the expense of the arena mode, added a local cooperation mode, and a network competition mode – only available in the Japanese version. It also ended the era that began with the first part. All five games told about a world devastated by a cataclysm, in which various corporations fought for influence. The player's role was not only to carry out tasks – it was in a way a method of implementing a new order.

With the end of a certain era, the creators decided to reset the universe, which they accomplished through Armored Core 3. Humanity was banished and forced to live underground under the rule of an AI called The Controller. Despite the reset, the whole story still revolved around corporations fighting for power and a mercenary carrying out their orders. Not much has changed in terms of gameplay either (except for the possibility to wield two identical weapons at the same time), which was not received warmly by the press. Criticism was mainly directed at clunky controls, which made it impossible to use the right analog stick for aiming.

Part three, in addition to the standalone expansion of Silent Line: Armored Core (introducing an optional FPP camera), also received a direct continuation – Armored Core: Nexus. This is the first part of the series, which makes long-awaited use of the second analog stick – finally, it could be used for aiming. However, that was it as far as major changes were concerned – everything else was the same as in the predecessors.

The press, however, noticed an increased level of difficulty and voices appeared that it has become even less accessible for new players. Armored Core: Nine Breaker (a spin-off of Nexus) appeared on PS2, focusing heavily on gameplay itself, Armored Core: Formula Front (a port of a strategic game from PSP) and Armored Core: Last Raven (a direct continuation of Nexus) concluded the storyline started in part three.

Armored Souls

Armored Core 4 is the twelfth installment in the series and another reboot, as well as the first part that was ever released outside of PlayStation – in addition to PS3, it also arrived on Xbox 360 and it had an online multiplayer available worldwide. This was also the directorial debut of Hidetaka Miyazaki, who later gained fame because of Dark Souls. He ensured a significantly faster pace of the game, as well as greater accessibility for new players. It was justified in the plot because in the game, we controlled next-generation mecha. Once again, playing as a mercenary involved in a grand conflict between corporations. The press complained about somewhat outdated graphics, but the changes introduced in the gameplay appealed to most reviewers. However, general admiration was hardly the case.

A direct continuation of part four was also received similarly, again done by Miyazaki. Armored Core: For Answer introduced several new features, such as the transformation of several selected mechs, a new type of armor, and also allowed to achieve several different endings based on the choices made – something that only Last Raven had previously done. Next to praises for gameplay, there was criticism of high difficulty level and repetitive missions. It was already 2008.

The more underwhelming period for the series continued when in 2012 Armored Core V was released, returning to more classic assumptions of the series. Few enjoyed the high level of difficulty, often described as frustrating. Criticism was also directed at greater emphasis on network aspects, which, coupled with relatively low interest, resulted in long queues in the lobby – unless your friends were infatuated with this type of game.

Before FromSoftware decided to take the longest break from the series ever, one more game appeared – Armored Core: Verdict Day (2013). This installment put a major emphasis on online gameplay, which, again, did not entirely please the critics. However, most of the complaints concerned high level of difficulty and overall inaccessibility, which seemed to limit the number of potential users. The game's storyline and graphics design also enjoyed rather modest acclaim.

The great return

One can expect that the sixteenth installment of the series, Armored Core 6, will be much more warmly received than some of its predecessors. The status of the study has significantly changed over the years, and the game itself promises to be an efficient combination of everything that's best in the series. There's a great deal of enthusiasm for part six from journalists and players alike. It all looks like this is just the best time for this type of return. The creators themselves have wanted to develop a new version long.

What do we know about Armored Core 6? It will certainly be a challenging game, though it doesn't seem to be as difficult as Elden Ring or other games from the studio that appeared in the last 15 years. On the other hand, it might turn out to be more difficult, as there will be no other option than to learn a given boss until successful. The creators have repeatedly emphasized that they want players to learn how to take advantage of the environment and the capabilities of robots – this is clearly demonstrated from the very first mission. Aggression is also meant to play a significant role in the gameplay and will be appropriately rewarded.

Masaru Yamamura, who was previously the main designer of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, is responsible for the creation of the game, which is also clear in the promotional materials. Developers often emphasized that they utilize everything they learned during the production of recent games. Some similarities are therefore inevitable.

However, fans of the series have nothing to worry about, because Armored Core 6 will not be another representative of the popular soulslike, but a new installment of the iconic cycle faithful to its legacy. There will be briefings before missions, emphasis on mech construction, and intense clashes at a very fast pace. The innovation can is somewhat evidenced by boss fights, which grew in scale. A rarity in the series was such clear tracking of opponents, which should make the gameplay more enjoyable, in accordance with the intentions of the creators. The implementation of an open world was considered for some time, but the creators moved away from this idea. This could negatively impact the richness of the mech-building system.

We will be able to see how well the latest FromSoftware game is received very soon. Armored Core 6 will launch on August 25 for PC (for the first time in history!), PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One.

Krzysiek Kalwasinski | Gamepressure.com

Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon

Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon

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