Thirty-seven missions is a lot. A few of the early ones are really short, but by chapter two everything is just right, keeping the tension level high without running too low on ammo. Also, completing missions allows you to replay them in hard mode, which are not only much harder as the name implies, but sport new objectives, making them seem almost but not quite new missions. So it's really like 55 1/2 missions. And if that's not enough, there's nearly forty simulated battles with top ACs (or rather Nexts as the game now calls them), to earn even more credits and the occasional parts. Then after you've exhausted all of the single player possibilities, you can take your prized design online to face up to seven other foes who will quickly teach you what worked against the AI doesn't cut it against live opponents. These matches are quick and typically brutal, but if he's nice enough, the guy who just owned you a half dozen times will trade you his schematic and offer a few helpful tips over his Xbox live headset. It would have been nice if there were other modes outside of deathmatch and team deathmatch though.
As a fan of the series, I've always watched the opening movies to the AC games and dreamed of the day when the in-game visuals, while lovely for their time, would match these dynamic masterpieces. When I saw the first screens of AC4, I knew that day had finally come... which begins with an opening movie to it that's only a step away from jaw-dropping photorealism. So my standards are reset to impossible even before I start the game. That said, AC4 can look a little plain at first. The menu is purely functional, with only the detailed design of the Core itself worthy of wow. Some missions might also seem that way at first in the heat of battle where there are things more than the shadows to worry about, but then at the end when the mission is over, there's a few moments where you can just boost around with ease. That's when you'll notice drawing lazy Ss in the sand with the heat distortion from the thrusters, and the sun in the partially overcast sky draping your AC in both shine and shadow...this is a very lovely game. A next generation loveliness with a style all its own.
It's not perfect though. The biggest, but not very surprising, problem is a lack of parts compared to the more recent entries. Having to start over will do that, but it felt odd to be using pretty much the same body parts through most of the game. The weapon variety is great, but a few more arms and cores would have been nice. There's also the story, or what little there is of it. It's told almost entirely through two disembodied voices, which comes off as people reading the cliff notes of something that would have been much more fun to experience. I know it's been taboo to have human figures in an AC game, but a few character models would have really helped to make this more than the sum of its missions. There was also a problem in a couple missions where the white sky ate into both radar and targeting system, making them far more difficult than they really should have been. This might be picky, but I like to keep track of what parts I own, and there's no clear or easy way to do this in AC4.
I love Armored Core 4. It's so much fun to make my way through the variety of missions, tweaking my own Tellus-B to squeeze out a bit more firepower, or jack up the armor just enough to survive the inside of reactor core. To alter it into a slow moving juggernaut, or a insect-like mech with shimmering laser blades on either arm. So much excitement and challenge, with little frustration once I got a control scheme I was happy with. I don't expect others to understand, or even try to understand, but aside from some refinement needed in certain areas, this game is exactly what it should be. Don't expect it to be something it's not. This is Armored Core.