By Jared Rea 02/21/2007 When it comes to building atmosphere, the Armored Core series isn't exactly Gundam, if you catch our drift. Better known for its mundane environments than sweeping space-opera digs, the series has largely kept its giant robot titles in the mecha-ghetto when it comes to locales. All that looks to be changing with Armored Core 4 as the battles take you beyond the random cities and facilities of the past and into unexplored territory. At times, the game even comes complete with catchy pop tunes to which you crush, kill and destroy.

Admittedly, quite a few of the environments sport one too many "next-gen" filters for our liking (see: more lens flare and blurring than your frontal lobes can possibly tolerate), but it's still an improvement over anything the series has done before. One mission, for instance, takes place over a vast ocean at sunset, with a single target and a massive fleet of tankers standing between you and victory. This place not only serves as eye-candy, but also as a reminder that all mechs can hover over water now. Whether it's the constant barrage of Macross-esque missiles or the sun licking off the surface of the water, something is bound to impress, if not only because it's good to know that at least From Software tried this time.

SCREENS: Mmm...nice shiny robot. [Click the image above to check out all Armored Core 4 screens.

The objectives themselves aren't as black as white these days either. An operation in the desert has players teaming up with a mercenary -- an event that leads to future repercussions depending on the outcome. The target -- an armada of walking laser silos -- can only be harmed while charging its main weapons. While your partner whips around the sand, slashing up the tiny fortresses with the trademark Armored Core swords, you are left to dash around on your own to melodic J-Rock sounds. The entire scene is but a few surf boards short of an Eureka Seven episode.

The amount of effort shown in the single-player campaign of Armored Core 4 is a clear indicator that From Software is treating this as a true sequel, as opposed to treating it like just another update. We definitely appreciate how the objectives now seem to work together with the audio and visual end of the equation -- though we do wish the developers held back with some of the more artificial details ('sup filters).

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