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Armored Core 6’s big doofus boss lets you feel like a mech god

Smart Cleaner is Armored Core at its most cathartic

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon is peppered with harsh difficulty spikes, from the early mission AH12 HC Helicopter to the heavily shielded HA-T-102 Juggernaut. Then, of course, there’s Balteus, the mech that will put an early end to players’ mercenary aspirations. FromSoftware also gives Armored Core 6 players their share of comparatively simple, straightforward missions, where mercs are tasked with mowing down inferior machines.

None of those cakewalks are as satisfying or as cathartic as EC-0804 Smart Cleaner, a big, dumb piece of heavy machinery that loves to eat bullets. It’s one of the best boss battles in Armored Core 6, because it’s such a pushover.

[Ed. note: This story contains minor spoilers about an early game boss battle.]

The Smart Cleaner boss battle comes almost immediately after players beat Balteus. As players infiltrate Grid 086, “Cinder” Carla and her team of RaD pilots offer little resistance. Really, the only thing to worry about on this mission is whether you’ll have enough ammunition to finish the level. After Carla surrenders and lets you, the “tourist,” into the facility she controls, she throws ol’ Smart Cleaner at you. It’s a dirty trick, but also where Armored Core 6 lets you have some fun again.

EC-0804 Smart Cleaner robot raises its glowing arms as it readies to attack 621’s mech in a screenshot from Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon
Bear hug!
Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco via Polygon

EC-0804 Smart Cleaner is a major swerve from Balteus, the fast-moving, missile-spraying mech with a shield that blocks most of the ordnance you throw at it. The Smart Cleaner is a chunky tank armed with a pair of white-hot, metal-shredding arms and big smelter bucket. Every attack from Smart Cleaner is heavily telegraphed, it’s easy to stagger, and it has a big glowing mouth-hole right up front where you can dump bullets, explosives, and plasma fire. (Alternatively, you can also just dunk all your ammo into the bucket! Get dunked on, Smart Cleaner!) Sometimes, you have to jump to dodge out of the way of its bear hug attacks. Oh no. So hard.

FromSoft rarely gives players of its games this kind of difficulty spike dessert. Rather, the developer tends to reward players who beat a challenging boss by either reviving it with a second full health bar or pairing it up with another hard boss. Smart Cleaner’s purpose is to lower your blood pressure and adrenaline levels. It’s a chance to feel like a real tough guy after getting your ass handed to you by Balteus, repeatedly.

Like a lot of Armored Core 6, Smart Cleaner is a welcome change of pace from the design playbook of FromSoftware. It’s a pleasant surprise from the maker of Dark Souls, this time for its lack of challenge.

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