Is that an EWM-NAP-02 Napalm Missile in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
Lately, I've received a flood of mech challenges from GR fans and friends alike. All of a sudden they want to test the mettle of my perfectly designed AC war-machine. I remember some of the challengers who were beaten senseless at last year's tourney. AC-Bookman wants another arse whoopin', as well as AC-Krillin.
It must be that time of year again. The season of high tension, inebriation and sweat covered PS2 controllers. I like to call it the Humiliation Season. Indeed, yet another Armored Core game has arrived for us mech-goobers to bask in its bot-building goodness. It's Armored Core 2: Another Age.
This time From Software has made a few changes; some good, some not so good. We love the whopping 100 (!) new missions. We do back flips for the long-awaited Cooperative mission mode (praying to that dirt mound in my backyard with the uncanny resemblance to Jimmie Walker finally paid off!). Unfortunately, my beloved Arena mode does not make a return, and overall the game feels a bit too much like an expansion rather than a full-fledged product. Still, it kicks big robot ass.
Armored Core is a fabulous mech building action game. Players are given a base mech and embark on a series of missions for cash. You use the money to repair the damage you've incurred on said missions and to buy new parts and weapons for your mech. You can also battle a buddy using a split screen or iLink cable. The Armored Core series is easily the best mech game available for the consoles.
AC 2: AA is set several years in the future and, like always, the Earth is war-torn and in shambles with only a few corporations left to cause trouble. These major conglomerates are often up to no good and always need a good AC to supply support, defense, escort, or retrieval of some vital item (sometimes a weapon). This pretty much sets the tone for your crusade through the game's hundred missions.
The story is the same song and dance with every AC game, and frankly I would like to see a more intricate and compelling plot one of these days. Post-apocalyptic Earth ruled by big businesses is getting a little old, not to mention cliché.
But the game looks awesome. The mechs are still incredibly detailed with many moving parts. Activate your overboost to see your thrusters pop up from your back. It's great. Also, the mechs don't stand out against the backgrounds the way they do in AC 2. Everything fits together quite nicely now.
The weapon effects are amazing. Energy weapon blasts cruise through darkened skies to illuminate the surrounding area appropriately. Explosions are massive, reflections are pretty and textures are detailed with next-gen loveliness.
And boy, is this game fast. There are never any framerate issues and the mechs dart around with speed and precision like the Mobile Suits should have in Gundam: Journey to Jaburo. Take notes, Bandai.
Customization is just as involving as it's always been, yet now they've added nearly two dozen new parts and weapons including a better selection of turning boosters, more chain guns, heads, anti-missiles, swords and much more. Now there are truly millions of combinations possible for you to veg-out and play virtual mechanic.
To my chagrin, AI has not been improved at all. The Armored Core enemies have never been particularly dumb and their aim is always impeccable (wallhacks, I swear), but you will often see NPC mechs stuck up against a wall in their attempt to get to you. I guess better pathfinding was not high on the new features list. Also, there is no backup plan for the NPC mechs that quickly run out of ammo. Dummies.
What has totally mystified me is the removal of the Arena mode. Introduced in Armored Core: Phantasma for the original Playstation, the Arena was the place to go for a battle with another AC and it was completely risk free. See, the missions may feature another AC to fight, but most often you just take out a couple automated, lightly armed MTs and other unmanned defensive units. If you ever want to do battle with another AC, you enter the Arena. You could receive cash, parts or weapons as a reward for defeating said NPC mech. They've done a great disservice to the series with this omission.
What they have done is added a Cooperative mission mode ala split-screen. Just load up your custom mech, have a friend load theirs and you're set. You even get different mission briefings. I keep waiting for the mission where I team up with a buddy at first, but because we work for different corporations, we need to eventually duke it over some prized part or weapon that we've been protecting. It would surely jive with the Armored Core mythos and story dynamics. Regardless, this mode is really cool, even if it is only split-screen with no iLink support (Versus mode is iLink compliant).
Armored Core 2: Another Age is essentially just more of the same goodness we've grown to know and love. The graphics have been touched-up, the control is still going to be an issue for the uninitiated, and the story is the same...though you now have 100 new missions in which to hone your skills.
I'm really bummed the Arena has taken a powder (although you do get a couple arena-style missions) and they still have not increased the size of the fighting area when playing Versus. But you still can't find a more engrossing, bot-builder. The level of customization has yet to be matched, making Armored Core 2: Another Age one of the most replayable games in your library. Hopefully we'll see some more drastic changes with AC 3. In the meantime, lock and load.