You saved us, Giant Robot!
Now that the Playstation 2 has landed (kind of like the Mothership. Funky!), Sony naysayers are having a field day commenting on the lack of (dare I use the nerdy jargon) "killer apps." Actually, I hadn't really expected there to be any amazing games at launch. Historically, there haven't been more than one, maybe two games that are downright exceptional at the launch of any system. Admittedly, it seemed to me that Playstation 2 didn't even have the 1 or 2 exceptions. Crikey, was I wrong!
What would you call a game that has the fast-paced action of Sega's Virtual-On, the ground-defying aerial battles of the Gundam series and the geeky yet complex customization akin to the Mechwarrior games? A killer app?
Well frankly, it doesn't matter what you'd call it, because it's already got a name: Armored Core 2. The sequel to the finest mech combat game ever made for the original Playstation has boosted its way on to the most sought after console system on the planet. And as it turns out, this application is indeed a killer.
The story in Armored Core 2 has changed from the original. A war was waged that required the surviving inhabitants of the planet to seek refuge underground, which is where all the battles from the previous Armored Core games took place. Now, it's decades later. The surface that was once uninhabitable is beginning to blossom again. The corporations, noticing that their underground resources were nearly spent, decide to form an alliance. Working together, they're able to begin repopulating the surface.
Yet one corporation sees the planet Mars as the new frontier for human civilization, and promptly begins terra-forming it. Over the next few decades, many other corporations stake their claim on Mars and follow suit. It doesn't take long for the fighting to begin again, and Mars is the new battlefield.
The fact that this story plays out several decades in the future becomes obvious once you begin the arduous task of configuring your mech. Most of the really useful parts have a sleek, rounded, futuristic flair about them. This lends greatly to the continuity.
You want to know what looks stunning on the Playstation 2? I'll tell you. The mechs (or AC's) in Armored Core 2. These steel giants look irrefutably second-to-none. In the old Armored Core, I had to color my AC to look metallic. Well, now no matter what you color your mech the pigments all take on a metallic sheen, which is very nice. Also, the polygon count on these metal behemoths is staggering. The various parts of the mech move independently of one another. The result is simply amazing.
The gameplay graphics are just as smooth as the mechs. The light-sourcing is spot-on, the particle effects are impressive and the framerate is pretty solid. Anti-aliasing nazis will notice the occasional jaggie, but frankly, it's not a big deal at all. I just can't speak enough about how good this game looks.
As in previous Armored Core games, players are able to configure an original AC using parts and paint options. Only this time, the customization has reached staggering proportions. There are an estimated 10 billion (!) combinations possible, including parts and color changes. The level of customization is mind-bending.
Holding true to Armored Core form, you can easily lose an hour or two as you're tediously trying to balance weight, adequate firepower, agility and defense (note: these are but four of many customizable options). It takes time, but the payoff can be abundantly rewarding.
New to Armored Core 2 are radiators. The radiator acts just as it does in a real life automobile, serving as a cooling unit for your AC. This means you will now have to contend with overheating issues caused by excessive boosting, weather conditions and consecutive enemy attacks. It's a great addition that really ups the realism.
Other new part types include 'Inside' parts, which are placed inside the core of your AC. The Inside parts range from defensive decoys that can be deployed for fooling guided missiles to offensive floating mine dispensers that can inflict a good amount of damage. Very cool.
Extension parts are something altogether different. Attaching to the shoulders of your AC, these new gadgets are primarily defensive. They include various types of anti-missiles (energy and shell based) and support missiles. Both are severe, much needed assets in battle and welcome additions to the game as a whole.
If you feel you need to get in or out of a situation as quickly as possible, check out the brand new Overboost feature. By pressing R3 (push the right analog stick in), players can ignite an afterburner thrust that simply kicks your mech into overdrive. This feature is core dependent, so choose a core wisely and you could find yourself with a really powerful Overboost. It's both crazy-dope and stupid-fly!
With all these new functions and things to tweak, the uninitiated can easily get intimidated by the high-learning curve of the control, as every single button on the control pad is utilized. Armored Core 2 tries its best to help with this by letting players configure their control pad any way they desire. You can even make the D-pad fire weapons....not that I'd recommend it, but if it rows your boat, you can do it.
AC2 has a variety of game modes. The Missions allow the single player story to unfold and players can earn big cash. Unfortunately, these run the gamut from terrific to mundane. Some are a blast, while others are repetitive and boring. The Arena offers AC pilots a chance to test their mettle against an opposing AC in one-on-one combat. It's a nice addition and a great way to test out your mech without worrying about losing money. However, the selection of areas in which to battle is few, and even fewer are really interesting. Plus, they're a bit too confined, though not nearly as claustrophobic as Virtual-On.
Armored Core 2 can be played multiplayer split screen and multi-linked. Unsurprisingly, the split screen kind of sucks as there is just too much on screen to warrant an effective split. So that leaves my personal favorite, the link. Multiplayer linked requires a Sony I-link Fire Wire cable, two copies of the game, two televisions and two PS2s. This is by far the most fun that can be had with AC2 as players now have a full TV screen to enjoy the battle. Given, finding the appropriate equipment ain't easy...how many of your friends currently have a PS2? Nevertheless, it's a ton of fun if you can manage it.
Plus, when you play linked AC2 you are blessed with a much larger selection of areas to battle. Mmm mmm good!
Despite the somewhat niggling flaws, Armored Core 2 simply amazes. Out-of-this-world customization, great gameplay and tons of depth place Armored Core 2 atop the current list of PS2 games. Even if you're not a fan of Robotech, Gundam or any other mech-based anime, this is a must-have.