In the sacred inner circles of Japanese-inspired geekdom lurks the undefeated, undisputed king of giant robots. Many have tried to take control of its thousands of slobbering, Dorito-inhaling, Mountain Dew-guzzling converts, but none have been able to compete with the complexity and depth that is the Armored Core series.
Yep, Armored Core 3 from Agetec has arrived, and GR's resident championship pilot is front and center with the skinny. This is the second 'official' sequel to a six game series (figure that one out) of solid yet incredibly similar titles.
Unfortunately, the AC street runs two ways. Complexity and depth have pushed away as many potential pilots as it has ensnared. In this sequel, several new gameplay options, cleaner graphics, and an improved framerate hope to tempt the leery. Plus, Armored Core 3 serves up a full course of new streamlined features to crack that "armor" of complexity...yet even a crack doesn't draw much new blood.
It's been twenty years since the events of the last Armored Core (Another Age). Corporations hold the world in an iron grip but must still enlist your aid as an ace pilot and eventually, a high-priced merc. But yours isn't the only mech-for-hire, and the competition is fierce. Moreover, a whole new nemesis is on the rise. Your only way to keep your belly full and your mech lubed is to complete the game's 50+ missions, work your way through the ranks of the 1-on-1 Arena, take your earnings and apply it to some kick-ass upgrades.
I can't list all the new goodies but there are plenty, from new hover leg units to left-hand ballistic weapons and even "Exceed Orbit" cores, which release offensive drones to add support fire to your arsenal. Plus, the number of cool Extension intercept missiles, handy system-augmenting Optional Parts, Inside countermeasures and bomb dispensers have all been increased.
You can easily spend as much time building as you do battling because Armored Core 3 offers hundreds of parts for endless combinations. Additional parts are awarded by corporations pleased with your work as outright gifts and/or can be found during missions. Use these new ordinances or sell them for profit.
Armored Core 3 has tried to address the lengthy build times by streamlining the menu screens. The Shop can now be accessed in the garage and you can sell parts from the Assembly screen. This saves time by cutting out a lot screen and menu shuffling...
...so you can get back to the fast and frantic dogfights that are in the Arena and the mission sections. Another Age expanded on the half-implemented branching mission structure of the PSX versions, and Armored Core 3 continues with this. As you complete missions for cash you will open new areas in which you can bounce around. Don't like hanging out in one area? Then check out the mission in another. It really helps break up the linearity.
The missions themselves again run the gamut of incredibly easy to just plain hard. One cool new addition is the option to purchase a computer-controlled wingman. You can't give him any orders, but if you check his stats before you buy and choose a skilled wingman (preferably a full mech), you won't be disappointed. They can be fierce fighters and provide much-needed backup.
The overall aesthetics, while notably polished with cleaner textures, is not quite up to today's standards of excellence. Background textures could be much more detailed, lighting effects are old hat, edges lack needed contours and you still don't get a good sense of scale. "Is this water-retention or am I really just 40 feet tall?" Plus, the world is devoid of life and atmosphere, with few ambient sounds and little in the way of traffic or pedestrians to flesh out the environments.
However, the mech design has been improved. A combination of older style parts and more futuristic style parts really baffle the player with building options. All the moving pieces for boosters, extension parts, fans and the like are still impressive. The sound has gone through an overhaul as well, with many more realistic explosions, machine gun fire and other mech noises.
But before you can relish the symphony of raining bullets and hot plasma, you must first become adept with the finicky control. This game is a true test of hand eye coordination. Every single button is used - all the way down to the L3 and R3 buttons. General movement is handled with the Left analog stick or D-pad, while strafing is done with L1 & R1. Now throw in L2 & R2 for looking up and down. Oh, you haven't fire a single shot yet, so more buttons! This is easily the game's biggest hurdle - a Mt. Everest of learning curves.
Fight through it and the rewards are countless hours of building and battling the computer controlled mechs in the Arena or on the missions...and/or with friends via the split screen or with the Sony Firewire cable. This allows up to 4 PS2s to be linked together. Great if you're filthy rich like this guy, but this feature is almost unusable by the average gamer. Each player needs 2 TVs, 2 copies of the game, a firewire cable and one hub between them (for 4-player).
How they missed this one for Sony's new online play is beyond me. It seems like a no-brainer. You can play Deathmatch, 2-on-2 and NPC bot support is included, but the lack of online play is a letdown.
Armored Core 3 is a good, solid title with loads of replayability, fun and intensity. It plays smoother with the improved framerate and it's much easier to hop right in and quickly build an effective mech. The tough control won't convert the blasphemers and the look needs a facelift, but the action, longevity, depth and style still make this the Liege Lord of mech games on the Playstation and Playstation 2.