A real gun for hire.
I'm sure that more than one kid (besides myself) who grew up on Robotech has dreamt of stepping into Rick Hunter's boots, strapping themselves into a Veritech fighter, and taking on the scum of the universe. Armored Core, a mech-simulation/action game from From Studios (no pun intended), offers that tiny Rick Hunter deep down inside all of us the opportunity to fulfill this fantasy.
The story behind Armored Core is built upon the same premise as that of Battletech. It is the distant future and a catastrophic war has wiped out most of mankind. Giant corporations have come to the forefront to battle for control of the remnants of civilization and their weapons of choice are giant war machines (ACs). The player takes the role of a mercenary who receives money for completing various missions for the different corporations. This money is put towards purchasing numerous AC upgrades necessary to complete the more difficult missions.
Although Armored Core is not based on Robotech, its robots (called Armored Cores or ACs), bear a striking resemblance to the ones seen in the epic series. This is mainly because Shoji Kawamori, famed designer of the Robotech mecha, was the brains behind the AC design. I can honestly say that this was one of the main factors that drew me to this game.
While the designers don't get an award for plot originality, they do deserve commendation for their attention to detail and game depth. You have the privilege of designing your AC down to the logo emblazoned upon its arm. There are a staggering amount of possible combinations for an AC that seems overwhelming at first glance. For example, you can choose from four different styles of legs: humanoid legs, reverse jointed legs, caterpillar treads, and four-leg hovers. Each of these styles has several different models to choose from. Then imagine about the same amount of choices for arms, power generators, heads, cores (bodies), right-arm weapons, left-arm weapons, back weapons, etc; not to mention special equipment found in the battlefield. A ballpark figure for possible combinations is in the very high millions. Not only can players design the structure of their AC, but they can also choose the paint job for that personal touch. In addition, there is a paint program just for the logo design. Of course the designers have generously provided several paint jobs and logos for the artistically challenged and color uncoordinated. The variety of weapons is also a definite plus. The available arsenal includes laser swords, missiles, rockets, machine guns, energy weapons, and more.
Most of the missions are straightforward - solo, search and destroy in various locations. There are only about 50 missions but they vary depending on the player's choices, so there is reason to play through the game more than once. Another great feature is the two player, head-to-head mode, which supports a Playstation link (two Playstations hooked up on two televisions) or a simple split screen for the less privileged. What makes the two-player mode special is the fact that each player can bring his/her personalized AC to the battlefield via memory cards. This is a sure-fire recipe for intense death matches for the fate of the universe.
The graphics are excellent with a high attention to detail. One noteworthy effect is the vapor trails left behind by missiles, a la Robotech. The controls take some getting used to because the game utilizes all PSX buttons, but overall they are tight and responsive.
Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to Armored Core. For one, there is little to no background music in the game; so mostly all you hear is the sound of gunfire and metallic footsteps. Another problem is the slowdown that occurs in intense firefights. Although it isn't exactly Nintendo-esque in irritation factor, it does take away a little from the overall game play. I also had a problem with the length of the game. 50 missions may sound like a lot, but they can go by pretty quickly if you know what you're doing. Finally, for those players who are nauseated by first person perspective games: invest in seasickness pills. Armored Core is definitely not for the weak of stomach because of the constant looking up and down, jumping around, flying, and strafing left and right while looking up and down. It made me realize that perhaps I wasn't cut out to be a mech pilot.
Overall, Armored Core has a lot to offer. Players who have enjoyed games such as Mech Warrior, Virtual On, or Earth Siege will probably get a kick out of Armored Core. The mind-boggling amount of possibilities for AC design and the prospect for epic dogfights all contribute to a great game. There are some rough edges, but all in all I believe Armored Core to be one of the best mech-simulation games out there.