A serious kink in the armor!
It was that time of the month again. With a memory card in one hand and a smile of confidence so wide it was threatening to outdistance the great canyon on Mars, I stepped into Rufus' small but comfortable apartment. Glaring eyes, all transfixed on my person. I paid them no attention. They all knew their better had arrived, and was standing there before them eager to do battle.
It was March 1st in the year 2000. Once again, time for the no-holds barred knockdown, drag-out Armored Core Championships of the Bay Area. Every month on the first, the supposed greatest Armored Core Ravens get together in one place to link Playstations, show off their creations, put them to the test, and, of course, get so damn inebriated that they're shouting vulgar and humiliating slurs at each other (and Rufus' pets).
Needless to say, I am a Raven. When Armored Core: Master of Arena made it's way into our office, I jumped at the chance to review it.
Graphically, as everyone knew beforehand, the in-game graphics have not changed a bit from the original Armored Core. This isn't a bad thing, as the graphics still hold up well. While the CGI looks great, the actual action in the cinemas is heavily watered down. You just see a few AC's in rendered glory. Pretty lame for an intro sequence, but graphically it was gorgeous. I hope that this is some indication of what we can expect from Armored Core 2 on the Playstation 2. Oh, how I can't wait!
The ease of the first few single player missions is almost insulting. Although I am the Bay Area's Armored Core Champion, I felt that the first few missions were too simple, much too short and extremely uninteresting. I had to force myself to play through these tiresome adventures. However, after these mundane levels comes a plethora of exciting and somewhat intricate missions that also have their fair share of depth. I was happy to investigate the newly discovered alien spaceship, which was huge. I have never had to utilize the map feature (comes with some of the heads you can purchase) so frequently on a mission - I loved it. I actually needed to plot an effective route, check that out. Nice touch!
This time around, the arena part of Armored Core: Master of Arena has gone through a complete revision. The whole Arena idea is now, interestingly enough, nicely integrated into the whole game. Your mail contact will often refer to the members of different arenas as it pertains to the mission or your arena status.
There are now four arena types in ACMA. The 2 most interesting are the Sub Arena and the True Arena. In the Sub Arena you can fight anyone, in any order. You also need to do well on the first 3 or 4 missions. This way the corporations in the game will take notice of you and want to sponsor you in the Sub-Arena. You cannot gain access to the Sub Arena without a sponsor.
There is also the True Arena, which cannot be entered unless you defeat all the Sub Arena members. In addition, you need to gain another corporate sponsor. The members of the True Arena have ranks indicating their status. You may not go up against any AC's that are not one rank higher than you are. One step at a time, so to speak.
The control is exactly the same as the previous games. There is a high learning curve for the uninitiated but not impossible. You can also completely customize your controls, all the way down to the D-pad (you can even make "Up" on the D-pad act as the fire button. Lovely!).
I have to say, Armored Core: Master of Arena is great fun. The game comes ready to link up (highly, highly recommended) with 2 discs. There are over 100 Arena opponents to test your mettle against. And the greatest addition to the game of all time is the ability the design your own opponents and save them, including cloning your own favorite mech and battling against yourself. I cloned my creation, saved it and gave it to a friend so he could learn my weapons and limitations as well as take out all his frustrations from past defeats on me vicariously through my mech.
However, there are some very serious problems in this game that really upset me and just can't be overlooked. If you plan on ONLY playing this game with the link cable, ignore the paragraph below. Also remember that the single player mode is solid and stands on its own. Now for the rant:
Armored Core: Master of Arena is virtually impossible on a split screen. In particular, the vertical split immensely hinders your viewable area. Additionally, the areas are a little more confined than the areas in previous Armored Core games. It's just no fun to play this on one television.
But the worst offense is, of all things, a bug. While playing in the 2-Player split screen mode, you will notice fairly quickly that Player One's radar is inoperable. The red dot that indicates your opponent's location does not move at all. If you have the ability to detect missiles on your radar, forget about it; these as well will not show up. Unless you have your opponent in plain view (meaning directly in front of you), Player One is going to have no idea where Player Two is hiding. I found this to be the case with two different copies of Armored Core: Master of Arena. So, unfortunately, this should hold true for all the copies out there. How could From Software let a game ship like this? Man, talk about inept...
Fans of the previous versions and newcomers rejoice - sort of. This is a good, solid Armored Core and the perfect jump on point for newbies. With 29 entirely new parts and 19 missions that, for the most part, are actually pretty cool, it's a worthy addition. If it were not for that damn developer oversight with the radar, this could have been the best and most complete installment in the Armored Core trilogy. As it stands, however, the disappointing two-player game really shows a kink in the armor.
So all those ravens out there who think that they are brave of heart, I challenge thee to enter the Bay Area's most competitive event held the first of each month: The Monthly Armored Core Championships BYOB. But you have to wait until Rufus gets off punishment before the next event.