Review by hangedman

Reviewed: 07/15/02 | Updated: 07/15/02

I really want to like it....

It's a rehash!!!

There’s really no other way to describe it. Armored Core, as much as I love it, wants me to rethink my love. I was enamored with Armored Core back when it first came out on the PSX. I played a few levels in a demo disc and worshipped the immense amounts of customization the game boasts, its ingenious targeting system, and its great control. If you think I’m getting off topic, that’s hardly the case: Armored Core 2: Another Age is exactly the same as the first game I played years ago, and because it hasn’t moved forward at all, I’m beginning to think that it wants out of our relationship.

My friend and I could give you dozens of things wrong with the game. An Armored Core fan even greater than myself (and there don’t seem to be many of us), my buddy Jason and I often have long conversations about how Armored Core could be better. The conversations stem mostly from our incredulousness that the series we really liked back in the days has done little to move forward; perhaps talking about it aloud might cause some act of god to transmit our ramblings to culprit From Software (who’s it From? Software!) in order to give them a hefty shove into the new millennium.

For anyone not familiar with Armored Core, it sounds ****ing great on paper; being able to fly around jetpack-style with a machine gun and shoot at tanks is just one small detail. See, your robot is capable of a lot of cool stuff. It can whip out as many as three different weapons and still have the capabilities to slash with a beam-saber and use anti-missile systems, and it can boost on the ground to dash wherever it goes. You don’t even have to put that much effort into aiming, really: the gist of it is that you have a square in the center of your screen, and anything inside of that square is auto-targeted by your fire control system, or FCS for short. Charge up your power for a second or two, and you can rocket across the screen in what’s known as an over-boost. That’s a damned lot of combat options.

''The big core's connected to the... tank legs! Tank legs connected to the... small arms!''

The thing is that your customization of your AC will dictate how proficient your AC is in different areas. Light ACs are very mobile, but lack good weaponry because of weight constraints. Attempting to give them better guns comes at the sacrifice of armor and nixing your anti-missile systems. By contrast, heavy ACs can pack the heaviest of bazookas and missile launchers, but it’s very likely they can become a punching bag for something faster. This is boiling it down to extremely simple terms: with hundreds of parts in several different areas, the devil’s in the details. Something as simple as switching your radiator could affect your ability to effectively use energy-based weapons. I find myself attracted to light ACs that bristle with heavy guns: a delicate balancing act considering that I don’t have any armor, per se.

But robot parts don’t grow on trees! No, you’ve got to earn these things, kid. You start out with the default AC. It’s got the basic parts of everything (where by basic, I mean sucky), and it’s up to you to decide what to upgrade, bit by bit. Credits are earned by running missions, some harder than others, and this money is in turn invested in your robot. It’s no good to give a super-duper laser rifle to some weak-ass AC that can’t carry it, and it’s even worse to dump all your money into a good engine and pair of legs while leaving it with the worthless starting rifle.

This is the Gran Turismo of robot combat, and that’s why I’ll begrudgingly go wherever the series does, despite this very average installment.

So where does this leave us presently?

Though little was added gameplay-wise from the first (the paragraphs before could adequately describe any Armored Core title) Armored Core 2 was a step in the right direction. The mecha are large and detailed, a large step up from bulky PSX graphics, and the game now runs at a smooth 60FPS. Selected guns now transform and spring to life, ready to be fired at new opponents, and little touches accentuate what still are cool features: like being able to fly off the ground as your boosters light up your back. As an expansion pack and not a sequel, AC2:AA is the exact same engine.

The environments leave something to desire: personally I think From blew their collective wad on the high-poly robots, leaving some bulky and unimpressive landscaping in its wake. Moreover, for being huge robots, there’s little sense of scale. Most bases feel like they were made for large bipedals your size, so the only way to instill a sense of size is by throwing in a tiny car somewhere. Needless to say, it doesn’t work particularly well.

The interesting thing about AC2:AA is that it “expanded” on a gameplay area that was to me largely uninteresting: the missions. The real great thing about AC2 was a 50-warrior arena, where you and your AC move up the skill ladder, fighting one AC one after another, man-to-man. The arenas were both practice for cutthroat two-player deathmatches, as well as entertaining and intense fights in and of themselves. The ACs were exactly like you; hell, you could build any AC you fought yourself if you liked it that much.

Oddly enough, in AC2:AA, these arenas are largely absent. There are about five-odd missions like this in a sea of 100 or so, and the few that were included showed some hints at brilliance: endurance matches, robot combat ménage-a-trois, and arena combat with environmental handicaps, like lasers that shoot at you while you fight. With the exception of these few missions, the rest of them are terribly boring.

With the right AC, you’ll often ask yourself, “Was that it?” A retarded monkey in the middle of an epileptic fit can beat some missions—hold down your booster and the up-button, and shoot whenever you have a lock. These ones aren’t worth the load time. Others fall under the category of babysitting missions, where a swarm of pathetic opponents all attempt to attack an inert target. Shoot them down one by one and wait for the mission to end.

''Destroy it. Oh, wait-- don't.''

What’s more is that the hand of laziness has gripped many of the missions, some are the same map played with a different goal and some enemies you’ve seen elsewhere subbing for the ones you just fought. You play one mission to turn the heat off in a base, and the subsequent mission is a virus leak in the same fortress, where the virus can be terminated by turning up the same oversized thermostat you just rectified. There are even more Sisyphean ordeals, though, like defending a base one mission and immediately destroying it in the subsequent one. Perhaps sillier is defending a base you just destroyed, implying they built it again and entrusted you of all people with it, but I digress—in any case, loyalty isn’t a big issue here.

The game can be breezed through, nearly. Your only rewards are three “extra” missions, where the difficulty is jacked up Final Fantasy VII style, and a few extra parts that really don’t seem worth the trouble you went through to get them. You might be somewhat excited about them if you played it in 2-player mode, where you can fight against a friend’s creation, but this is assuming that you find another person to play this game with, and let’s face it: it’s not that popular. Again, a CPU arena mode would have been great, and could have been slapped together.

The missions are good moneymakers, but as a veteran of the game, I was able to port my old data into the game (regular AC2), in which I had everything I needed, in addition to a few other bonuses like being able to use powerful weapons without having to kneel, increased energy, and a standard radar: curiously, these benefits of playing the first AC2 title cannot be gained if you start AC2:AA from scratch, which almost necessitates that you port your old data. I could buy anything I wanted with the money I had earned from the first game, and my AC was customized just as I wanted it. My virtual employers could have kept their precious money, honestly.

The bottom line is that I’m totally convinced that From Software has absolutely no ****ing idea what its strengths are. It doesn’t see the problems in the imbalance of the parts (although not as much of an issue with the axed arena combat), it doesn’t see the boredom of the missions, and it surely doesn’t stop to ask itself how it could improve the game to allow it to take full advantage of what it does well—and it can do a lot well, what with its deep engine, excellent customization, and great 2-player mode.

I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. There’s so much this game could have done right to make up for its extremely obvious faults (especially to the Armored Core fan); what’s worse is that even the most useless of gamers or amateur game designers could tell you exactly what needed an overhaul: it’s that elementary.

Overall: 5 / 10
Armored Bore.

*Just wait 'till AC3, eh Jason?

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

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