Another year, another Armored Core. While the series still ranks high on my list of favored games, its getting harder and harder for this line to sustain the impact it once had. Since the originals debut stateside in 1997, there have been a total of five games released including this one, Another Age. As someone who loves big robots, Transformers, and mecha of all types, its basically a given that I love this series. However, looking at the game objectively, its not hard to see that its pretty much just more of the same. This can be seen as either a good or bad thing, depending on how much attraction the series holds for you. For me, as someone who has played the previous four games to 100% completion, I'm beginning to get a little indifferent.
Before reading any further into this review, I suggest reading the most recent review prior to this one: Armored Core 2, also for the Sony PlayStation 2. The technical differences between the two games are mostly negligible, and most of what I said for that review still applies to this one. However, I'm not counting that as automatically negative since the Armored Core series is well known for releasing "update" discs. Similar to add-on packs for the PC, these update discs use the same game and graphics engines but simply offer more missions, more weapons, and more enemies instead of being a full-fledged sequel. I didn't expect any huge leaps in gameplay or graphics, and I'm not taking any points off for the game being an update. I knew exactly what I was buying before I bought the disc, but for those of you who are expecting significant changes or improvements, be warned.
What you get here are approximately 100 new missions, each with specific goals or requirements. There are also a handful of new weapons or items with which to upgrade your metal monster, these become available after completing certain areas or can be found hidden throughout the game. There's also a nifty two-player splitscreen co-op mode included, which is something Ive always wanted. It's pretty limited with only about ten missions, but its a good start. It was rumored that there was an online competition component to the game that was removed before Another Ages release here. It makes sense since Sony hasn't launched their network plans, but I'd wager that taking Armored Core online is going to be the series next big step. Still present is the two-TV, two-PlayStation 2, head-to-head option using the (impossible to locate) iLink cable, as described in the first review, and of course the versus options remain.
However, there are some things missing which I am definitely counting as strikes against the game. The most noticeable was the absence of an official Arena mode, something the series had become somewhat famous (possibly infamous) for over the last few discs. While its never been the deepest or most balanced, the now-missing arena was a quick fix when you were in the mood to strap in, boot up, and kick some mechanical ass. Fast, furious, and at times frustrating, it was a nice way to play the game when you weren't in the mood for the standard tactical sorties. While its true that some of the missions serve the same purpose as the arena by featuring 1, 2, or even 3-on-1 battles, you're not able to select these at your discretion. I didn't think that I'd miss the arena, but now that its gone, I do.
Also missing are the central storyline and the email system, both of which have been present in all of the games past incarnations. Ill be the first to admit that story has never been much of a factor when it comes to playing Armored Core, but it helped add some purpose and drive to the game. Along the same lines, the email system that delivered new information was trivial at best, yet it helped add a small sliver of reality that gave the other versions the immersion so clearly lacking in Another Age. Without these human touches and bits of logic to fuel your progress, the missions tend to feel very disconnected from each other, and I felt as though I was just picking assignments at random with no rhyme or reason (which I was). As a result, the game is reduced to something colder and more mechanical than what the series has presented before.
A final note worth mentioning was my huge disappointment in seeing that the item shop was completely empty upon starting the game. After spending many hours completing the first Armored Core and replaying missions for cash in order to buy every single accessory, I was almost bursting with curiosity to see what new implements of destruction would be at my disposal. It's no secret that a huge portion of the games appeal is collecting newer and deadlier parts to mix and match. I could hardly believe my eyes when I started up the game and there wasn't a single thing to buy. As I stated earlier, there are hidden parts to find and some parts are awarded with progress, but what am I supposed to do with the huge pile of money I squirreled away? I see big potential for online shops and wagering, but well have to hope Armored Core 3 brings something of this sort to the table.
Despite my ranting, I certainly don't mean to scare you away. The game is certainly quite far from anything I'd call "bad." Keep in mind that I have yet to play an action game that does robotic combat even half as good as Armored Core does, and there simply isn't a title to be found on any console or PC that offers a fraction of the customizability that From Software has included here. The game definitely does a lot of things right.
Also, please note that one of my biggest gripes against the prior game was resolved in this one. In Another Age, you now have the option to use your saved data from Armored Core 2. I was literally heartbroken when I found out that my Core from the PlayStation versions didn't carry over to the PlayStation 2, and I was prepared to swear the series off forever if I couldn't use the data from Armored Core 2 in Another Age. Thankfully, the creators didn't neglect this integral feature, and all my hard work in the previous game was worth it since starting from scratch in Armored Core 2 is pretty wretched. Although all of my accumulated equipment from the PlayStation versions of Armored Core is still inaccessible, at least the extra effort spent in Armored Core 2 wasn't wasted.
For those who are new to the series, you're sure to be impressed with the beautiful Core designs, wealth of missions, and literally millions of Core combinations to create. Its a very solid, if somewhat lifeless purchase. For rookies who crave ten tons of missile-launching fury and haven't gotten their fill with the last four games, you cant go wrong. There isn't any shortage of challenge to the game, especially once you progress to the later missions, and the variety does entertain. For old-time crusty Ravens who have been around the block a couple of times, a few more sequels like this might be enough to make you put the Core into mothballs and spend some of your leisure time on the quiet side of Mars—although the original spark that helped create a cult classic and the fan base to match isn't extinguished just yet.