Unlike Brad I missed out on the last four Armored Core titles, with the exception of an hour sampling the original for the Playstation years ago. Like its precursor, Armored Core 2: Another Age feels like a game I can pick up, play for perhaps half an hour, and put away for a long length of time. Because its rather cold and mechanical (no pun intended), Another Age is the sort of game you can play without worrying about an intense storyline and instead blast away at your enemies. However, its degree of difficulty may be higher than you might expect, or want for that matter.
Getting started with Another Age is like having a very large technical manual suddenly thrown on you. The control pad is fully utilized: the self-explanatory analog stick and buttons control your core and select & fire weapons while the shoulder buttons allow you to strafe and tilt your view. It takes a bit of getting used to, for instance, to launch yourself sideways while keeping an eye on an enemy and firing all at the same time. I felt my fingers slightly mangled at first, but several tries later I was able to pull off the controls smoothly, if not simply smoother.
Whereas Brad says that he was discouraged to find nothing for sale in the item shops, I found an ample supply of parts available for purchase right from the start. The amount of credits you start off with seems like plenty, but will only get you maybe one or two significant Core upgrades such as a more powerful machine gun over your default starting rifle. Youll have to take careful consideration when making your core "balanced". Otherwise you may end up like me: I had a core ready with all the components I saw fit, but was over the weight limit (I wasnt able to commence a mission until I corrected this issue).
Passing missions became more difficult not only because of the actual opposition during battle, but because I was unable to upgrade my core sufficiently. Earning half of the actual posted reward after a mission seemed to happen quite a lot to me, making progress through each mission slower. Upgrading a core improperly (or inappropriately depending on mission objectives) will make the game far more challenging than you may want. It became downright frustrating as I tried to repeat some missions over and over: Id cleared previous missions and still didnt have enough money to make my core strong enough to defeat bosses within the available missions.
Does it sound like Core construction dominates the game? Well thats because I ended up spending a lot of time in the shop and garage menus more so than fighting. Thankfully, the missions themselves have a nice variety of locations and enemies, making combat pretty fun if not just difficult. There is a decent assortment of enemies to destroy as you try to complete your objectives. Enemy Armored Core units (the equivalent of bosses) on some missions are very difficult. And if you dont have a sufficient Core at your disposal, youll find yourself trying different configurations before successfully defeating them.
Another Age is definitely a game for those who love the word "customize". After several hours youll find yourself skimming over the various Core parts as much as you actually play missions, if not longer. While the hardcore fans of mech games will enjoy this, the steep level of difficulty that this title presents might turn off casual gamers. Its worthy of a rental to see if you want to live up to its challenge.