Game Description: Five years have passed in the Armored Core story line. The government of earth is rebuilding after the destruction it suffered during the coup led by Leos Klain, Martian rebel. Heavy casualties have resulted in a brain drain, leaving technology and science to languish. Clearly vulnerable, the government mounts an armament campaign. In an environment such as this, an underground of mercenary factions flourishes. Enter the Ravens, the pilot wing of the Armored Core. They battle in government skirmishes, as well as public arenas, for profits, much like Rome's gladiators. If you can become a high-ranking Raven, your influence will reach beyond the public to affect the fate of the planet. Your mission then is to rise through the Raven ranks and chart a destiny for earth.
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.
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.
According to the ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence
Parents don't really have much to worry about. There isn't any blood or gore to be seen anywhere in Another Age. All of the violence is comprised of exploding missiles and smoke rising from overheated Cores. It's about as tame as violence comes these days, so if your child is old enough to master the control scheme, chances are that he or she has already seen much, much worse than anything Another Age will expose them to. Buy it with confidence.
Gamers in general might want to stay away from Another Age unless they already have some experience with the Armored Core series. The offerings here are aimed more at the seasoned Raven, and I would suggest Armored Core 2 as a better place for a newcomer to jump in and get the hang of things.
Armored Core fans will get a wealth of missions here, and that's really about it. The rest of the game didn't get much attention, but if you're craving more action and can't get enough of making your own mech, then you've probably already purchased the game.