The love affair between myself and Armored Core is over.
I thought this day would never come but it has, and although I'm sad that the magic isn't there anymore… I'm almost glad. Relieved, even.
I've played every single Armored Core game in existence and finished them all, the majority of them at 100% completion. I love giant robots, I love tinkering with the parts, and the bite-sized missions have always suited me fairly well.
Although the series started strong back on the original PlayStation, it faltered when making the jump to PlayStation 2. It retained too much of the original structure and never really embraced the higher levels of technology and never devoted enough resources to overhaul it to respectability outside its small, devoted niche.
The PlayStation 2 iterations went steadily downhill, with the last two or three being loved only by the hardest of the hardcore. Up until that point, I think I would've counted myself in that group, but no longer.
I got a copy of Armored Core 4 on the 360 few days ago, and after playing for a few hours, the game had as much appeal to me as a piece of raw liver.
True to form, the graphics are as unimpressive on the 360 as they were on the PS2… perennially behind the curve, From seems to catch up just as everyone else is leaping ahead.
An even bigger offense than the graphics is that the menu system and process for tinkering with the Cores is incredibly cumbersome and awkward, seeming to favor some sort of abstract futuristic aesthetic over functionality. I doubt there's anyone more familiar with the series than I am, and I was getting completely lost trying to re-learn something that didn't need to be made more complicated and less user-friendly.
The missions are just as simple as they've ever been, and although they were passable before, they're just not acceptable anymore. I've been doing these same sorts of kill X, defend Y for years and years, and it doesn't feel any different or more sophisticated on the 360 than it did on the PlayStation.
I still like robots, and I still like the concept of being able to monkey around with their construction and functionality, but the Armored Core series is baked. It's had more sequels than most franchises ever get, yet they seem to make less and less progress with each one. The common consensus is that the developers are afraid to alienate their core audience since that's who keeps buying the sequels, but I think that if they really took a step back and tried to improve the game as a whole, maybe opening it up more for newcomers they could find a new audience, especially with the kind of horsepower modern consoles are packing.
I put Armored Core 4 aside unfinished, and I have absolutely no desire to come back to it. The spark is gone, the charm has worn away. This day has been coming for a while, but it's here now and there's no getting around it. I'm a little bit sad because the series has been such a constant companion for so many years, there's no denying that it's overstayed its welcome and hasn't been able to keep pace.
Like a faithful dog that's gone blind in one eye and can't walk, it's time to let go and let the series move on to that big game graveyard in the sky. I think there's a possibility it could be revived at some point in the future if some energetic young developers sink their teeth into it and aren't afraid to piss off the hardcores by being unafraid to shake things up, but for now… let's put it out of its suffering and let it rest in peace.