Review #1 by Kevin Cheung
From Software, better known for its efforts in the King’s Field series, has entered into the genre of 3D robot battles with Armored Core. Best described as a hearty mix between Virtual On, Mechwarrior 2 and Carnage Heart, Armored Core’s appeal will vary from player to player.
The basic game plan is that you are a mercenary who takes on various missions in the neverending quest for cash. These missions are to be carried out in a robot that is armed to the teeth with pulse rifles, missile launchers, RPGs, radar jammers, energy fields, and laser swords. Missions that are successfully accomplished will yield the cash reward which is typically used for upgrading your weapons, armament, engines, and chassis. Missions can vary from search and destroy to pest control, sabotage, and guard duty.
The other alternative to the "scenario" game is the "versus" option, which allows head to head combat between two players. Unfortunately, these matches have no option for a computer-controlled opponent, meaning that there must be two players. So the quicky-shootout is out of the question. The good part about this option is that you can also use customised robots that you have saved on to your memory card from the scenario game. This is incentive enough to perform well in the scenario game so that you can trounce your pal’s butt with a monster of a mech that you've saved. These two-player match-ups can be played either on split screen or with the PSX link cable, which is also compatible with the VR headset.
One aspect of the game that fans would be asking most about is the control method - particularly in comparison to Virtual On and Mechwarrior 2. The direction pad controls the forward/backwards motions and rotations in the 3D plane; three of the 4 standard buttons are devoted to weapon control (firing and switching) while the fourth is devoted to jump-jet controls. The shoulder functions are used for strafing and shifting your torso up and down for viewing things on the vertical plane.
That said, the game controls are more similar to Virtual On due to the external perspective that is taken of the robot. The speed, motion, jump-jet controls, and lock-on functions of the game are also remarkably similar to Virtual On. The similarities end there, and the remainder mostly looks like Mechwarrior 2. That is, torso shifting, energy gauges, ammo limitations, and peripheral damage from, for instance, shrapnel.
On its own, the robots in Armored Core are a joy to control. They are highly responsive and easy to manoeuvre for targeting and shooting. Jump-jetting and the ability to look up and down really turns it into a great 3D shooting adventure.
In terms of gameplay, the real depth in Armored Core comes in its upgrade options. Each weapon is suited to different combat situation, ranging from long-range sniping to up-close-and-personal wetworks. Different body parts and engines will affect your speed, manoeuvrability, and efficiency of weapons-handling. And all of this is dependent on how much cash you can earn.
The difficult part of the game, and perhaps its drawcard for replay value, is the fact that you will never earn a guaranteed amount of money per mission. Lots of money is poured into repairs, which, if you’ve been careless in your mission, can put your funds into negative figures. When that happens, you obviously can’t make any upgrades. While this is incentive to play levels over and over again for a perfect score, it can be frustrating at times, and a turn-off for many people.
Graphically, the game is well above average. The robots are highly detailed and very customisable, right down to the colour scheme, camouflage, and emblem, just like in Rage Racer. The mission areas and playing areas are VERY large and highly details. They range from open forest areas to bridge blockades, underground sewer-mazes and 10 storey oil refineries. The play fields are also quite interactive in that you can use anything as a shield or obstacle. Hiding behind an oil drum is probably the most stupid thing I’ve done so far. The only real drawback is that there is SOME slowdown. It’s only happened to me once so far when I carelessly fired a round in a power plant, causing multiple explosions - but that’s the only time so far. So it means that utter mayhem and carnage is out of the question.
The sounds of the game are quite good, with different pulsing sounds for each weapon and subsequent explosion, right down to the splashing of water when your robot is running in the sewer. Unfortunately, there is no in-game music, which is a bit of a disappointment. And what little music there is in the FMV intro sequence and menu sections is sadly uninspiring. But that shouldn’t worry anyone who is more concerned about capping some robots.
However, there is a saving grace to Armored Core that pulls it up from mediocrity to extreme high-quality addictive material. The game is initially quite dull. But persevere a little and earn some cash, and you can make some serious modifications to your robot. The sheer number of options at your disposal is initially overwhelming. Players have a much greater say in how their robot operates than in Mechwarrior 2 - now THAT’S an achievement. Players must also balance out their options with weight and energy limitations. In the end, half the fun comes from constructing a damned good robot that you can take to your friend’s house on a memory card and seriously kick some butt.
The bottom line is that Armored Core is a very solid game that suffers only from some minor flaws. It’s only a couple of steps from being a game that nobody should miss. For now, however, this is the best mech-shooter available which generally should not disappoint. It is a game that grows on you. You initially don’t think much of the game, and then you suddenly realise it’s 3 o’clock in the morning. For those who are concerned about the Japanese text, it is really quite meaningless as your mission is usually to take out all enemy units. All of the pertinent information such as weapon specs, are all in English.