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Armored Core (PlayStation) artwork

Armored Core (PlayStation) review

"Armored Core is the kind of game you either love or hate."

On the surface, Armored Core appears to be an action-packed mech game. And in a way, it is. Sometimes you will go into a mission, guns blazing, taking flight at will with your boosters, rapidly switching weapons and gunning down all comers as their fire either misses your strafing mech or pecks at your armor for minimal damage. What sets the game apart is that every moment of heart pounding execution is earned, coming only after a long process of trial, error, and evaluation.

Armored Core is the kind of game you either love or hate. Players build their own mechs, and the process is sometimes bewildering. It demands players master the art of selecting all of the parts for their machine, not just the weapons to use. From arms and legs to Fire Control Systems and generators, a player must be thoughtful during the building process or face certain failure in the many and varied missions offered.

The obvious factors in a build are weight and mobility. Just because you can afford a bazooka doesn't mean you will be able to take it into battle if your legs and arms aren't strong enough to handle it. Will your decision to use a certain weapon require a complete rebuild for weight concerns? Then there are the less obvious considerations. Can your generator output enough energy to power all of your systems? Are your boosters going to provide enough speed and power to get through the next mission? And let's say you've got all of that figured out and you think you've found the perfect build. You step bravely into your next contract, only to find your precious bazooka runs out of ammunition at the halfway mark. Or a hidden area is locked off from you because your head unit doesn't have a powerful enough AI to hack the door. Or your FCS doesn't have the depth to get a lock on to a mission critical target at a safe range. Any one detail can send you back to the drawing board, to figure out which parts need to be sold, bought, and equipped. You operate on a tight budget in Armored Core, and with limited funds throughout most of the game you're going to have to get used to making tradeoffs. If none of this sounds fun to you, then Armored Core is not your game.

Your choices don't end with mech building. The mission select screen offers a number of missions to take, and most options lock you out of others. You can see the pay offered by each job and read mission descriptions. Deciding which one to accept is not a simple matter of selecting the mission that offers the most pay, however. Repairs to your mech are deducted at the end of every mission, meaning every point of damage lessens your ability to buy superior parts to support your next endeavor. Ammunition costs are also deducted, meaning you receive less money for every shot fired. It isn't uncommon to lose money on a successful mission. A lower paying, less dangerous operation may be the wisest financial move.

The player in Armored Core is given enough options to make of the experience whatever he or she chooses. Are you the champion of the corporation known as Chrome? Or maybe you favor Murakumo Millenium? Perhaps you reject the authority of the corporations and proudly wear the emblem of the terrorist group called Struggle into battle, and dismiss all requests to sortie against them. Regardless, if you perform well, you will see your reputation grow in the rankings of the top mech pilots, many of whom you will face over the course of various missions.

The story is mostly suggested instead of told. The final mission will surely confuse most players, and none of it ever really made sense for me until the much more direct retelling of this game's plot in Armored Core: Master of Arena. Even then, the identity of the final boss was difficult for me to comprehend until I completed Armored Core 3, which I thought was clearly a prequel. Since then, I've learned that many players argue over where that game fits in the Armored Core timeline. Some even believe it takes place in a different timeline entirely. In short, I think I've figured out this game's story, but my interpretation is as much a choice as any of the builds I made to take into battle. Armored Core doesn't like to make anything easy.

I mean absolutely anything. Failing a mission will only very rarely give you a game over. To truly fail, you will need to accrue 50,000 credits of debt. To do that, you will need to incur huge repair and ammunition expenses in addition to not succeeding in any paying mission. In the counterintuitive manner you might expect, this process actually rewards the player. You will be treated to an FMV of an operating table light and hear a voiceover of doctors discussing the experiment they are about to perform on you. Then, you restart the game with a new ability, from doubling your available booster energy to allowing you to have radar...without equipping radar. To receive all of the abilities requires going through this process something like nine times.

This is how many players choose to start the game: by failing multiple missions and accruing massive debt nine times. Not going through this process makes many parts of the game insanely difficult, especially the final mission.

Armored Core is not for the faint of heart. It's a giant jigsaw puzzle and when you first open it, many of the pieces are upside down. Whether it's worth the effort to flip them over and start working out what the game is supposed to be is a question each player will have to decide for himself. Those who do will be able to stand back and look at a game that is, though not perfect, still fascinating after all of these years.

Germ's avatar
Staff review by Jeremy Davis (November 08, 2014)

Jeremy plays video games, sometimes.

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