"How To Nerd Your Robot: More"
I've been a fan of the Armored Core series since the first instalment, thrilled as I was with the concept of building an entirely unique battle robot and blowing things up with it. Yet, sadly perhaps, Armored Core has somehow strayed from what made the original great. It has become, some fans feel, bogged down with complexity, particularly in Nexus, one of the previous titles. Nexus had focused on making a realistic mech game to the expense, felt some, of a fun mech game. Ninebreaker came along a little later, but felt like an add-on to Nexus, featuring as always new parts and bringing back the arena, but having no missions.
And then I heard about Last Raven.
The first thing returning vets will notice about Last Raven are the new enemy units, the basic infantry. To a newcomer, this may not seem like much, but it's a first for Armored Core. Now the player has a much better sense of scale as his AC stomps past platoons of soldiers, shrugging off incoming fire as a man might shrug off a fly. Soldiers, though occasionally equipped with rocket launchers, are there largely for flavour. The real threats are the other giant robots.
Last Raven sports a significantly enhanced enemy AI. Although the low-tier "MT" enemies are still no match for your giant robot of doom, the enemy ACs can actually put up a fight this time around. ACs dodge, jink, and strafe like crazy, trying their absolute best to out-turn and outmanoeuvre you while at the same time pummelling you with their weapons. Some of the higher-level opponents actually adapt their strategies to deal with your loadout! But the AI's not perfect, and the computer-controlled ACs still need to cheat a little to stay on equal footing.
Armored Core has always been about building robots, and as always, Last Raven delivers in the sheer variety of parts available. All the hundreds of components from Nexus and Ninebreaker return, tweaked and rebalanced slightly, along with a host of new parts. Most of the new ones are remakes of parts and weapons from previous Armored Core games, for example my all-time favourite rifle from AC2: Another Age. To an experienced Raven like myself, seeing these parts return was great.
The biggest problems with Nexus and Ninebreaker were the new heat mechanics and reduced speed. In this area, too, Last Raven improves, making the Cores move faster and heat less of a problem, but still crucial to any design. Interestingly, though From Software made Armored Cores move faster, the speeds of projectiles were not adjusted. The effect is that you can no longer spam the fire buttons and have every round hit - in Last Raven, you must pick your shots carefully. This adds yet another layer of strategy to an already deep and complex game engine, and in this reviewer's mind, to great effect.
In AC3: Silent Line, weapons could be destroyed if your enemies landed enough shots in the right places. Weapon breaking was removed in Nexus and Ninebreaker, but has now resurfaced on a grander scale as "part breaking". All the AC's frame parts, the arms, legs, head and core, can be damaged in combat. When damaged to the "yellow" stage, your parts don't perform nearly so well, and if they sustain enough hits they will hit the "red" stage and perform even worse. A damaged head will disrupt your unit's weapon locks and radar. If your arm is destroyed, the weapon equipped to it is lost. Lose your legs, and you lose mobility and cooling.
But the single distinguishing feature of Last Raven is not its destroyable parts, nor its improved AI. No, Last Raven - are you ready for this? - has a plot.
Perhaps that's not so shocking if you're not familiar with the rest of the series. But suffice it to say that, with the exceptions of Project Phantasma and Master of Arena, story has not been the chief concern of the game's designers. But Last Raven delivers a story that, while not on par with more plot-driven games, is actually pretty good. In the aftermath of the events of Nexus, the world's three major corporation-states merge into a single entity called "Alliance" to consolidate their power and rebuild. The Raven's Ark collapses, and its leader, Jack - O, disappears. Six months later, Jack resurfaces with an organization called Vertex, vows to create a "new world order" led by Ravens, and announces that he will attack Alliance in twenty-four hours. In response, Alliance places bounties on the heads of all Ravens working for Jack - O, who in turn places his own bounties on Alliance's ravens.
The game's missions span that entire day, over the course of which your character appears to get no sleep. But that's irrelevant because he's making embarrassingly large stacks of money. Now, it gets better; Last Raven features another first for the series, in the form of a branching mission structure. There are six different endings, and depending on which missions you take and who you work for, the story will unfold differently and lead you to one of those six. Taking certain missions early in the game will open up new choices later on, while at the same time limiting others. Should you choose not to battle that Raven at 02:00, he'll come back and fight you again at 18:00 - a problem if you intend to inherit the title of "Last Raven". Each of the "paths" are of varying difficulty, with the most interesting endings lying at the conclusion of the most challenging paths. It'll take multiple playthroughs before you finally see the whole picture and understand just what went on in those twenty-four hours.
Last Raven is an attempt to return to the roots of the Armored Core series, while keeping the things that so far have worked. It delivers, for the most part, combining the best elements of previous instalments into a single title. But it's a compromise: Last Raven is not as gritty as Nexus, not as purely enjoyable as Silent Line, and the story won't be winning any awards. But all in all, Last Raven is probably my favourite Armored Core title.
Do I recommend this to newcomers? Last Raven is a tough game, even to experienced Ravens like myself, and having to learn the mechanics from scratch would make it even more difficult. But if you can pick up the basics fast enough, Last Raven will not disappoint you.
Do I recommend this to fans of the series? Yes, yes, and yes again.
Featured community review by WilltheGreat (September 12, 2019)
Will is grumpy, sarcastic and Canadian. He occasionally crawls out of his igloo to cover sci-fi and strategy games. Has a love-hate relationship with cats. And the colour purple.
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