|Growing up I was the only
girl I knew who played Battletech and who knew how to appreciate the finer points of
armored combat. My father wanted me to go outside and get some fresh air, but my perfect
day entailed my Warhammer loping across some alien battlefield in hot pursuit of a
Crusader. I find that now, as an adult, things really havent changed all that much.
I have a soft spot in my heart for mechs and the men and women who pilot them. So when
games in this vein are released, generally I feel compelled to check them out. Armored
Core 2 was no exception. When my editor asked which of us lucky PS2 reviewers wanted AC2,
I said, "Oh, Oh, pick me! Pick me!" Well, the experience may not have ended up
being everything my girlish optimism had hoped for.
The year for this latest installment is 2223 and Zio Matrix, one of earths largest corporations, has brought the newly escalated corporate wars to the terraformed planet Mars. All this intrigue and mayhem has created great opportunities for the new AC warriors who call themselves Ravens. By challenging other Ravens in the Arena or taking merc missions for various corporate entities, you earn money to upgrade your mech as well as gaining the honor and glory that all pilots crave. You also find as you play that you have become a necessary part of the politics that are going to change the face of Martian history.
AC2 allows you to play one player scenario missions or two player split screen versus mode. In the two player category, you can choose many different arenas to fight in, although most of the spaces are fairly limited in size. The game creates fully three dimensional battlefields that utilize some sort of natural or man-made topography to interact with or utilize in helping to defeat your opponent. The two player mode is also equipped to handle i.Link battles. The scenario mode begins in the Nerves Concord, which is your main menu. You can read any mail that has been sent to you by other characters, fix or equip/upgrade your mech in the Garage and Shop, view Missions that have been offered to you for varying commissions, and challenge other Raven pilots in the Arena. The mail you receive and the missions you are offered help to unfold the plot and the Arena gives you one-on-one fighting experience which can also help you gain credits or new parts for your mech.
The first thing that you notice when you pop AC2 in the console are the graphics. Now I must admit that the beginning cinema screens had me all hot and bothered for this game. All that firepower and glistening metal. The programmers were using the PS2 capabilities to provide a pulsepounding start, and I was ready for more. When I got into the actual game, however, I discovered that the graphics looked a lot closer to PS1 quality than I had hoped. There was quite a bit of shimmer overall, and the outdoor landscapes had a real problem with distance fog. The flora and fauna as well as the man-made items lacked detail and smoothness, and the buildings (inside and out) were rather nondescript. Even the mechs themselves didnt come close to the level of clarity and detail I had expected. I must admit I felt a bit cheated by this game in the eye candy department.
AC2 allows a player to save three variations on their original AC, and this allows for developing mechs whose strengths vary for maximum effectiveness in missions with differing types of enemies and terrain. You can change your mechs external and internal parts, with the most drastic changes being made to the legs. There are five types of leg parts (humanoid, reverse-jointed, four-legged, caterpillar, and floating) and each changes the armament, speed and agility of your mech, not to mention the overall look. This is the closest this game gets to letting you have totally different styles of mechs. The arm weapons are somewhat limited, so firepower doesnt usually vary drastically unless other extensions are added. There are quite a few other categories of external and internal devices that can be added and modified, but probably the most important besides arms and legs is the mechs booster capabilities. Many of the missions may hinge on your mechs ability to remain airborn so its important that at least one of your mechs has top-notch boosters.
Something that I considered a wee bit problematic was the fact that in the early stages of the game I was too broke to afford upgrades, but couldnt really finish missions very well without them. Kind of a catch-22. I also wished that there was more variety, but on the whole specializing my mech was a fun process. The game has an artistic element which allows you to design an emblem for your AC, and adjust your mechs colors as well. And just to help you feel superior, ACs that you make in the scenario mode can be transferred to the versus mode so you can kick your opponents butt in style!
For the most part, this game had some great moments. The plot was much more primary for the scenario than its predecessor, the radar and screen layout worked well and targeting was dependable. The music and the sound effects were solid, and gave a great backdrop for the action (ah, the sound of heavy metal ACs stomping across the landscape and machine gun fire, all accompanied with Martian and martial music). The major downfall to this game was its disability in the graphics and level design. Clear, detailed and varied landscapes are a must for the necessary support of great mech battles, and this game just didnt use the capabilities of the PS2.
So if you are a diehard AC fan, should you take a chance? I suggest giving it a rent first. If youre content with the graphics, youll probably really enjoy this game. If youre new to the series, this little deficit will probably interfere with your appreciation of the thrills of armored combat. I think I will close my eyes and dream of mechs loping through the mist until AC3 appears.