20 years have passed since Armored Core 2 and the long hard war between the Earth Government and the Corporations. A third group has now entered the picture, attempting to dominate all. Do you and your ACU have what it takes to fight for the highest bidder? Or will you end up in the scrap heap like your opponents that you’ve defeated before?

Wow. That single word describes what Armored Core 3 looks like in a nutshell. To start, the designers did some outstanding work on the ACUs themselves. Each mech shows off some great animation and detail, ranging from guns swiveling in and out of position as you arm them, your legs crunching downward from your weight after a bad landing, to the recoil and kickback of your bazooka as it fires off another deadly round. Other nice touches include visible heat distortion of missiles and your booster system as it kicks in.
The areas you do combat in have gotten a nice facelift as well, ranging from your traditional metallic indoors setting, a parking garage (filled with cars to run over and destroy), numerous well-done coastline levels, and finally a nicely done desert level from the older titles. Well done scripting in some levels bring them to life, like in the level where I had to travel through a ship that was buried in ice slowly being crushed to death, setting off explosions and water leakage all around you.


With this latest version of Armored Core, a new and updated graphic engine was used, allowing more action onscreen at once without straining the system, and it allowed a higher resolution mode as well. To explain how good this looks, let me describe one possible battle situation – You have your enemy in on your sights, your targeting computer rapidly locking multiple missiles onto it. With a touch of a button, a dozen missiles leap out of your missile racks, arcing outwards toward your target with a long visible missile trail left behind. As your missiles come close to your opponent, his anti-missile missile system kicks in, launching off his own weapons to attempt to counter yours, with the same trailing effect of your missiles. Some of your missiles explode in midair as his defenses destroy them, but others get past his defense system and strike him head on, his ACU rocking from the recoil.


All of that is done at basically 60fps, with no slowdown at all. However, the PS2 does get strained beyond its limit sometimes, dropping into a very ugly and noticeable low-resolution mode for a few moments as it attempts to compensate.


 

Fortunately the designers didn’t skimp out on the music and sound of Armored Core 3. Every missile, explosion, bullet, and general clank of your ACU is very crisp and clear through your speakers. It goes a tad overboard when you have a dozen missiles flying around (the roar is almost deafening), but other than that the game sounds great.


Armored Core 3 is also fully voiced for all mission briefings and basically all text is voiced as well. For the most part the voice acting is done quite well, although the voices do get a tad stale after sometime. Let’s just say that I’ve heard far worse, and I’ve heard better as well.


The music is well done as well, basically throwing out some action type soundtracks that keep you playing. Other than one or two themes though, you’ll completely forget the music once you’ve turned off the system. This doesn’t mean that the music is bad though, just that it is good enough to keep you entertained, but not to hum it afterwards.


Armored Core 3 supports Dolby Digital Surround Sound though, so for those who have the proper hookups, you’ll be in for a treat. It doesn’t seem to be used all that often though, but when you hear a missile (or bazooka round) explode on the wall behind you, you’ll appreciate owning a surround sound system.

For some odd reason, in this day and age of everyone owning a Dual Shock controller, Agetec/From Software doesn’t believe in supporting the thing. In other words, you can’t control your ACU with the analog controls. The default controls put your movement keys on the digital pad (the left analog stick does work, but with no analog support – it just duplicates the digital pad), and your strafe left/right and look up/down is mapped to the shoulder buttons. Needless to say that this is a huge learning curve to overcome in order to play this game effectively as enemies can come from all directions, and all heights.


Personally, I remapped the buttons (thank goodness for the ability to completely remap all the buttons), putting the look left/right/up/down buttons on the digital pad, put the movement keys on the face buttons (triangle, circle, etc), and used the shoulder buttons for all my firing and booster controls. It worked well, but it was ugly to say the least. Now, since every single reviewer on the face of the planet will complain about the lack of Analog support, just like they have done with all the other Armored Core titles, why don’t they get the picture and just support the darn thing? Heck, they even use the L3 and R3 buttons, so they obviously know how to program the controller.

I know I’ll take some flack from the hard core Armored Core crowd, but for the general user, there are some core level gameplay problems that have been there since the very first Armored Core title on the original Playstation.


Anyway, on to the good things. First off, you’ll find a tad over 50 missions to accomplish once you start playing. These missions consist of your basic ‘attack someone or someplace’, ‘defend someone or someplace’, to the more interesting ones like disarming bombs in a giant refinery, to being target practice for a corporation testing out their newest missiles. Until you hit the last 8 missions or so, you’ll be able to ‘lose’ the mission in question, and most of the time watch as you won’t have to do the mission again. It’s nice if you have problems finishing it, but aggravating when you lose right before the end of the mission. The final set of missions brings about one of the problems however. If you die in those missions, it is an automatic game over, dumping you back at the title screen and forcing you to reload your game in order to get back to try the mission again. This takes quite a bit of time, and if you happen to replay a mission a few times, you’ll quickly be aggravated by the load time of the aging PS2.


You’ll also be able to enter your ACU into a one on one arena against 50 (more when you finish the game) well designed opponents. Well designed meaning that they all have a completely different ACU and a different AI commanding it. These make for some very interesting and problematic fights, as depending on what stage you select to fight in (the choice is always yours), you’ll either be in for a long drawn out fight, or a close quarters contest that can last only seconds. You read that right – seconds. I built myself what I considered an ultimate ACU for how I play – a big heavy ACU rolling around on tank treads, firing off three weapons at the same time. The weapons – a cheap yet powerful chain gun on one shoulder, a flame thrower in one hand, and an interesting little device that was on my ACU’s core that launched a probe into the air, firing the entire time. At close quarters, I was capable of doing thousands (yes, plural) of damage per second if any enemy was dumb enough to stay within point blank range. And when your average ACU only has 8 to 9 thousand points of armor (HP), some fights would be over faster than it took to actually load the battle. I purchased the parts for this ACU rather early on, and I practically walked through the Arena combatants with little problem.


Once you finish the game, you’ll find plenty to keep you interested. Since you are unable to play every mission in the game the first time through, you’ll be granted a mission select mode, where you can play every mission in the game, and replay the ones you did play to get a higher ranking. Higher rankings in missions lead to you being able to buy exclusive ACU parts that you would not be able to access otherwise. You’ll also get another 15 Arena combatants, and you’ll get a chance to fight in 25 two on two arena fights to test your mettle in a team situation.


As you design your ACU, you’ll find a ton of parts of all shapes and sizes to choose from. The interesting thing is that everything is quite balanced by a single statistic – your arms can only hold so much weight in weapons before they aren’t as effective, your core (torso area) has a weight limit as well, but this part holds just about all your ACU’s equipment, and your legs hold everything.


Ultimately, you have decisions along the line of ‘Do I use this dual MIRV missile system on my shoulders or a single bazooka in my hands’ or ‘If I equip my new laser rifle I’ll have to go to a slower leg system, thus limiting my mobility’. Because of this, no one ACU design is more powerful than any other. A slow moving ACU with dual bazookas and a powerful missile system can be beaten by an ACU that refuses to stand still, but that ACU also has no armor so a few shots would be its defeat.


As far as multiplayer modes go, there are plenty to pass around for all of your friends. You can play two player split screen, or if you are one of the few people who own an I-Link cable (and a bunch of extra TVs), you’ll be able to hook up four PS2s together and play against each other.

Is this game worth it? Definately. Lots of levels to play in, plenty of Arena combatants to fight against, and multiplayer mode all add up to a game that’s worth your gaming dollar. Best of all is the tremendous number of ACUs one can build. Want to make one for every situation possible? You can.

If you are an Armored Core fan, you’ll love the new weapons, body parts, and missions that you’ll run through in this game. Is there enough new stuff here to please the fan that owns all the older titles? Definitely.


If you haven’t played any of the older titles however, keep in mind that there is a rather large learning curve to overcome, but in the end there is a ton of entertaining gameplay and ACU shooting action to keep anyone interested for quite a bit of time.

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