Cast your mind back to the halcyon days of the PlayStation 2’s release. There are no “killer app” launch titles, and Sony executives are in the process of having a hissy fit. The PS2 desperately needed something that the PR leeches could market, unluckily for From Software they got their timing wrong.
Historically, the Armored Core franchise has received a very small, yet dedicated, following in the West. This is mostly a byproduct with the way Westerners view big robots. In that, unlike Japan, we haven’t had almost thirty years of big robot pop-culture rammed down our gullets. It goes over heads. Naturally, in Japan anything linked to big robots is equated with the Second Coming. Armored Core is primarily aimed at the Japanese market, simply because they actually want to control 20 metre tall anthropomorphic bipedal robots. Abroad? It is a very different story altogether.
So from the off, Sony’s PR machine picked the wrong game. To make matters worse, the final game sucked. Whether it is was all the pressure from Sony that rushed the development cycle, or the PS2’s crazy architecture, or even just plain bad luck. The final product was particularly sub-par.
This is not to say that From Software didn’t try, they did their damnedest to produce a next-generation sequel. On paper, the game seemed to be getting it right. Due to the creative restrictions of the former PSone’s hardware, the PS2 incarnation literally seemed to be pulling out all the stops. In the original PSone versions the player only had access to four possible weapons. Two back weapon hardpoints that could hold items such as missiles or cannons, and two arm weapon hardpoints of which one (the left) could only hold laserblades.
Armored Core 2 increased this massively by adding “Extensions” (hard points on the shoulders that could either increase missile offense or missile defence, among other things), “Inside” (that could house mines, missile decoys etc.), “Radiators” (your AC could overheat) and as well as “Shields” (for an additional left arm option). Not to mention an entirely new class of “hover” legs (one the many bonuses of using them was allowing combat on water, something previously impossible). Finally, the piece de resistance, was the addition of an “OverBoost” function (the back of your core would open up and thrusters would propel you forward at high speed). The game had more features than a Japanese mobile phone. So where did it all go wrong?
Whilst there were multiple “additions” to the game, fundamentally, Armored Core 2 remained far from being innovative. Admittedly this is what is to be expected from sequels but, nonetheless, the lack of design modification was pretty poor. The main problem with Armored Core 2, however, was the severe reduction in game speed. Gone was the cathartic high-speed fun, instead we were presented with lethargic blandness. To top it off, not only was the intrinsic game speed far slower than the PSone’s predecessors it also suffered from chronic slowdown. Firing off multiple missile volleys would result, more often than not, in the game becoming a bad John Woo movie. This alone, for a next-generation game, is nigh on unforgivable. The net effect of these various faults is that Armored Core 2 is a rather lackluster experience.
It isn’t all bad though. All this high profile attention did actually bear some fruit. Mijk van Dijk composed the game’s score, and it fits very well. Not to mention the actual story is probably one of the most coherent in the series. Set on Mars, corporate political intrigue abounds but there is more at work. Ancient technology from a long forgotten alien civilization bears its regal head, threatening to unseat humanity’s feeble grip on the red planet whilst also shedding light on the origin of ACs and MTs among other things. Thankfully the voice acting, in general, is pretty convincing too. So from a presentation point of view, the game is particularly slick (perhaps even filmic).
Regardless of all the superficial trimmings though, the core of the game (no pun intended) remains flawed. The ideas were there, that much is certain, but for whatever reason the game lost its footing. The final result is that of an overtly hyped title that patently failed to deliver. Unless you are a die-hard fan of the series, judiciously avoid
[spoiler show=”Final Level Video”]