How many times can one person play the same game? At least six, evidently. While I still call myself a fan of From Software and their Armored Core series, I think I've finally reached my breaking point. I've taken all five of the previous games to 100% and beyond. Its safe to say that I know these games inside and out, and there's no doubt that I've enjoyed being along for the ride. However, From Software's ultra-conservative stance on each new release has now become quite tiresome. My patience and interest for repeating the same gameplay experience over and over have simply run out.
The series that once had me completely addicted has now become so stale that it barely even registers as enjoyment. Improvements are measured in increments and new features are so insignificant that only a hardcore, long-term fan such as myself would even take notice of them. For all intents and purposes, this is the same game that was released for the PlayStation way back in 1997, and no amount of wishing on my part is going to change that.
Please forgive my brevity in covering the games basic details, but I've already written this review twice before. There's little point in covering the same material again, so I suggest reading both the Armored Core 2 and Armored Core 2: Another Age pieces in our archives for an in-depth overview of the previous PlayStation 2 incarnations. Except for a few tweaks, everything said in those two write-ups still applies. To summarize: after watching the most jaw-droppingly spectacular CG robot intro ever made, players assume the role of a "Raven"a mercenary for hire piloting a giant metal monster. Its your job to not only survive a gauntlet of missions but also to earn enough money to customize and upgrade your mech. The equipment shop offers something on the order of a kajillion different parts, so the challenge of mixing and matching these components is at least half of the game.
To quickly spotlight Armored Core 3's new additions, the E-mail and Arena mode both absent from Another Age have returned. They're unchanged, but its nice to see them again regardless. Brand-new to the series are the ability to drop weapons in the middle of a mission and the option to hire wingmen on a handful of assignments. Jettisoning your guns seems to lighten your load for increased agility, although I never found it necessary to do so. The wingman option isn't used much in the main game, but after the credits roll a two-player arena opens up. I wish they had kept the two-player co-op missions, though. Finally, some of the Cores now have built-in cannons called Exceed Orbits in lieu of the old speed boost function supporting the old adage "there's no such thing as too many guns."
Once you check out these new features and come to the conclusion that none of them substantially change the gameplay, the downsides to Armored Core 3 start feeling like the slap in the face that they are.
For starters, I'm utterly enraged that my save-game data from Armored Core 2 and Another Age doesn't carry over to Armored Core 3. In the PlayStation years, one of the games biggest draws was that once you bought parts and saved money, you could use them in the next installment. You kept everything you collected, and hard work invested in one title was a great benefit in the next. In effect, this created a very desirable and unique form of videogame permanence. When the series moved to the PlayStation 2, I was heartbroken that all of my efforts would be lost, but I spent considerable time with the new games and worked my way back up from nothing. Now, for no apparent reason, From Soft decides that players need to start from the bottom again. All my hours of perseverance are now flushed away for the second time.
Blocking the transfer of saved data is an incredibly uninspired way to add playtime for experienced players, not to mention the fact that its an insult to the fans that have supported the series in sequel after sequel. When From Soft did it the first time, they claimed that they were reinventing on a more powerful machine, so a fresh start was needed. They don't have that excuse now. In fact, they're effectively forcing me to re-buy many of the same parts and accessories I've bought twice before, with microscopically small changes made in order to call them "new."
On the subject of graphics, things are definitely in need of a revamp. It's no secret that From has never made eye-candy a priority, but since the rest of the game is basically untouched, I have to wonder what the time spent between releases was for. In the past, most of the other games have been more like add-on discs than full-fledged sequels, so using the same graphics engine was understandable. Now that From has put the number three at the end of the title, I expect a little more pizazz. The graphics here were slightly above average two games ago, but they're not even on par with current titles now.
By the time youve read this far you probably think that I hate Armored Core 3 and gave it a 6.5 because its miserable. This is not so. The reason behind my low score is the games complete lack of rejuvenation and the developers unwillingness to substantially change a hit formula devised years ago. The fact that there's a barely perceptible difference between the first game and its fifth sequel really says something. However, for anyone who has not played these games, I need to shift gears a bit.
For all newcomers to the series, please add two points to the score above and buy it with confidence. I know that must sound strange after reading my cantankerous tirade, but the rock-solid gameplay and customization options will likely impress most players. Its also the easiest Armored Core game to date, which is a perfect place for inexperienced ravens to earn their wings. There's going to be some stiff competition this holiday season in the realm of Big Robot games, but Armored Core has an identity all its own and really cant be outdone. If you're a war-weary Raven whose played other games in the series, you'll definitely want to think twice before signing up for another tour of duty. For everybody else, your library isn't complete without at least one copy of Armored Core. If you don't already have one, Armored Core 3 is a great place to jump in.