Armored Core is a long running series with countless titles, many of them allowing the player to import data from the last game into the new one. For fans this is great, as when a new game comes out they are more like mission packs than anything but could make it difficult for newbies.
The Armored Core universe pretty much revolves around a band of mercenaries, called Ravens, which work exclusively for massive corporations that rule the world. At the start the player is given a basic mech and a series of missions to select from. Money from clearing missions goes exclusively into buying new parts for the mech, slowly upgrading it from a glorified walking tank into something that could destroy the world.
The problem with the upgrade system is that most of it isn’t ever really explained. This would be fine if navigating the shop wasn’t a giant series of mainly text menus. The game does a decent job throwing up very small graphs and numbers to show how every part is different, which would be good if half those stats where ever really explained. While things like “Energy Drain” are clearly something that you want less of, what really gets confusing is how they interact with every part in the mech. For something that is half the game, and in its defense fairly deep, it is almost impenetrable for a new player (or even one that stepped away from the series for a year or two).
If making a functionally awesome mech is half of the game the other half would be playing it, which is where the serious problems come in. Last Raven is clearly designed for people how have been playing the series since the PS1 launch days, and for them the challenge is probably refreshing, for everyone else it will probably result in a broken PSP. The game fluctuates difficulties very quickly, seemingly repeatedly through the game. In all honesty, most of the repeated missions that I failed ended up feeling like there was some fundamental part of the game I was missing, and less like the games fault (although I was never clued into just what I really was missing).
What can be blamed for many of those repeated losses is the hardware itself. Mechanically, Armored Core plays very much like a third person shooter, and the worst thing that could happen to a third person shooter is taking away a second analog stick. The controls of the game are functional, targets can be found and locked onto, but in a game where overly mobile flying enemies happily mix with ground based ones it simply takes too long to find any one target.
What it does manage to do exceedingly well is look and sound great. Graphically the game looks like a PS2 game, which is something that is always refreshing to see when it works on the PSP. The sound and musical score are also quite the highlight.
Those two factors are normally the driving force behind long load times but this is not the case with Last Raven. When starting a mission, a prompt would pop-up informing that it was loading. Several times this animation would be cut off halfway through because the level had already been loaded. It seemed like normal loads took about 5 seconds, and for a game of this graphical quality and the size of some of the levels, that seems rather impressive.
Armored Core is a long running series, and for its fans probably one of the more enjoyable mech games ever to come out. On consoles it walks a fine line between simulation and arcade-type controls, and it is kind of nice to see how well some of those concepts manage to be shrunk into a handheld experience. All praise for the game aside, this should probably only be purchased for people who have bought every other title on the PSP. The game gets rather difficult early on, is rather unforgiving, and seems to expect a level of knowledge out of the player that no one new to the series should have to go through. If you are looking to get into the series, it is probably best to start with an earlier title.
Not As Good As: The same namesake on the PS2
Also Try: Armored Core: Silent Line Portable
Wait For It: A PSP with two analog nubs
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