It’s hard to believe that our beloved Armored Core franchise is now a decade old. It seems like only yesterday when I first discovered the thrill of navigating ten tons of steel onto the battlefield all while having complete control over how my instrument of destruction looked and handled. Since its inception the series has rarely strayed from the tried and true formula that made it so famous in the first place, which ironically is one of the series biggest hang-ups. While the latest incarnation will certainly appease hardcore fans of the series, newcomers will still be left scratching their heads as to what all the fuss is about.
The first thing you will notice about Last Raven is that the game is built entirely for veterans of the previous games. There is no hand holding to be found here, in fact there isn’t even a tutorial to get you used to the controls or navigating the menus. Nope the best you can find as far as descriptions go is the short paragraph below some items giving you a small rundown of some of the menu items; that’s it. There is a training ground for you to test your creations in against bots, but for the most part this game is aimed directly at those of us who have been playing since the mid 90’s.
The main storyline is pretty basic; you are in a post apocalyptic world where wars are being raged upon the land. As a freelance pilot you can choose which side to do missions for and of course these affect the path your character takes. The game spans several different battles that all take place in a 24-hour time frame. The mission structure ranges from easy and straight forward to downright frustrating even for AC vets. Most of the frustration comes in the form of the one-on-one battles that will play out against rival mechs. Last Raven has upped the pace of game play and taken the stress of overheating down a notch making the game feel a bit more arcade-like than past titles.
Those who have already gotten their feet wet with this series before know that the real appeal of the game though is customization. Thankfully I can say that Last Raven does not fail to deliver on this aspect with tons of new combinations and parts at your disposal. What has changed this time around is that the developer has added the ability to house five separate AC arrangements in your garage. These are not separate ACs but in fact just different variations so you can have different types of machines ready for all the scenario types such as battle, ground, and even air combat. This is certainly a nice addition to the series and vets will be happy that they don’t have to re-construct each mech type between every single mission.
While there have been some minor changes to the game play the visuals and sounds have remained entirely untouched. In fact if you didn’t see the disc before playing you could easily mistake this title for one of the other five thousand versions floating around out there. The HUD system has returned from Nine Breaker and you can now customize it to display as little or as much info as you want. Targeting can also become an issue when your AC obstructs the view of the action, in these cases we would really have loved to see the devs take the time to add in a transparency option for those of us who live on the wild side and play in third person. Thankfully the standard engine is still far from ugly and does get the job done.
From Software has also finally answered my calls and decided to add in an online mode where friends can finally duke it out with their custom machines. The multi-player can be enjoyed with up to four players either human or computer controlled and there are a total of 25 different arenas to choose from. While this certainly isn’t enough reason to purchase the game if you are not a fan of it, the hardcore veterans of the series can finally rejoice that the game is now playable online so finding a sparring partner at 3am is no longer a concern.
When all is said and done Armored Core Last Raven is still the same game you played last year. While the addition of a few tweaks and online play will certainly thrill hardcores; anyone interested in taking the plunge for the first time will find themselves overwhelmed with menus and confusing customization options. Certainly not a game for the casual gamer, but more than worth it for true fans of the series.