Armored Core 3 is the latest mech-based combat game in the long-running Armored Core series. And just like its predecessors, AC3 is just as much about mech hardware customization as it is combat. You’re able to build your robot from the ground up with various weapons and parts. The sheer variety of possibilities in this regard rivals the customization options of even Gran Turismo 3. Unlike GT3 however, this is very much not a simulation game that attempts to realistically portray what it would be like to control an actual mech. No, no, it is a third-person combat game that allows you to pull off twitch-quick maneuvers with ease. There is no denying Armored Core 3’s strong-points but fans of the series might be a little disappointed, since AC3 is an evolutionary upgrade to an almost two-year-old title in terms of graphics and gameplay.
In the world of Armored Core 3, you are a Raven (a mech-for-hire). You’ll perform various missions for followers of the “Controller”, an infinitely aware AI program that dictates the majority of Earth’s decisions. Each mission you take on can be chosen at your discretion and the non-linear nature of progression is a nice touch. Each completed mission will net you a certain amount of credits that can be used to revamp and upgrade your custom-built Armored Core. There are over a dozen different hardware categories that make up the spectrum of AC3’s hardware customization, including head, core, arms, legs, boosters, FCS (Fire Control System), generator, radiator, interior, extension, back unit, and arms. The myriad of parts available are distinguished by function, weight, attack power, power consumption, and other attributes that you need to take into consideration when you are modifying your mech. You also have a feature-laden system for modifying the aesthetics of your towering battle machine, including the ability to create a custom emblem that is compatible with any standard USB mouse.
Controlling your AC takes a little getting used to but after witnessing the ‘game over’ screen a couple of times, you’ll feel right at home with the setup; it is a fairly intuitive system. The L and R-analog sticks allow you to move and look around, respectively. Face buttons are used for firing primary and secondary weapons, changing weapons, jumping, and enabling boosters. The R1 and L1 buttons allow you to strafe, with R2 and L2 used for controlling your pitch. The booster has its own gauge that determines the duration of use before it overheats. Aside from allowing you to boost around on the ground to avoid enemy lead-fodder, you can also use the booster to fly around for a short time. Blowing up opponents consist of first acquiring one or more targets in your aiming reticule and then activating the desired weapon. You’ll also have a sword melee attack that does incredible damage and doesn’t waste your credits on ammunition; precision is the key to using it successfully.
The jobs in which you will be contracted to participate in are not very creative but are reasonably varied. They range from simply clearing an area of enemy forces, protecting various structures and people from being destroyed, and escort missions. Some jobs pay a certain percentage upfront with the rest paid on completion, while some depend on how many enemy units you manage to take out; it just depends on the job. After you complete a mission, you’ll be ranked according to how quickly you achieved your objectives, how much damage you took, and other variables according to skill. Sometimes you’ll end up eating the cost of a job due to the ammunition expenses and amount of repair that is required to fix up your robot. Another way to acquire credits is to participate in arena competitions with other AC units. Working your way through the ranks provides an excellent opportunity to sharpen your skills and can also be quite lucrative.
Visually, Armored Core looks good, but not great. It features a minimally refined version of the same graphics engine found in Armored Core 2 and AC2: Another Age, but the mechs move smoothly and are pretty detailed as is. The environments range from claustrophobic parking garages to sprawling cityscapes, and while there are quite a lot of blow-up-able objects and other niceties scattered through the stages, there are occasional draw-in issues. The various upgrading options are great fun and with the plethora of hardware options at your disposal, it is possible to make a truly crazy-looking mech.
Audio wise, Armored Core 3 is less than stellar. The music, which consists mainly of generic techno-beats, changes according to whether you are in a hostile situation or safely traversing the environment, but it is anything but impressive. The sound effects are greatly varied but are also of the same underwhelming quality of the musical tracks. Voice acting is believable though, and there seems to be quite an assortment of voice talent used in the many instances of dialogue prior to beginning a mission.
Overall, AC3 is a solid and entertaining mech game with an unprecedented customization system that mech-fanatics will totally get off on. The missions are a little uninspired but they are fun nonetheless. Also, the inclusion of a tournament arena mode is a great addition that provides adequate diversion to the main mission mode. There is also a VS mode for straight-up 2-player confrontations that should help to prolong the game’s lasting appeal. Nevertheless, after waiting nearly two years for a new true Armored Core title, the outdated visuals and derivative gameplay is a bitter pill to swallow. But, what’re you gonna do, right? Take it or leave it, this is a cohesive mech-based combat title that should provide hours of entertainment.