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[ 08/26/03 ] = Hard Core!

In a recent interview, Treasure president Masato Maegawa commented that "Shooting has a stable popularity among core users...With shooters, you can always expect a certain minimum number of sales" (Play v.2 #6). I found this interesting because from a business standpoint, creating shmups, in the parlance of our times, doesn't exactly make for bestsellers; however, the shmup is a unique genre in that a company can almost predict, given a little advertising, how many will sell. 2-D fighters are kind of in that same boat. And because there is a guaranteed amount of sales, we tend to see long-running series as a result. Following this tendency outside of the shmup/fighter domain exists another series that has just released its seventh installment stateside.

The Armored Core series has been around for roughly six years, and as a result, has created a seemly large (albeit invisible at times) fan base. It's progression has been as much about hardware improvements as it has been about game improvements. Generally speaking, no series can last through seven installments without improving, without innovating. And as it would be, Armored Core Silent Line is not only the best in the series, but it is one of the best games in the action genre.







Armored Core has always been the quintessential robot game, given how deep and personalized the construction of your core can be. The series itself has allowed for the customization of every single aspect of your creation; from legs to arms to weapons and even color schemes. Additionally, Armored Core has always included a mini paint program, allowing gamers to create their own emblems, which are proudly displayed on the Core itself during gameplay. After all the options, a gamer finds themselves staggering out of the virtual garage to engage in a number of missions as chosen by the pilot: you. Of course, to the magazine reader, this is relatively redundant. Yet, after playing Armored Core Silent Line, I found so much more artistic quality, hardware innovation, and game balance, that it baffles the mind at how these qualities are rarely (if at all) mentioned in mainstream publications.

The power of the PS2 is at proud display with ACSL. Indoor and outdoor level design show environmental detail that can hang with the most powerful of 3-D platformers. The indoor stages have a monochrome consistency, reflecting on the remnants of a once post-apocalyptic world. Do not associate monochrome with bland, for these levels are riddled with detail such as panels, light sourcing, glass, wall scarring, grates, abandoned buildings, highway rubble, and vehicles...too much to fully account for. Smoke from large fires fill hallways, cavernous areas reveal military bases, and around every corner some mechanical menace is waiting to take off more of your health. Outdoor environments have to be seen, have to be experienced. Fog shrouds forests while sandstorms blind the eye. Torrential rains retreat, clearing the way for sunlight-streamed clouds and distant mountains. Booster heat distorts vision as solar flairs creep above the horizon. After a refreshing breath of ACSL air, it becomes hard to believe that so much destruction can occur in such a beautiful place.



The music of ACSL is very hard to describe in terms of genre. To say it is techno perhaps labels it incorrectly, but to say it is classical undermines its compositional structure. What I can say about the music is that it is brilliant. Its techno roots with ambient mixes and classical samples are combined for the perfect effect. In many ways, it reminds me of the intensity of the music in games such as Ikaruga, Giga Wing 2, and Soukyu Gurentai. The music in Armored Core has rarely been mentioned when reviewed, which is odd considering the music (like the series) has improved to the point of perfection. The opening cinema itself presents a thunderous tune that gives the player an implication of just how serious of a game this is.

Now, the wise editors at EGM will tell you that the control has always suffered for two reasons: lack of the R analog stick to "look" (a la FPSs) and the slow turning speed. First of all, the Armored Core series has always used the entire controller; every button has a function that is frequently used, with relatively recent inclusions of the R3 and L3 buttons. In the default setting, the L2 and R2 buttons are used to look up and down respectively, and because every button is utilized, hand position doesn't allow for use of the R analog to "look." But wait, if I could only use the R analog stick to look, I could free up the L2 and R2 buttons! Right? Sure, BUT YOU'LL BE MISSING OUT ON ALL FOUR FACE BUTTONS YOU ASSHOLES! Of course, the EGM staff would actually have to play the game in order to understand that. Which brings me to the said editor's second dilemma: turning too slow. Giant robots: we're dealing with several hundred ton creations here, not ballerinas spinning on command. You're damn right they're going to turn rather slow! Actually, it's in this "criticism" that makes the gameplay of ACSL that much more involved. Because of slower turning, offensive strategies and Core constructions can be built around trying to get behind your opponent, while defensive strategies and constructions can include how to get out of the pursuit situation and retaliate with the hopes of turning the tide of combat - very much like a flight sim. But if such a maneuvering style is not your forte, there is also an expansion booster acquired a short ways into the game that can be equipped, allowing for quick 90 degree turns. The EGM staff didn't mention this, but that's understandable, as they were too busy playing NFL Blitz to to spend adequate time on ACSL. Good work, gentlemen.

Lastly, I'd like to mention ACSL's use of the "lost hardware": the link cable. With the link cable, up to five (yes, five!) systems can be linked to bring your Core against as many as three of your ACSL friends in what can only be described as chaotic arena madness. 21 stages set the scene for one-on-one, two-versus-two team battles, four-player free-for-all, or any other combination of four you can think of! A fifth TV/PS2 can be set up just as a viewing station, where changing cameras will cover the action of the four contestants. Five PS2s all connected to five TVs in someone's living room is a site to see. It's these versus battles where true addiction reigns supreme. I can't give this feature enough praise. Gran Turismo 3 players can relate, as can Halo players. It boggles the mind why more companies don't include this feature in their action games (actually, it has to do with profits, deadlines, etc.). But the link cable in ACSL is there for a reason, and Armored Core fans know why. It's never too late to get started on this fantastic series, because like the shmup or the 2-D fighter, Armored Core isn't going anywhere.