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Armored Core 2

Mech : 1-2 players : PS2 Memory Card : Analogue Dual Shock : Ubi Soft / FROM Software

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Result :                  8 -  Mech combat at it's best (9 for mech fans)

Graphics:           7 - detailed, good draw distance
FMV :                 7 - cinematic
Sound :              8 - Karasawa Mk2!
Music :               6 - inoffensive yet mood setting
A.I. :                 6 - patchy good and bad
Lifespan :          9 - customisation, VS, missions
Gameplay :        8 - captures the mech feeling
Adrenaline :       7 - Mattias is coming for ya!

Armored Core 2 (yank spelling) is truly one of the hidden greats of the PS2 line-up, I can understand reviewers giving 6-7's as you need to play the game a little to get the full realisation of how impressive AC2 actually is.  This strength is customisation subtleties, you see in AC2 you drive giant mechanical robots, these mechs come in all shapes and with a fantastic range of weapons, so depending on the mission you can choose how to arm yourself most appropriately.  The story mode has 50 odd missions set on Mars, where freelance mercenaries known as Ravens sell their services (and mechs) to rival corporations each trying to out manoeuvre each other.  Being a good Raven means more than cash to buy parts, you have to work out how to get the most from an inherently slow moving hunk of metal.  Be careful as you have to repair and buy ammo from what you earn, and going too far into debt gives a game-over sign.  The missions also tell the story of the struggle for Mars, and as such is better than most, with a few twists in the plot, and meshes quite well with what you actually do.  In addition to the missions, there is a ranking ladder whereby Ravens can pt themselves against each other's mechs and try to earn the title of "Nine-breaker", plus a hefty prize packet that goes with it. 

The mechs themselves are well detail, with loads of moving parts, and showy effects for the boosters and weapons.  The vs. levels can be a little bland, but the mission levels show reasonable textures that are atmospheric and nicely capture the post-apocalypsic theme.  As all the parts look different from each other you can tell (when close enough) exactly what an enemy AC is armed with.  Sound is great with the lumbering jolts of landing and jumping, the boom of explosions and the whine of chainguns dispensing their loads.  The only real complaint is that the levels themselves can be a little small, and the menu writing seems to flicker which is irritating at times. 

The gameplay is a mix between all arcade action of say the Gundam series, and the sterile perfectionism of Mechwarrior.  You can choose to utilise quick lightly armed and armoured cores, lumbering powerhouses loaded down with massive firepower or something in-between.  You must develop skills to aim the slower, more powerful weapons, while dodging is essential in anything but the most heavy tank.  All-in-all the balance seems excellent, "tuning" your core can be as lazy or as stringent as you feel, however the impact is similar to Gran Turismo.  Be lazy with a good AC and good parts and you will do ok, but fine tune everything to the optimal for that particular configuration and good goes to great.  This is half the beauty of the AC concept, the other being that apart from a few obviously better parts the style of core you choose isnt particularly weaker than another.  Some matchups do favour one or the other, but mostly you can choose a style you like and play against all comers.  For example while a heavy AC can have alot of armour, you will get hit more often as dodging isnt as easy.  You can make a heavily armed quick moving AC, but the paper-thin  defence means one or two hits and its all over, add more armour balance the weapons and you still end up fast but you might have to choose your shots more carefully to ensure you dont run out of ammo when taking down a big tank.

AC2 has some serious lifespan, that's because of the part interactions, and the fact you can make widely different feeling mechs.  This virtually gives a whole new slant to the game and instantly gives the game multiple replays that do not feel stale.  Again the VS modes (split screen or iLink) are a joy, and while the bot AI can be a little patchy, playing the Raven arena ladder can also be very challenging depending on the parts chosen.   Linking two PS2's is especially fun, which begs the rumoured online AC3:Sigma project to be completed ASAP.  All in all it's like having the customisation of Gran Turismo bolted onto Timesplitters deathmatches.  Piloting 8 tons of metal has never been so much fun!

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