The world of mech games has always been pretty well populated with a large amount of titles. Unfortunately, most of the time, these titles don't vary enough to make checking them out worthwhile. This is even more true of sequels to games, and in this case the latest in the ARMORED CORE series from From Software.
The first time I played ARMORED CORE was at E3 2000. I was in a competition for a t-shirt, and ended up losing because I went out of range. While my first experience with the game was less than fortunate, I didn't think it was half bad. While that game was pretty good (one of the better early PlayStation 2 titles), the sequels have done little to improve on it.
There are some minor things; the graphics are probably one of the best improvements over the last incarnation. Many more things are visually impressive. This is also due partially to the fact that the game is set in a much more exciting environment this time around. There are some other minor gameplay improvements, but if you've played the other ARMORED CORE games, you've basically played this one.
That is what holds the game back. You play as a mercenary group, and earn money by completing missions. This money is spent repairing mechs, buying parts, and hiring wingmates (who don't really become worth the money until late in the game). Everything is the same, fairly clunky controls that make aiming and the like very difficult. One difference is that fortunately, the need for precision aiming (mostly against aerial targets) is not nearly as prevalent as it was in the previous game.
I just find it difficult to get into this ARMORED CORE game. Rather than something new (I'm really yearning for mechs that are a bit easier to control) it's just the same thing again. Fans of the original will love it, but it's not really reaching out to a new audience at all. I'm not seeing a lot of innovation; it feels like I've played this game before.
One nice addition, though, is the four-player mode. I think a four-player mode is the saving grace of any video game, and it's definitely true here. Sure you can have online play, but nothing is as fun as playing a game with friends, in person. The four-player mode is probably the best aspect of the game.
As previously mentioned, the graphics are one of the best improvements. The game has a brand new engine from the last title, and it shows. The level areas are varied, and look good for the most part. They aren't spectacular, but they get the job done.
Sound effects are definitely the highlight over the music. Plenty of weapon sounds, radio chatter and explosions dominate the game. The music seems to be mostly an afterthought, and doesn't really take much effort to tune it out.
I like this series, but it just hasn't gone anywhere since the first release. If you've never played an ARMORED CORE game or are a big fan, it's worth trying out.