Instead of being a full-blown sequel, From Software's Armored Core: Project Phantasma is the closest thing to an add-on pack the Sony PlayStation has ever seen. On the PC side, add-on packs are fairly popular because folks can get new missions, enemies, and options for their favorite games, without having to wait out the basic one- to two-year development cycle. Sure, the graphics, controls, and gameplay are basically the same, but add-ons provide what everyone essentially wants from a good game: more.
And that's what AC: PP is all about. You're still a member of a mercenary organization of mech robot pilots know as Ravens, who hire out their services to the highest bidder. You can still configure your mech by choosing which head, core, arms, legs, generator, FCS (the computer brain of the rig), arm and back weapons, and optional parts you want it to have. And you still need to accomplish a number of high-risk missions to be able to afford the choicer ones among them. There are just more missions and parts to be found now.
The original Armored Core saw players taking on such tasks as clearing squatters out of buildings, testing out experimental robots in battle, guarding trains, and destroying computer mainframes. There were nearly 50 missions in all, and branching pathways varied the storyline a bit and increased its replayability (at least if you gave up and started over before beating the game, since everything opened up once you finished it). In Armored Core: Project Phantasma, things are a little different. There are only 17 missions total, which doesn't leave a lot of room for branching at all. In fact, there are only two areas where the game forks off, making the title's missions a much more linear experience than its predecessor's missions. However, the tasks can be pretty interesting and include escorting captured Raven to safety, wiping out a convoy, sneaking into a base to arrest an official, or working with a partner to wipe out enemy installations. These are a little deeper than some of the previous game's objectives, requiring more thought than merely "Destroy!" And with one false move, watch out, you don't get paid.
Besides the new missions, an arena mode has been added to the game. In the first Armored Core, the player had to work his way up the ranks of the top ten rated Ravens by either coming up against them while on assignment or achieving a high success ratio. Now, it's much more straightforward: You can simply call out the mech who ranks above you for a duel in one of 13 different environments of your choice. There's a decent amount of variety among the whopping 49 different Ravens, and they most assuredly get really tough towards the end. But it's all good since cash and/or parts are awarded to the winner, and repair costs are waived either way. A replay mode is also provided, from which you can watch the preceding battle from your perspective, the computer player's, or from a third-person view above both. While it sounds like a minor gimmick, it sometimes helps to see just how your opponent took you down, so it doesn't get a chance to do it again. And if you still have your save-game data from the first Armored Core, loading it up will allow you to shoot your way up the ranks much faster. Unfortunately, whether from a save or from scratch, this mode can get rather repetitive after a while.
While the missions are fun and there's still something to be said for the duels, Armored Core: Project Phantasma can be beaten within the space of two or three days, meaning there simply isn't quite enough here to justify the cost of purchase. Hardcore AC fans might want to pick it up, but others should be able to get by with a rental.