Armored Core 2: Another Age Preview

Armored Core 2 presents a series of new missions.

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There are a number of different styles of execution when it comes to creating a mech-warfare game. The ultradetailed control mechanisms behind MechWarrior appeal to a wide audience, as do the simplified arcade controls of Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram. Somewhere between these two extremes lies From Software's Armored Core games--the latest of which is the revamped Armored Core 2: Another Age for the PlayStation 2. The key feature behind Armored Core 2: Another Age's playability is the incredibly intense level of customization allowed when creating and modifying your mechanical fighting machine, or core. With Another Age, the long hours of core development and rigorous field testing will pay off with competitive online multiplayer matches, accessible through use of the approaching PlayStation 2 network adapter. While we obviously haven't had the chance to examine the online capabilities of Another Age, we were able to recently play through many of the single- and multiplayer missions and get a good look at what's in store.

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The story takes place five years after the events of Armored Core 2, after the coup led by the rebel Leos Klain on Mars. The government on Earth, wary of further action against the martian community, has been concentrating on rebuilding the cities that were leveled by the Great Destruction. With Earth's population so greatly reduced, science and technology have taken a sharp turn for the worse. The government's response to this situation? A stepped-up program of rapid armament, with the objective of retaking the red planet. The military regime has inspired several dissenting factions to take up arms and organize the rest of the underground. The role of the Ravens, the hired gun mercenary pilots of the powerful Armored Cores, is to take action in the conflict on behalf of the highest bidder. When not participating in the nearest melee, Ravens do battle in the arenas, in publicly attended events. The highest-ranking Ravens have great sway over the public and can become the decisive force in the battle for supremacy over Earth. Your role is to rise through the ranks of the Raven hierarchy and become an integral factor in the new age.

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The original Armored Core 2 featured a moderately involved single-player mode, with 30 different branching missions to embark upon. Another Age has more than 100 different missions--the most ever in an Armored Core game--making for a much more satisfying and lengthy solo experience. The incentives for completing these missions vary but can range from strictly financial rewards to story-driving battles that are meant to sway the balance of the conflict one way or the other. The single-player missions also let pilots discover hidden, powerful core parts that are only available upon completion of varying objectives. When mission areas are unlocked, hidden missions may appear to challenge the Raven bold enough to undertake them. After completing a handful of missions, rated on a difficulty scale for reference, our Raven was rich enough to give his core a complete overhaul and tackle missions of the highest complexity and challenge. While completing every mission isn't necessary for a successful single-player campaign, you will find that the need to build your core to its fullest potential for competition can be easily fulfilled.

Armored Core 2: Another Age brings the competent single-player formula to full multiplayer fruition. The ability to play in arena matches, as well as multiplayer co-op and competitive missions online, is the most substantial addition to the series. Through a standard dial-up protocol using the PlayStation 2 network adapter, you can dial in to a server and locate other AC2 players. Playing arena matches can take a turn-based format, where a score is kept from round to round and a winner is determined after a preset number of sorties, or a single match can be played for bragging rights and monetary gain. An interesting scaling element has been integrated into the versus arena and mission battles. If one side is underpowered and facing tough odds, the rewards for winning the match are greater than those for the opponent. The multiplayer modes are available through split-screen two-player and with a pair of i-linked PlayStation 2 consoles. The multiplayer modes run at a fast frame rate and play very smoothly, despite a large number of explosion and weapon effects happening at once.

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We were able to play several single-player missions, arena matches, and versus battles. Many of the different environments are highly interactive and allow for an engaging sense of exploration. In one arena, a circular room was home to several shifting hydraulic platforms that could be used to get to higher ground during the brief intervals they were exposed. The rooms themselves are immense, to the extent that opposing cores can appear as pinpricks or even invisible when on the other side of the areas. Ledges and hiding places can be destroyed to cause falling and overheating damage to nearby cores, and the terrain in general is creatively designed. Battles can take place across aircraft carriers, in deathmatch-specific rooms that may rekindle memories of Quake matches, and even in cities, where collateral damage can be disastrous to the populace. The control setup, while quite unintuitive, allows you quick access to all the weapons and abilities available. Battles are fast and exciting and control relatively nicely, despite the use of some of the slower and less agile core types.

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Tweaking the abilities and effectiveness of your core was one of the most involving aspects of the previous Armored Core games. In Armored Core 2: Another Age, From Software has set out to create an incredibly customizable system of building your core from the ground up. Bringing in previous Armored Core 2 save-game information will let you access all the new additions to the garage. The ability to modify your core's color scheme has returned, and now, up to five distinct parts can be color-customized. Emblem creation was previously fairly limited, but the detail allowed has now been doubled to 128x128 pixels. The heads-up display can be configured to your taste to convey any of a range of different data types. Opposing core weaponry can be analyzed, as can battle information and the status of any missions. Even the color of the HUD can be configured to best suit particular missions, battlefields, or personal taste. According to From Software, with the addition of all the new parts and armaments, the cores can now take on up to 10 billion different configurations.

Armored Core 2: Another Age adds substantially to what has come before in the series and may be the most complete combat-machine simulation to ever reach a console. With a multitude of new options and online play contributing hugely to replayability, Another Age promises to be an exciting multiplayer experience. Check out the latest movies and screens of Armored Core 2: Another Age, and stay tuned to GameSpot for our review upon the game's US release.

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