Review by: Matthew Dujnic
Published: September 18, 2002
I’ll admit that, until now, I’ve watched the giant robot games phenomenon only with distant fascination. Of all action subgenres, it appeared to be the least accessible to mainstream players. Sure, the robots looked really cool, but for some reason, it all seemed so technical and esoteric, like a flight simulator with legs. I’m probably not the only one who harbors this hunch, as giant robots have yet to have a breakout hit. Now, Armored Core 3 is here, bringing more hardcore machine madness, but with the promise of instant gratification. Have the audience-friendly giant robots finally arrived?
AC3 really starts out right; it’s jaw-dropping opening cinematic should charge up even the most jaded gamer. You’ll watch 50-foot-tall mechanized warriors prowl desolate city streets, hunting with sophisticated radar and unloading massive weapon payloads at each other. It’s the ultimate in gladiatorial combat; all the battlefield strategy you’ve seen in first-person shooters, but multiplied tenfold. These machines look simultaneously massive and agile; not only do they carry several tons of explosives and guns, but they effortlessly run, glide and fly. By the time the opening movie came to a close, the last robot stood smoking and damaged, but victorious, I was sold on giant robots.
True to its promise, AC3 drops you right into the action, and the first level looks strikingly similar to the opening movie. This is your training session; an easy mission that, upon completion, will qualify you as a Raven. The Ravens are an elite task force of Controller-sponsored mercenaries. You’re given access to a three-mech garage and a massive shop of improvement parts. Once you’re in the fold, all sorts of corporate interests will come seeking your services, and completing those missions will bring in the cash needed for better equipment and bigger assignments. AC3‘s story is not unlike any Japanese-inspired tale of the future. Bureaucratic government has grown into one omnipotent artificial intelligence called the Controller. The Controller cares for all aspects of citizens’ lives, from entertainment to housing to jobs. Of course, as with any Big Brother type presence, there are bound to be rebellions, and if the corporations aren’t sending you off to bomb the other guy, they’ll likely hire you to squash unprofitable insurrections. Yes, in a refreshing twist, you aren’t necessarily the good guy. You accept the missions that appeal to you, answering only to the call of money.
As for money, you’ll need a lot of it, as upgrades don’t come cheap. The quickest way to describe the upgrade system is “Gran Turismo for robots,” but that doesn’t quite do it justice. Why am I comparing AC3 to Gran Turismo? True, they are two completely different kinds of games, but Gran Turismo was responsible for bringing obsessive nitty-gritty tinkering to the mainstream. It was a simulation that became a blockbuster. AC3 feels like a simulation, too. The main part of your robot is called the “core,” which is where the pilot sits. It’s analogous to the chassis in a car; how your core actually looks, moves and operates depends on what you attach to this chassis. Equipment includes – take a deep breath – heads, arms, arm units, back units, legs, boosters, fire control, generators, radiators, extensions, internal and optional parts. Not all of those headings are self-explanatory, but suffice it to say that there are usually over a dozen parts in each category, and given enough money, you can mix and match to your heart’s content, building the ultimate armored core.