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Armored Core: Last Raven
Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: From Software
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Simulation/ Third Person Shooter/ Themed

Graphics & Sound:
Armored Core :Last Raven is Armored Core. The Armored Core series is a venerable one... as is the game's engine. Graphically and tonally, Last Raven delivers what Armored Core fans have come to expect. I could draw upon several games, including the present one, to explain exactly what that means to those who are unfamiliar with Armored Core games, but that would be a waste of everyone's time; Last Raven is not a game for gamers new to the Armored Core series. On the contrary -- it is a game for die-hard-(armored)-core players looking for a bigger challenge.

That having been said, I will say that the sound effects do sound appropriate, the voice acting is not bad at all and the menu music is good, but can become a bit repetitious, given the amount of time you're likely to spend setting up and reconfiguring your AC (Armored Core - this series' name for a mech) to be suitable for specific missions or enemies.

One really nice and really artistic piece of eye (and ear) candy is the Last Raven intro video. The video is of a particular battle in a city that has been greatly devastated by the mysterious unmanned suicide weapons. The video shows that the war affects even the smallest creature in the environment and demonstrates the destructive power of Armored Cores -- both to their intended targets and to unintended ones. I found this intro video to be very nicely done and well directed with an ending that felt very "artistic-anime" with a very trying-to-make-you-think feel to it. The music at the title screen is very serene, with an almost Resident Evil morosity to it. Nicely done, indeed.


Gameplay:
If you've never played an Armored Core game before, you've got a lot of catching up to do. You'll want to find the original Armored Core (or at least one somewhere in the middle) and work your way up to Last Raven. While there have been plots and plot twists, the main thing you'll be lacking is going to be insanely good skills with an AC. Armored Core: Last Raven features several enemies from Armored Core: Nexus, but some of them have improved their AC's a bit.

If you've played Armored Core: Nexus or Armored Core: Nine Breaker, you can convert your old saved game from either of those games to work in Last Raven. This will give you a ''leg up" on the competition and will start you off with a more powerful AC that you're (hopefully) somewhat familiar with.

A large aspect of any Armored Core game is configuring your AC to be prepared for the specific mission or arena opponent you're about to face. You'll have to choose which head to buy and equip, which arms and legs you want, what guns or missiles you want to arm yourself with and what features all of the above have. You'll have to balance firepower with cost, speed with weight, offensive features with defensive features. You will, inevitably, find yourself vascillating between a weapon that you think is perfect for the task at hand or the anti-missile system that mounts in the same location... or you won't enjoy Last Raven at all. Armored Core: Last Raven is a game for tweakers -- players who know that a lot of strategy that goes into a successful battle is determined long before stepping foot on a battlefield. True, you have to determine what your strategy will be -- what to attack, how to attack, when to approach and when to back away -- but you also have to determine what weapons to equip before going in, so you'll have them when you need them. And how you want your tunable parts tuned for weight? Perhaps for cooling ability? ...Of course, you can't get these super-wonderful parts unless you buy them, and that takes money made in previous missions and arena victories. You'll want to think about what parts you want to get and use now as well as what parts you want to save up for to buy later. Armored Core: Last Raven, like other Armored Core games before it, is a game of planning, plotting, earning, saving, spending and -- above all -- patience.

While the graphics haven't changed much as of late, the gameplay does see a few changes; all of which seem to contribute to the effect of providing more difficult challenges to the fans and, effectively, reducing the accessibility to new players. One new feature that serves as an excellent example of this is the breakable parts system. It is now possible to target parts of an opponent's AC and to inflict damage on those specific parts. Your mines, for example, can destroy an opponent's legs (of course, they're likely to have been simply hopping around with their jump jets, so the only gratification you'll get is hearing your computer tell you that their legs have been destroyed and knowing that you've got them that much closer to blowing them up). Also, it seems that a nice shot to the head can cleanly remove it, and just as cleanly take that enemy out of your way.


Difficulty:
Last Raven's "levels" -- the missions that you can accept -- are in a strangely interlaced format. Some of the most difficult missions are available at the beginning of the game (and can be identified by their huge cash rewards). This was likely done to provide greater challenges early on for those who had good AC's setup in Nexus or Nine Breaker and converted them to work with Last Raven.

Even if you choose the easiest missions at each opportunity, the difficulty of some of the missions can be high enough to be frustrating. When these are encountered and you fail a mission you're not prepared for, you can choose "Retry Mission" which actually acts like that mission had never been played and returns you to the menu system where you can tweak your mech, play the same mission again, choose a different mission or anything else you can usually do in this menu.

Your other choice besides "Retry Mission" is "Restart Game". Now this has an interesting effect. Choosing to restart the game starts you back at square one, with the original levels and having not beaten any of the VR Arena opponents, but you still have your AC with all of the equipment you had acquired as well as your cash (credits?) that you had amassed. In this way, the game actually rewards you a bit for restarting the game. Assumedly the idea is that you will continue to play part way through the game until you can't continue further with the resources you have, then you restart the game with your current mech and start building up money and parts until you can get further. It's an interesting game mechanic, but I find that it contributes to the frustration factor.


Game Mechanics:
Armored Core is (and has been) a license that is slowly evolving and in the process, becoming more and more niche and elitist. If you come in off the street, having never played an Armored Core game before and find Armored Core: Last Raven easy to pick up and play and not so difficult as to be frustrating, I'd be amazed.

As a more realistic, more demanding and generally more challenging installment of Armored Core, Armored Core: Last Raven delivers some heavy firepower -- and lets it truly do damage, for once. If you're looking for an AC game with higher stakes, Armored Core: Last Raven is here for you.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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