There's been at least one Armored Core game released each year that the PlayStation 2 has been on the market. It's easy to shrug off each new installment as just another giant robot game, but for those who have been indoctrinated in the way of the mech, each Armored Core game demands hours upon hours of painstaking tweaking and tinkering in pursuit of the perfect design. If nothing else, the staggering array of customization options is impressive. At this point, though, the Armored Core games have become insular and unapproachable by anyone who isn't a card-carrying member of the mech-of-the-month club. Armored Core: Last Raven does nothing to bring new players into the fray, and instead plays directly to its established fan base by offering the same complex and unrelentingly difficult gameplay that the series is known for. That's just fine for AC vets, but for everyone else, it's a tedious and frustrating experience that should be avoided by all but the most iron-willed newcomers.
Once again, you can customize your AC in thousands of different ways to create a super AC...or an abomination of technology. The choice is yours.
Last Raven has a thin story, but it works for a game about mech warfare. The world has been all but destroyed by unmanned weapons gone haywire. In the aftermath, three of the world's largest corporations get together to form the Alliance, which is intended to serve as a governing body of sorts. Of course, there are some people who have a problem with the corporations take over, so they get together and form a rebel group known as Vertex. The two groups duke it out, and although the Alliance has the benefit of near-endless resources, the Vertex grow stronger each day as more and more people join the fight against the corporations. One day out of the blue, the Vertex show up and declare that the final attack will commence in 24 hours and will decide once and for all who rules the world. It sounds exciting, and indeed it's a fine setup for this type of game, but it's presented in the most dry, uninteresting fashion. Even though this huge battle will supposedly happen in 24 hours, there's no sense of urgency or even importance to what you're doing in the game. Instead, all the information is conveyed through volumes of text in the form of e-mails and reports that you can access between missions. There are a few cutscenes, and some very slight character development, but for the most part, the story in the game is just window dressing.
When you start off, you're given a basic AC and a bit of cash. You're basically let loose to do whatever you want. You can spend some money to purchase new parts for your AC, go take on missions to earn money and advance the story, or go battle other AC units in the VR arena to earn money. No matter what you do, you'll have to have the right AC for the job, which means that you'll be spending most of your time arranging and tuning parts to achieve the always-elusive balance of performance and power.
There are literally thousands of different AC configurations available to you in the game. You can purchase parts in the shop or find them on the battlefield during missions. There are hundreds of different parts in the game, from heads and legs to guns and radar systems, and everything in between. Each part has alphabetical performance ratings, and many parts can be fine-tuned to enhance specific aspects of their performance. Once you combine all those parts to create an AC, you get an overall rating on a scale from E to S. There's no guide or template to help you create the coveted S-ranked AC, so you basically have to experiment to see which combinations work best. With so many different combinations, this trial-and-error process can be extremely intensive and tedious. Since each mission has you facing different enemies and conditions, you'll usually have to completely rebuild your AC every time you fight. You can conveniently save up to five AC setups in your garage, but it still feels like a lot of work to constantly build, test, and rebuild your AC.
The missions in the game are all short and straightforward, but they're exceedingly difficult. You're usually presented with two or three missions to choose from, depending on whether you want to help out the Alliance or the Vertex. Depending on which mission you complete, you'll earn money and a new set of missions will be opened up. There are six different endings, with the one you get depending on the path you take through the game.
Some of the missions in the game are infuriatingly difficult.