Armored Core 3/Armored Core: Silent Line 

Armored Core 3 and its stand-alone expansion, Silent Line, both released last year, continue the long-lived series that casts the player as the pilot of a heavily armed, giant battle robot waging war on the surface and caverns of future Mars. Good news first: The Armored Core games are still some of the best serious bang-bang giant-robot action to be found anywhere on the PS2 console. The mechs move with a precise metallic clang and sense of physics. The series’ strongest point remains intact: a virtually unlimited selection of parts, weapons and designs for each mech. Players can customize everything right down to the color of the robotic head, with tens of thousands of different options available. There’s a bit of a steep learning curve if you’ve never played before, and it would be nice to be able to import your hard-won designs from previous games (alas, you can’t), but even starting from scratch you’ll catch up soon enough. Bad news: The games haven’t really advanced in any meaningful way for years. These two installments are virtually identical to Armored Core 2, released in 2001, right down to the limited color schemes and level design. The graphics are slightly improved, but only a little bit; even the selection of weapons and equipment isn’t significantly expanded. The plots and character development have always felt tacked-on in this series, but it’s worse than ever here. For example, despite the fact that AC3’s plot hinges on all humanity trapped underground and never seeing the Martian surface, numerous levels take place outdoors under a clear night sky. AC3 and Silent Line are entertaining for fans of the series or hard-core robot addicts, but otherwise they’re definitely for the rental list.

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