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PS2 Review: Armored Core Nine Breaker (EU)

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If you like blowing the living crap out of stuff in a gigantic behemoth of a machine, then you’ve probably heard of the Armored Core series before. Armored Core Nine Breaker is the latest game in the series that was born on the PlayStation 1 and has had several iterations on all Sony platforms, including the PSP.

The concept behind the game is simple. Build your giant mech (or Core as the game calls them), then send him into war against other mechs in the Battle Arena to climb his way up to the big gun – the Nine Ball. Send Nine Ball to the scrapheap to become the Nine Breaker, the biggest, baddest mech ever seen.

The Armored Core series has always prided itself on its technical Core building mode, and this tradition is not broken. Nine Breaker in fact emphasizes the building process by focusing the game play on testing and tweaking your Core to handle over 140 various training scenarios once you’ve built and customized him from the 400+ parts available, or have converted your existing Core from Armored Core: Nexus. If in training your Core has any glaring weaknesses, you can go back to the drawing board and swap out some of its parts. Rinse and repeat this process until your mech is agile and powerful enough to deal with the tasks set in front of you.

Unfortunately these training modes are very plain and usually consist of shooting ranges, crate-smashing, and jumping accuracy, making the Trial And Error game style a little dull. As the training centre is the only thing in this title that makes it stand out from the other Armored Core games, I was hoping for tests more akin to a single player campaign mode with more interesting objectives then blowing up a box to get through corridors. If you do have the patience to complete these tests, you are rewarded with a stat increase for your Core. Regrettably, as there are no tutorials in the game, a newcomer to the series will be overwhelmed and confused by the stats system, and wouldn’t know how to make best use of the new improvements given to them from completing these missions, rendering them rather pointless to all those folks who have never played an AC game before.

Once you’re happy with the ass-kicking ability of your machine, you can try him out against other mechanical monstrosities in the Arena. Select a Core to go robo-a-robo with, and battle to the death.

This is the part of the game where you can switch your brain off and get your trigger finger primed — one-on-one robot fighting action.

Disappointingly, this is also where the game’s weaknesses really show up. Considering how long you actually have to work tweaking your Core machine to actually stand half a chance in the Arena, it’s a bit of a letdown. The arenas are extremely plain, lifeless, and ugly to look at, with little interactivity. Lots of greys and blues, and very little in the way of texture work. Eugh… looks like a first generation PS2 game.

Your Core doesn’t look much better either in the horribly interlaced, flickery, jagged graphics engine. The PSP version of Armored Core Formula Front looks much nicer than this does. It just looks awful considering this is a new PS2 title released in 2006, with the only saving grace of a rather satisfying explosion particle effect system. The sound effects aren’t much better than the graphics either, with the same sounds from all the other Armored Core games endlessly regurgitated from your speakers, slightly muffled by unexciting ambient music in the background.

However, graphics do not a good game make.

The classic Armored Core seek and destroy game play is still evident in Nine Breaker. The brilliant AI system and difficulty curves usually present are not. For some strange reason one minute you can be fighting an Uber-Super-Duper machine that seems to anticipate your every move, and the next minute you can be pitted up against a machine so dense that it doesn’t actually return fire and instead decides to run into walls! Some of the robots you fight against make a dustbin look like a prime candidate for MENSA, which really renders all those hours of tweaking, testing, and practicing totally and utterly useless and shifts the determination of whether you win or lose the match down to whether you get a clever opponent or an idiotic one.

In two-player mode, though, all sins can be forgiven. It’s great fun going against a human opponent with two prized Core machines that you’ve both painstakingly created from scratch. It’s a shame that the network and online modes were cut from the UK and USA versions of the game, because I think Nine Breaker would be one of the few games on the system really able to enhance game play with an online tournament game mode.

As it stands, Armored Core Nine Breaker is a reasonable game, but not one I can really recommend due to the fact that the earlier games in the series were more involving, more interesting, better looking, had more options and were far better balanced then this one. Fans of the AC games will probably love it, but any new recruits looking to jump into the world of warring robots would be better off looking towards Armored Core 3, Armored Core Nexus, or Armored Core Formula Front on the PSP. This one really feels like it’s a step backwards from its predecessors.

Armored Core Nine Breaker is released on May 5th at a price point of £19.99.

Armored Core Nine Breaker is rated 12+ by the PEGI for depictions of robotic violence

Armored Core Nine Breaker is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence.

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