Review by Gruel

"Not the most groundbreaking game in the franchise, but it should keep its fans happy"

I have always considered the Armored Core (AC)series to be the ultimate simulator for mech-action games (excluding the ultra-expensive Steel Battalion Xbox games of course). AC is to mech games like Madden is to football, each AC game has a robust mech-battle engine and they always have an insane amount of options to customize your mech experience with, while games like Microsoft's MechAssault simplifies the formula and focuses more on in your face gameplay like Blitz does for football games. The latest installment in the series (10th in the US), Nine Breaker continues that tradition.

One of the main things that differentiates Nine Breaker from its predecessors is the lack of a storyline. Once you head into the main game there are three options to choose from: Arena, Garage, and Training. For you AC novices, the training levels aren't the quick ten level tutorials you are probably hoping for. Instead, there are 150 training missions that each nets you a certain amount of points to use to buy parts for your AC.

Speaking of parts there are over 400 of them to deck your AC out with. Fans of the series will be in a daze at all the options that are available to them. It was a bit too overwhelming for me, but after a while I was able to get a decent AC geared up and entered into Arena matches. This was the first time I played an AC games since the first PS2 installment, Armored Core 2. I prefer the more accessible MechAssault games over the AC games, they were easier to get the hang of and I just liked the gameplay more while AC has a tremendous learning curve to be mastered to truly appreciate its in-depth game engine. But once you master it, you will be appreciating the amount of depth the developers will allow you to have with your creations.

The one thing I immediately noticed that was new in the series and a very welcomed addition was the inclusion of analog control. Moving around those giant machines with the d-pad was a total bear before, and the analog stick control makes it a more convenient experience. Other than that it felt like the average AC game, with nothing really revolutionary to the gameplay, except that it took me a while to get adapted to the game engine again. There were a lot of other techniques and moves I had a hard time adapting to (like the many ways of strafing and some of the more up close combat maneuvers), and I highly recommend going through as many of those training missions you can before hopping up against the AI competition in the Arena.

The Arena is the main way to play Nine Breaker, and as I stated before there is no main plot attached to it like most AC games had before it. There is an in-depth search engine to find opponents in the beginner-level C class. From there you move onto the B and A classes, and then battle it out in the Top 30, Top 15, final 5, and the last boss. It is actually tougher to go through all those than how I just mentioned it, and all the dedicated fans will be glad to know they will have well over a hundred battles in the Arena before their last boss encounter. More casual gamers will probably be disappointed with the lack of a story, but this new approach at the single player game should please most hardcore AC fans.

One thing that will probably tick off AC's loyal fan-base however is the lack of online play. You'd think that by now and several AC entries into the PS2 life cycle that this franchise would incorporate online play, but many AC fans will still have to wait until next year's game. There is still the traditional split-screen two player, and support also to form a LAN for up to four players with the PS2 network adaptor or iLink cable. Yet even with all those options I still find it inexcusable that online play is not a go this late into the PS2 lifecycle.

Now that I mention we are pretty late in the PS2 lifespan, developer From Software has still stayed with essentially the same graphics engine it started the PS2 installments with. The AC unit models look fairly good, but they could at least use several layers of polish and I can tell if the developers really tried they could have made them look spectacular. In the heat of combat it is hard to point out all those little details, but the animation is nice and smooth and I didn't notice any framerate hiccups in the midst of the intense action. The audio mostly recycles past AC sound effects, as nothing in here stuck out except for annoying announcer. Even the music sounds eerily reminiscent off past AC tracks. Decent jobs in both areas, there is just nothing innovative and the overall graphics and audio package feel a bit dated.

Just as if this was the latest Madden there will be the die-hard fans that pick this up on launch day, but for the rest of you I do not see that much of a difference to justify forking over the $40 dollars for Nine Breaker. Sure the new single player experience is a nice change of pace, but there isn't anything revolutionary added to the franchise that will make you ponder ‘why did I miss out on this one?' More accessible gamers like myself shoud stick with MechAssault for their mech-fighting fix, but for you dedicated fans you'll probably be better off getting one of the older Armored Core games and saving some money.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 10/03/05

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