Armored Core: Nine Breaker is the latest game in the Armored Core series, published by Agetec and developed by From Software.  AC: Nine Breaker is the tenth game in the series released in the United States (nine if you count AC2 and AC2: Another Age as the same game) and ninth out of ten released in Japan.  The difference this time is significant, as Nine Breaker is aimed at getting the player directly into the action without worrying nearly as much about plot as the previous games. 


With this in mind, it’s time to dive into our review of Armored Core: Nine Breaker to see how good of a game it is as well as seeing how much it differs from the previous games in the series.  Will concentrating more on arena-based battles and less on plots help or hurt the game in the long run?

With all the advances in graphics on the Playstation 2 in the past year or two, the graphics in AC: Nine Breaker really seems just a little blah.  It isn’t that the graphics are bad by any means, and there’s a solid amount of detail in all of the ACs as well as the arena layouts.  However, it feels as if so much energy went into making the game heavy on the action that the graphics were left until later.  With that being said, the arenas are distinctly different, as are the various mecha types.  You can easily tell the difference between a two-leg, four-leg, tank-style or hover AC.  It’s just that with all the high-intensity combat, it’s hard to lock onto the little details.  Luckily, the graphics don’t really detract from the gameplay at all.

Again, it almost seems as if the sound and music in the game were an afterthought.  The music in the menus consists of very generic rock which repeats itself over and over again.  During the battles the sound picks up a few notches as you get the sound of the ACs moving and jumping, weapons firing, systems overheating and the like.  The voices are a definite plus as they’re clear, consise and don’t sound like someone reading from a script.  Again, the sound isn’t really detracting from the gameplay other than the fact that it sometimes feels overwhelming from the sheer amount of information you have coming in at any particular time.

The controls in this game are very simple to use and also quite customizable.  First off, you’re given the choice between two basic control sets.  One uses the analog sticks, the other uses the directional pad.  Beyond that, you’re able to configure which buttons do what, which means that you can easily customize the controls to fit your particular playing style.  Not having played much in the way of Armored Core games before, I found the analog stick control structure very easy to get used to to where I was able to manuver my AC around with little difficulty.  Not only that, but the default controls felt very comfortable to me.

As stated, the graphics and sound don’t really drive the game.  This means that the gameplay has to be there, right?  Well, the good news is that it definitely is.  You start off with a baseline AC and the option to either go into the Arena, do Training missions or hit the Garage to customize your mecha.  While the game sports over 400 different parts, you have to unlock a good number of them through gameplay.  The training missions are broken into three categories (attack, defense and movement) and each category is broken up into smaller disciplines with each one having up to five levels of difficulty.  As you progress through the training levels you’ll discover that you have to customize your AC in the garage from time to time to get past a particular training mission.  As with the arena, the further you progress in the training missions the more parts will become unlocked.  Also, the game will give you different titles depending on your performance in both training and arena modes. 


Arena mode is really where the game shines.  You start off as Class C with the goal to be number one in the arena.  To do this, you have to beat the other ACs.  There are two different ways of doing this.  The first is Test Match, where you can search through a list of ACs by Class, Rank, the type of legs it has, the weight of the AC or the type of ranged combat it prefers.  Now and again, you’ll get a notification that an Official Match has been offered.  These offer more points than test matches and are also the only way to advance your class or rank.  You progress through Class C into B then A, and when you get done there you qualify for the top 30, then the top 15, 10, the upper 5 and then the final boss.


Each battle is different, with different arenas and different ACs having tactics specific to itself.  The AI is solid without being extremely difficult until the higher ranks.  Some opponents will sit back and pepper you with missiles while others will dance about, circle-strafing you with a hail of bullets.  Still others will use specialized attacks and robots to do you harm.  Again, you’ll find yourself in the Garage, updating and manipulating your parts to try to make the best AC.


Also in the Garage, beyond the ability to customize your AC, is the ability to tune various parts, adjusting their weight, their stats and how well they perform.  There’s a large number of parts involved, and it can become overwhelming at first, but eventually you can get the idea of what does what and the types of parts that can go well together.


While the game does have numerous loading pauses, none of the pauses are more than ten seconds long, which means that you’re not sitting there waiting endlessly for something to load over and over again.  It’s quite doable, all things considered.

With over a hundred and fifty training missions offered and a couple of hundred different AI ACs in over twenty arenas, there’s a lot of game play involved.  When you throw in the ability to customize your AC with over 400 parts to collect and there’s a huge amount of things to do with the game.


As far as multiplayer goes, while the game does offer two-player splitscreen and four player play via iLink and LAN, it would have been nice if the game had offered online play as well with updating scoreboards.  Hopefully the next game (soon to be released in Japan) will come over with those options.  To be honest, without online play, the game suffers a slight bit in comparison to other games.  So with that, it’s good to have at a party, but not something people will be playing a lot of in groups due to the lack of online support.


All and all though, the game is a great value with the ability to eat up a huge chunk of time getting through everything.

While I”ve always been a fan of the Armored Core series, I never really got into playing it until Nine Breaker.  Some of the more hardcore fans of the series may decry the lack of a plot in the game, but it really serves to get the player more involved and may also be a good draw for people who have never played the game before.  The game is a solid choice for fans of both Armored Core as well as those who like Mechassault or Mechwarrior.  Basically, if you’re into giant mecha and lots of weapons…this is the game for you and well worth the money.


If you’re not sure that you’d like it, it’s definitely worth a rental and if nothing else, it’s something different from the sports / stealth / FPS pile that’s continually coming out. 

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