Version tested: PlayStation 2
I fear I may have inadvertently set myself up as EuroGamer's "giant robot guy". While gushing rather embarrassingly about my admiration for giant robots under the slender pretence of reviewing Armored Core's PSP outing, I ruffled a few feathers by stating that I'd never been a particular fan of the series, finding the ones I had encountered to be rather stodgy shoot-em-ups.
I'd love to say that Armored Core: Nine Breaker (yes, it's the ninth official entry in the series - and there's a biscuit for anyone who can remember all eight previous games) gave me a rude awakening and showed me the subtle nuance beneath the charred metal shell, but sadly it's possibly the most redundant version yet.
Where previous Armored Core games centred on story missions, with the option of arena battles to raise cash, Nine Breaker has dumped the narrative element, leaving just a series of competition scraps to plough through for no real reason. There's a hilariously half-hearted attempt to explain how a lull in intergalactic robot fighting has given rise to this fantastic training opportunity but, sorry, it'll take more than that hastily scribbled excuse to justify chopping a game in half.
While this focus on trophy battles almost worked on the PSP version, where short bursts of unconnected robot action suit the handheld format, as a console sequel it seems rather cheeky. The closest comparison I can think of would be when id opted to go multiplayer only for Quake III, but even that doesn't hold up - Nine Breaker has no online play whatsoever. The closest it comes to grasping the power of the Internet is in letting you post your scores online. You really are spoiling us.
The AC garage is still a sandbox of glee for mech fans, with seemingly endless variations of weapons, components and parts just waiting to be slapped together and tested in the field. However, you can't help feeling that the franchise needs to evolve a little. You get the same old stuff you've seen and tinkered with in the past, and if you've already got an Armored Core game in your collection, this doesn't offer anything new in terms of equipment or features to warrant a purchase.
The battles themselves start out as "test matches" in which you search a randomly generated database for opponents on roughly the same level, and only when you've proved yourself in these are you invited to take part in battles with anything at stake.
Graphically, this could just as easily have been released in 2000. Some nice smoke effects aside, the game seems to be running from the same engine that powered Armored Core 2. Even the sound effects are the same, while the looped music on the AC design screen - where you'll spend most of your time - soon molests your ears with its banal electronic burbling.
To all intents and purposes, this really isn't a new game. Even the controls remain something of a nightmare, with an irritating combination of analogue sticks and shoulder buttons required to keep the enemy in range, and in your sights, while you select and arm the weapon of your choice.
To the breaker dawn
Those familiar with the series will have no problems with the arcane controls, and will be able to coax more depth out of the experience than most, but it's rather revealing that the game makes absolutely no concessions to new players. There are no tutorials (though there are some pathetically easy training bouts that bear no resemblance to actual combat) and no guidance as to how to build a better mech.
Instead you're faced with a series of cold, dense menu screens and brutal battles that leave you no time to settle in before red hot death rains from the sky, pummelling you into the ground. Without an existing attachment to the series, only the most masochistic will persevere with this curt exercise in uninspired destruction.
Not that there's anything terribly wrong with creating a game aimed squarely at the faithful fan, it's just that those are the people who are more likely to want more features, not less, with each sequel. Nine Breaker essentially offers half a game, which probably explains why this make-do entry is clocking in at under twenty notes.
Removing features from a sequel and replacing them with nothing of note is certainly an flamboyantly avant garde way to approach a franchise soon to enter its tenth year, but it doesn't exactly do wonders for your value for money. If you've never played an Armored Core game before, Nine Breaker isn't the place to start. If you've already got a previous version on the shelf, then you've already got everything worth owning in this edition. A depressingly pointless release.
5 / 10