I've played and finished every Armored Core game since the first on the PlayStation back in 1997. Since I've been writing for GameCritics, I've reviewed four of them: Armored Core 2, AC2: Another Age, AC 3, and Silent Line: AC. If you're reading this review now and have even the slightest interest in checking out what this long-running series has to offer, do yourself a favor and a check out any (and I mean any) of the other games in the series before trying Nine Breaker. In fact, just forget that this game even exists. Without a doubt, this is the worst Armored Core that's ever been produced.
I had a funny feeling that things were going to go wrong when I fired up the PlayStation 2 and settled in to watch the super-detailed and action-packed CG intro that these games are famous for—except this time there was no CG intro. Seriously, half the fun of these games for me is seeing the jaw-dropping cinematic spectacle that usually introduces each installment. This time around, all I got was in-game footage of real players strutting their stuff. It wasn't the most exciting way to start things, and sadly, was indicative of Nine Breaker's low-rent quality everywhere else.
For those who don't know, the Armored Core games are all about mech customization and playing the role of a pilot-for-hire mercenary called a Raven. More details can be found in my earlier reviews, but in a nutshell, Nine Breaker deviates from the other games by focusing solely on deathmatch-style arena battles and training exercises. I knew beforehand that this wasn't a standard entry, but the degree to which FromSoft stripped-down the game still threw me for a loop.
Step one in tackling a new AC usually consists of loading up the data saved from the last game (in this case, AC: Nexus) before jumping right into things. Money and mech parts carry over between certain games, so it usually gives a good head start. This time around, using old data was actually a handicap.
For the first time ever, the developers have stripped out the game's parts shop and money system. Since I didn't bother collecting every single piece of equipment last time around, this meant that I was stuck with the equipment I had already bought. Out of curiosity, I restarted and began a new game. I just about fell out of my chair. For a newcomer, the developers provide nearly all of the equipment in the entire game, whereas all I had were a handful of guns, two pairs of legs, and a few odds and ends.
This might not seem like that big a deal but since the bulk of Nine Breaker is one-on-one matches, being caught without the proper parts and equipment is like coming to a gun fight with a can opener. I couldn't believe that there wasn't any way to buy or sell parts; it's always been a hallmark of the experience. The fact that it amounted to an insurmountable barrier to series veterans was outright insulting.
With no choice but to start a brand-new game, I created an all-new mech and completed the arena mode in three brief gameplay sessions. There was absolutely nothing entertaining or enjoyable about doing so; it was one random opponent after another with no high points or low points to differentiate them. The AI on display is quite poor, only coming in two varieties: rock-stupid or infuriatingly cheap.
With that mode conquered and out of the way, I tackled the training sessions. They were even less entertaining than the one-note arena mode. Choosing from a variety of options, this mode tests things like long-range accuracy, or the ability to dodge incoming shots. A training mode is actually a great idea for Armored Core since the series is infamous for being unfriendly towards newcomers, but what's here is hardly appropriate for people who aren't already expert Ravens.
Most of the challenges are quite difficult, and require an intimate knowledge of how to design and create a mech. Unfortunately, FromSoft does not give anything that could even remotely be considered a tutorial by any stretch of the imagination, so a lot of the vital statistics and numbers defining robot parts will be gobbledygook. Expect a lot of blind trial and error, oftentimes with no real way to interpret the results. Additonally, the precision required in some of these events only serves to highlight how overdue the series is for a control overhaul. Trying to fly and land on what amounted to a moving bottle cap while fighting the camera and trying to keep track of my booster heat at the same time was simply ridiculous.
Besides being difficult, these training exercises were also quite boring. I can think of better ways to spend two hours than running down a long hallway on a time limit, flying straight up and avoiding corrugated panels, or taking potshots at flying soup cans. I lost all interest before getting even halfway through the training, and put the game on my shelf immediately afterwards.
Although none of the plotlines in any of the Armored Core games ever made sense, the now-missing story modes were key because there was always a good variety in the missions. They motivated me to experiment with different equipment set ups in order to find the optimal load-out. Sometimes a lithe, nimble mech with strong aerial skills was needed, and sometimes it was better to go in packing the biggest guns available strapped on top of monstrous tank treads. Having different goals and being able to choose these missions kept things fresh. Now that they're gone, there's very little reason to play an arena mode, especially since this game offers no online connectivity. Talk about missed opportunities.
One-on-one battles were a great way in the past to offer quick diversions in the middle of a longer AC campaign, but they are not enough to sustain a game all by themselves. Toss in the fact that the game's graphics are still as bare-bones as they were five years ago, and that there's virtually no new content with much of the material being recycled from previous games, and you've got something that would be a $20 add-on at best. Shipping this as a full-priced release is a joke, and a disgrace to a series which has been heading steadily downhill for a while now.