"More like New Gundam Broken" started out as a dumb joke that we slung around the Push Square office after spending just 20 minutes or so with this latest mech-'em-up from Bandai Namco, but here we are 20 hours later and nothing has changed. New Gundam Breaker is a disappointing wreck of a release, and yet another stain on Gundam's spotty video game track record.
The Gundam Breaker series focuses on one simple gameplay loop: you smash up other mobile suits through a somewhat basic but fun hack and slash combat system, collect their parts, and then use those parts to upgrade your own suit. On a fundamental level it's a bit like anime robot Diablo, and the last game in the series, Gundam Breaker 3, came very close to being a great Gundam title. It had obvious flaws, but the core gameplay loop of smash, loot, upgrade was on the cusp of something quite special -- especially for fans of the franchise.
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And that makes New Gundam Breaker all the more disappointing. Instead of building upon the things that its predecessor got right, it decides to scrap a number of key elements, replacing them with poorly implemented ideas and misguided concepts. It's an immensely frustrating turn for a series that was showing so much promise.
Rather than stick with the straightforward mission-based structure of previous instalments, New Gundam Breaker opts for a visual novel approach. The story is told through static backgrounds and character portraits as you're welcomed into a school where the only subjects are Gundam model building and Gundam model battles. Thanks to the magic of virtual reality, students compete with one another to determine who has the strongest suit and who the best pilot is. If you've watched any of the Gundam Build anime, then you'll likely know what's in store.
On paper, the visual novel style isn't necessarily a bad thing. It allows for the introduction of a wide cast of characters and plenty of in-depth dialogue, giving weight to the overall plot. In practice, however, it's painfully cliche. It relies so heavily on generic anime tropes that events quickly lose any and all impact, and potential twists are snuffed out immediately. Lacklustre dating sim elements certainly aren't enough to salvage this brain-dead attempt at storytelling.
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As if the wrapping wasn't bad enough, the missions themselves put the nail in the coffin. The majority of missions adopt a three-on-three format. You team up with two computer controlled allies -- usually the girls that you're trying to impress -- and your goal is to score more points than the opposition within the time limit. To earn points, you're tasked with completing quests -- small-scale objectives that pop up during the match. More often than not, these quests have you destroy certain enemies -- which spawn independent of the two teams -- or collect a specific number of suit parts.
The mission structure instantly cancels out any sense of rivalry with your opponents. Instead of having you clash with established characters in skill-based duels, you just end up running around the map desperately trying to gather points at a faster rate than the enemy. You can still go ahead and attack the opposing team, but there's little incentive when completing quests is the only way to actually win.
Quests can come and go so quickly that matches almost always devolve into total chaos. Grunt enemies litter the battlefield to the point where you can barely move without being knocked down by an attack that you could never see coming, and the chaos is only amplified when part gathering and switching are added to the mix.
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As you fight, your foes will drop parts which you can collect. Parts are added to a list at the bottom of the screen, and you can equip them on the fly if you desire, although sometimes you'll have no choice, as your own parts can also be stripped when you take damage. Initially, the whole thing's a complete clusterf*ck. You'll lose your arms, your legs, and even your weapons on a constant basis, meaning that you'll have take a step back and hoover up any fallen parts that may be of use. By the end of a match, you'll probably end up with a suit that barely resembles the one that you started with, making you question why you should even bother building your own mech to begin with.
To be fair, your suit does become harder and harder to damage as you progress through the game thanks to more durable parts, but even hardcore Gundam enthusiasts will have trouble making it that far. Dire storytelling and a deeply unsatisfying mission structure aren't the only issues that drag New Gundam Breaker through the mud -- the real gut punch is the game's performance on PlayStation 4.
Unresponsive controls are compounded by a frame rate that fluctuates constantly. Even on PS4 Pro, the title stutters and hangs for seconds at a time, right in the middle of combat. It comes as no surprise, then, that the game's online modes are a total waste of time. You can team up with other players and put your suit to the test, but why would you when lag spikes combine with incredibly poor performance to create one of the worst online experiences we've ever had on Sony's system? It's virtually unplayable.
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As we near the end of this review, we find ourselves asking whether New Gundam Breaker has any redeeming qualities -- and nothing really springs to mind. Yes, there's still some enjoyment to be had in crafting your own mobile suit and the customisation options are extensive, but the pain of actually collecting parts is barely worth putting yourself through.