by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
“You are an artist. Imagine.” is the tagline before a race, and honestly, I love it. It says a lot about this game that has pretty much no story. BREAK ARTS II by MercuryStudio is such an interesting racing game because unlike F-Zero where you pilot a little ship at breakneck speeds, you pilot a mobile suit/mecha at even faster speeds! There’s no “story” mode, there are just races, and customization, which is absolutely fine. You can create absolutely intricate, gorgeous mecha with dozens of parts, weapons, attachments, nodes, each with their own stats. You have a “Data Load” which is essentially how many parts/attachments you can put on the Mech, and as the Artist, it’s up to you to design the most efficient machine for your needs, whether you want it to be a killing machine, slow but murderous, a swift, sleek bullet that effortlessly glides around the tracks to make you a fortune, or maybe something in the middle.
They are all basically humanoid in design, but there are twenty-one different “default” models to customize. I do wish I could figure out how to build from the ground up, but it’s considerably less stressful to simply adjust a default model, add/remove parts, and change how it functions for the better or worse. This is the best part of the game. You can add bits (hovering pieces that defend you), do crazy things with your weapons (you have two, left and right), and each part has its own stats and uses. Thank goodness you can have more than one mecha! You won’t always use the same one for every race unless you are truly gifted at racing (I am not). I still don’t recommend doing it at all. As you increase in “Grade” (think rank), you unlock more parts, but you don’t spend your winnings on them. Your money or “Capital” is what you use to level up or increase your Grade, so your capital is EXP. That’s a novel concept, honestly. I get so tired of playing racing games and racing to afford new parts, but not having new parts means you can’t win.
I do want to talk about painting the mecha real quick though. I love that you have several color options (Main Color, Sub Color, Joint Color, Accent Color, Light Color), I’d really love the option to make the color fade or change from the top to the bottom of the suit. But the ability to paint/color the mecha is fantastic, and they just look gorgeous. There’s a downside though (because of course there is), and you can only ever see your mech, until the victory screen. You’ll see the top three machines, in their custom poses (you can also change your pose, which is beautiful) but during the race, they appear as tiny diamonds or gems that you’re racing against. Now, a part of me understands that machines of this intricacy could really slow down even the mightiest of PCs, but it’s really disappointing that I can’t see all those awesome mecha passing me by, as they invariably do. And they do because I am dreadful at this game. That leads me to gameplay and the controls.
The keyboard controls are horrendous. I hate them so very much. Though a patch is coming to add keyboard re-binding, the game does recommend strongly that you use a controller. So, I took out the ol’ PS4 controller to do some racing! That was much better, personally. You’re always moving forward, so you don’t have an acceleration button, but you do have breaks, and the ability to turn around if you need to. You have two attack buttons, but I almost never see the actual lasers being fired. Either they blend in, or you just can’t see them. I’d accept either as fact. You have a Turbo Boost button, and an Overdrive Mode, that makes the screen look sort of like you’re hacking the machine because it’s a ridiculous, extreme amount of speed. You have a meter to guide you to when you can use it. While you can go fast pretty much all the time, the key to winning, the real secret, is breaking management. You have to know when to break. If you even get an inch off the track you slow down, as you hit a slowing barrier. If you run off the track, you “crash”, and get put back on, so now you’re slow and behind everyone else. You have an HP bar too, so if you run out of HP you’ll wreck/crash. You have to learn the tracks, learn the places to boost, but also learn the places where you need to break, and when you simply need to lean into the turns.
The maps are gorgeous, and the tracks can get pretty insane. The goal is to get to the end, and one thing I noticed is that anytime you are in first place, you’re going to be shot a lot. I wound up building mech that was as defensive as possible and trying to guess where their shots were going to go. It became very frustrating to always just get shot, so I would boost/Overdrive as far into the lead as I can. Once you have the lead, you pretty much keep it, unless they can out Overdrive you, so once I got a nice lead, I stopped being shot. You have a pretty decent learning curve for each race, so take the time to play them in “Quick Race”, which is labeled as a way to get easy currency. Then you have “Time Attack” which is to see who is the fastest in the world. The “main” mode is BREAKARTS GRAND PRIX, and it is a series of grueling, challenging races to see who is the greatest in the world. You don’t need to win 1st place every time. “Win, Place, or Show to clear this mode”. But then there’s the Online Mode. Here’s where I had the largest amount of disappointment. You cannot “search” for a match. You can join a match on the right side, but they almost always seem to be password protected. There’s no online “Quick Match”, you wind up having to create your own lobby and wait for people to join. But there just weren’t enough people online. I managed a few online races, but not enough to justify a full review, which sincerely disappointed me. The races were competitive, and they were intense, but the most I’ve seen online in the American region was 9. That was at peak online time, too.
This game is wonderful and well designed. The mech designs are gorgeous, there are tons of options for them, and the color palette is solid. There are only a few real downers, like not seeing the other mech (which does admittedly make sense as I said), and if there were just more people playing, it would have received an easy 3.5/4 out of 5. It’s got a lot to offer, and if the devs continue to add content to the game I think it could be a real hit. It’s challenging to start, enough so that it could put off some people, but I don’t think that will be a real issue. It’s a game you get better at by simply playing more and more of it. There are plenty of offline modes to play through, but I just wish there were more people playing it online to get more work done with it. That is the one thing it needs: A broader playerbase.