Published on February 18th, 2009 | by Matt Haberfeld0
Developer: From Software
ESRB Rating: Teen
Genre: Mech Simulation
Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: 7/11/2006
What is Chromehounds?
Chromehounds is a mech shooter/sim in which you pilot a HOUND (it’s a mech but they couldn’t call it that) around one of three fictional nations to destroy other HOUNDS and complete objectives like capturing COMBAS towers that increase your radio range, or destroying the enemy base, etc. It is decidedly slower paced than action games like Mechassault but the sacrifice in speed is balanced by the increase in strategy and tactics. Unlike the action oriented mech games, if you make a tactical mistake in Chromehounds like letting your opponent take the high ground, it might actually cost you the game.
HOUNDS are loosely divided into 6 “role types” which is the future-metal version of character classes. Soldiers, snipers, defenders and scouts are pretty self explanatory, and the only thing that differentiates them is what weapons they carry and to some extent how fast they move and turn. Heavy gunners specialize in all forms of indirect fire and splash damage, and play quite differently from the other role types. Finally there are tactics commanders that get to actually see enemy blips on the mini-map and can issue orders to other members of the squad.
There are 43 single player missions that average about 5 minutes each, and you win equipment for your HOUND based on how well you complete the missions. There are 176 HOUND parts to be collected in single player, and the equipment (plus your experience with different role types) can be transferred over to Xbox Live where you can take part in the Neroimus War between the 3 nations and your equipment options increase drastically. There are also several free play types (where nation allegiance does not matter) including capture the flag, COMBAS keeper (similar to king of the hill), and even a deathmatch with unlimited ammunition.
What does this game do well?
Chromehounds is a decidedly average game if you don’t have a gold account with Xbox Live. The single player missions are mostly fun, although a few of them are frustrating and all of them are tragically short. The “average” mission time is 5 minutes, meaning some missions last 2 minutes or less! I don’t think any of the missions last 15 minutes so the single player consists of mostly quick and immediate action, with too much pointless story content about the events leading up to the Neroimus War.
However, the single player is necessary both in order to learn the capabilities of your HOUND and to learn how to build one. The best part of the game by far is the garage, where you can build your own mobile death platform. You start by selecting a chassis that basically defines the HOUND’s speed and how much weight it can bear. Two legged models have average speed and can carry a decent load, and you can also choose a reverse two legged model which greatly reduces the kickback from the guns but sacrifices some speed. Generally soldiers use the regular two legged chassis and snipers use the reverse chassis. You can also choose tank tracks, wheels, and even hovercraft which offer increased speed but must carry much smaller loads. Defenders and scouts typically prioritize speed and utilize these. Finally there are four legged chassis which allow your HOUND to carry an unbelievable amount of ordinance and these are typically used by the heavy gunners.
However, nothing is stopping you from making whatever HOUND your imagination conjures up. Want a scout with a giant sniper rifle? Go for it, as long as you stand still when you fire, because the recoil from the shot will nearly knock you over. There’s a reason snipers use the reverse legs, and there is a noticable different between firing from a mobile chassis and one designed to absorb the recoil of your heavy weapons. Additionally, if you stack all your weapons on one side of your mech, it will affect your aim when you fire as the recoil spins your HOUND around. There are a lot of important decisions to make when building a HOUND and you could very well spend more time in the garage than on the battlefield.
The game offers a good variety of weapons, including machine guns, shotguns, rifles, sniper rifles, rockets, cannons, mortars, howitzers, and even a melee weapon which drives a fist full of spikes into the enemy HOUND. In many cases you can choose the type of ammunition you want to carry, and even double the ammunition load if you can spare the weight. Running out of ordinance in the middle of a mission is a distinct possibility, so it’s important to at least consider bringing some extra ammunition.
It’s also important to choose your weapon configuration carefully. If you load up all your rifles on the left side of your mech, they will fire in a tight pattern but it will throw your aim off every time you pull the trigger. If you put two on the left and two on the right, your aim will stay true but the weapon spread means some rounds may miss at moderate to short distances. There are a lot of things to consider which can make building a HOUND a welcome challenge or a daunting nightmare depending on your personality.
You can also load up your HOUND with all manner of assist parts such as armor plating, thermal vision, rocket countermeasures, and the NA Maker which turns your HOUND into a mini COMBAS and is required for the tactics commander. The HOUND also needs a cockpit and generator, and you need to make sure that you stay under the maximum load your chassis allows, and don’t go over your HOUND’s energy usage. Exceeding the energy usage drastically cuts into your movement and turning speed and is not recommended. If you have enough load left, you can add another generator, otherwise you might have to drop a gun or two.
You can even bring your customized HOUNDs into single player missions, overriding the role type the game expects you to use. Although you won’t have enough parts to build a complete HOUND until later in the campaign, some of the harder missions become much more tolerable with a well built HOUND instead of the one you borrow for the mission.
What new and innovative ideas are implemented in this game?
Your HOUND is piloted in the 3rd person, but by pressing the right thumbstick you can switch to first person mode where you look through the targeting system of the gun you have selected. The game has a very neat picture in picture system where the opposite view is displayed in a tiny box in the corner of the screen, so if you want, you can pilot the HOUND in 3rd person mode and shoot using the tiny screen in the corner, or aim with the big screen and watch out for errant obstacles on the small view. Granted it takes a lot of getting used to, but it is pretty neat and very satisfying when you successfully circle strafe an opponent while keeping the guns locked onto him.
What could this game have done better?
The game’s presentation is one of its weak points. The HOUNDs themselves are very well detailed and you can apply different skins to the parts for camoflage, color, and you can even put a custom emblem on your HOUND. Also, the smoke that trails off after firing your weapons is very cool. But the actual environments are extremely generic. There is virtually no detail to the terrain, it’s either a huge patch of grass, a huge dune of sand, a huge field of snow, etc. The buildings are all very basic and the few trees that dot the landscape seem very plastic and almost out of place. It has the feeling of rolling around a tabletop wargame that was built in some guy’s basement.
The sound is at best forgettable; the weapons are appropriate but never inspiring or impressive. What little music there is absolutely offends the senses, and if you didn’t have to have some sound to hear when someone hits you in the back, you’d mute the entire game.
HOUND building has a pretty steep learning curve, which is exacerbated by the plethora of stats attached to each piece of equipment. In many cases you don’t even know what all of the stats mean unless you’ve been playing the game for a long time. But in all honestly, when you first start playing it does not matter what you build because veterans will be piloting HOUNDS that absolutely decimate you in just a few hits. The parts you gather in single player will not even come close to making you a competitive opponent. In some ways it can be expected that veterans would have better equipment, but it can be demoralizing all the same.
The real tragedy is that this game basically requires not just a gold account on Xbox Live, but a 6-man squad to participate in the Neroimus War. You can go online and play individual missions, but they are not very interesting. The real game is 6 on 6 squad combat complete with tactical maneuvering and voice chat (that cuts out if you don’t have the COMBAS towers to sustain a radio connection). But honestly, how fun is it to play a game that requires high strategy with 5 strangers? And how many people have 5 friends that are into mech sims that can all get online at the same time? The audience for this game just seems so small that it’s a shame.
Should I buy this game?
I can really only recommend this game to someone who has the online account and the friends to bring out the game’s true potential. But I’m sure if such a person exists, he already has the game and isn’t reading this review. I think it’s safe to say that while Chromehounds is a decent game, it’s not a necessary addition to your collection.