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Jeremy Jastrzab
24 Jul, 2006

Chromehounds Review

360 Review | Sounded better than Steeldogs.
The mech simulation genre comes under the same umbrella as card-battlers; both tend to be a real love-or-hate affair with gamers, but the amount of these games being churned out suggests there must be an audience for them. The experienced bunch at From Software are no mugs when it comes to mech-sims, either - they’ve successfully released numerous Armoured Core titles for a few years now. For some reason though, they’ve decided to take a departure from their staple series, and have brought us a different kind of mech game. It comes in the form of Chromehounds, and it’s only for the Xbox 360.

Chromehounds is best described as a mech game with a persistent online component. We were surprised to find out that there was actually a story attached to the game, but even more so when we found the lengths that the developers had gone to in order to substantiate it. The game's set in a fictitious world layout, where a third World War has come about. It’s “2006”, but clearly different to our current world. Furthermore, it’s divided into three different “nations” that bear a few similarities to real world states/regions (no prizes for guessing which ones). Interestingly, you’ve got the option to read up on a timeline that extends quite a long time into the fictitious past. The story isn’t particularly endearing nor does it do anything that hasn’t been done, but in the very least, it provides an interesting setup.

There are two striking details about the game when you first start it up. Firstly, the mechs in the game aren’t the same as you’ll find in most other games of this ilk, especially since they’re demonstrating something of an advanced future. These mechs don’t have high-powered laser beams or infinite boosting jetpacks. No, they tend to be better described as large (sometimes multipedal) tanks. So the description of “hound” is somewhat apt, in terms of movement and story background. Apart from their unique and impressive appearance, they give off a feeling that you caould see one of these actually walking around one day. Secondly, the game skips along the borderline of arcade and simulation gameplay. It makes for an interesting mix but it doesn’t quite bridge the gap between casual and hardcore, and leaves a few holes as well.

BOOM!

BOOM!
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There are two main components to Chromehounds: the story mode and a very extensive Xbox Live online mode. The story mode is essentially a single player tutorial that walks the player through the six different classes of hounds. Truth be told, there's no reason to buy this game unless you have Xbox Live. The story is split into the six classes of hounds, and each class sets you off on seven levels. The first of each is a tutorial and the following six see you playing through a handful of objectives that need completing. The main problems are that these levels are terribly dull, thanks to some bad AI and uninspired design, not to mention they come equipped with a completely dry and run-of-the-mill story that tries to provide a reason for your actions. You’re basically a mercenary at the disposal of a nation's military and you head off to destroy, scout or sometimes protect.

It’s very simple stuff and the only real way you’ll fail a mission is if you misunderstand what you’re being told or take a wrong left turn. Again, if you do not have Xbox Live, this mode can be very easily wiped through in a weekend and this is little to no reason to utilise the game's customisation features within that time. However, for those who are going to take the game online, the single player mode serves as a very concise practice run and even unlocks a few goodies along the way. Instead, it’s in the online world where the meat and potatoes lie for Chromehounds.

The developers have managed to create a persistent online world that is constantly at war. As a player, it’s up to you to set your allegiances with one of the three “nations”, set up a squad and go all in. The purpose of the war is to gain territory and periodically, a nation will “win” when enough territory has been gained. It’s a pretty good idea and comes off quite nicely. The only aspect that is getting in the way is a somewhat rigid way of joining in. To join the war, you have to be part of a squad. You can set up your own or join another one. Unless you have capable friends (i.e, ones who are just as hardcore as you), you’re likely to be in for a bit of a rough time. If you’re on your own, it’s tough in the war and if you’re with a bunch of random bozos, it could cost you quite dearly (and literally).

You're going to need a rather large TV.

You're going to need a rather large TV.
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Still, it’s good to go through a few of the formalities, since you’ll then be able to go through the quick, single and ranked matches. Most matches, whether they are in the war or just a quick/ranked match, will be about the one who wins in terms of territory. This can and needs to be done through the establishment of communication networks and the implementing of cohesive strategies, followed by the elimination of the enemy. The other mode is a single player mode that allows you to play on an online map that requires you to either survive for a period of time or to destroy as much as you can. Success in any of these modes will either reward you with cash or parts that will in turn allow you to upgrade your Hounds. Either way, unless you’ve got access to online, you’re going to run out of things to do very quickly.

As mentioned, the single player mode doesn’t require you to really pay any attention to the customising options that are available. However, not only does a decent performance in the single player lead to the unlocking of Hound parts, but these parts are quite useful for those who are taking the game for the long run. There are six different class of Hounds soldier, sniper, scout, defender, heavy-gunner and commander. Most of these types are self explanatory with the only really different one being the commander. You can pretty much build and customise your Hound from the ground up and your class will depend on the main characteristics. Any Hound simply requires a base, cockpit and generator and the rest is pretty much up to you.

The spoils of victory primarily include cash or point rewards. These can be traded in for parts on your Hound. The process of actually constructing a Hound is initially quite daunting. With numbers, bars and graphs all over the HUD, it’s quite easy to get lost. It falls into place when you realise that you’re actually dealing with a rather sophisticated jigsaw puzzle. Most of the Hound weaponry is hexagonally shaped, so depending on your class, you can fit anywhere from one to three to six weapons. Weapons range from small, low-recoil rockets to larger ballistic missiles that cause scatter damage, as well as long ranged scopes and automatics. There is a lot of diversity and they all handle differently. Furthermore, you can have your Hound on legs, wheels, treads or even with a hover-base. There are a ton of options at your disposal and you can create some truly unique combinations. Remember though, you have to keep your team in mind.

If this picture perplexes you to the point of pain, this game is not for you.

If this picture perplexes you to the point of pain, this game is not for you.
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Whereas the customising process is very deep and somewhat complex, the in-game battles are a different story. The Hounds function in a very simple manner, using the left analog stick to move and the right analog stick to aim. The right analogue button is used to flip between the third-person view and a first-person view. It’s necessary to flip between the two, but the interface includes a small screen that shows where you’re aiming. Aside from that, the right trigger fires, the right button flips between weapons and, if you’re a scout, you can toggle abilities, such as a mine-detecting visor using the left button. The Y button opens up your tactical map and status menu, while the rest of the face buttons control the map. Within the first few hours, it’s easy enough to get the hang of how things work. By the time you’ve accustomed yourself to the movement, precision and intuitive aiming, as well as some of the smaller functions, the action is bordering on being arcadey and somewhat simple. But despite being typically slow and clunky, as you’d expect from giant machines, the controls come off nicely and it’s very possible to be extremely precise.

Throughout the single player, you’re only left to point, shoot and chase, so the Hound functions are adequate for this. It’s not until you hit the multiplayer that things start to get a bit more sophisticated. You see, to communicate, you need to capture communications towers known as COMBAS. When you have captured (simply by being next it), you can communicate with teammates in a certain radius. The Hound type known as Commander has a unique role, in that it is equipped with a bunch of satellite dishes and is able to communicate and detect anyone (including enemies) in any that you have captured. From there, you are able to send quick yet precise messages through commands on the d-pad (primarily in single player) or via microphone. This opens up a fair few strategic and gameplay opportunities, and also encourages the construction of good teams.

Chromehounds is not without its flaws. In battle, things are fairly simple to pick up and play, but it veers towards being too simple. There are no advanced movements for any of the Hounds and they're very slow, even if they are on wheels or treads. While the mech genre doesn’t lend itself to Counter-Strike paced gaming - and we’re not expecting it to be that 'fast' - Chromehounds gets to a point where you really wish there was a faster way to get around sometimes. Often, if you find yourself one-on-one, there are two factors that will decide the battle: how fast you manage to strafe around the enemy, or who has the better set-up or more powerful weaponry. Essentially, it’s disappointing that there is too much of a dependence on set-up rather than skill. When we played online, there was a healthy contingent, but those players who are going at it on their own have less opportunity than those who have established teams. There probably is some argument for a mode that doesn’t require squad-based play, and it’s disappointing that there is no offline multiplayer. There were reports of some server issues, but these were minimal during our play sessions, once we got through some of the red tape.

BANG! You dead!

BANG! You dead!
Close
Graphically, Chromehounds begs for a big HDTV. On a smaller non-HDTV, we struggled to see some of the writing when in-game. That aside, the game looks pretty damned good. The Hounds are chock-full of detail and animations, and the explosions are some of the best on the Xbox 360. For anyone who knows what they're in for or has spent time with these games, the interface looks good without being too confusing. The game also sports numerous effects, like bullets causing some great splash effects or trees falling as you walk over them. It’s too bad that the environments are so sparse and lifeless, while the presentation in places leaves something to be demanded. Sound-wise, the game is very average. The music is awfully annoying and the limited voicing is generic and acted out in dodgy accents. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is totally uninspired either. At the very least, the sound effects are very limited but provide enough boom where necessary.

Chromehounds is different enough from previous mech games to warrant a look. It’s just a matter of satisfying the essential criteria. Despite the simple gameplay, casual gamers are unlikely to get much out of this game, simply because it requires a fair-sized investment of their time. Without Live, there's little reason to consider this game, especially without any offline multiplayer. However, if you do have Xbox Live, and you are willing to put in the time and have capable friends to help you set up a decent squad, then the game is so much more appealing and potentially enjoyable. If you don’t satisfy this criteria, then there's little reason for you to consider Chromehounds, and the final score means nothing to you anyway. If you do satisfy the criteria, Chromehounds has some good ideas and unique twists on mech-battling and some good online gaming to go with it.
The Score
Like the idea of mech-battling or are a hardcore gamer? Got Live? Got time? Got capable friends online? Then Chromehounds has something to offer you in these slow times. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Chromehounds Content

E3 2006: Chromehounds revealed
13 May, 2006 More mech?
Loads of Chromehounds screens
27 Jan, 2006 Release the (screenshots of the) hounds.
3 Comments
7 years ago
looks like a awesome game overall, and if you have a 360, surely you must have a decent tv? icon_lol_old.gif
7 years ago
no comment icon_cry.gif
7 years ago
I Loved this one icon_biggrin.gif, I think one of the best stratagy battlefield games on 360 thus far.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Sega
Developer:
  From Software
Players:
  1-12

Extra:
Xbox Live

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