It’s been ages since we played a good mech game. If I remember correctly, MechAssault 2 for the original Xbox was the last one. While we all keep waiting patiently for a new MechWarrior, Chromehounds for the Xbox 360 should curb our appetite.
When Sega first announced Chromehounds, the X360 owners pretty excited. A new mech game isn’t something you see every day. When the first screenshots and trailers appeared and it was announced that you would be able to customise your mech to the smallest detail, people were convinced this would become a top game. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
Although the screenshots suggest the best, the graphics of Chromehounds disappoint. The surroundings are boring, grey, monotone and bare. You walk through endless plains and valleys without much trees or other forms of vegetation.
There are quite some buildings in the cities but not so many that you would fall from your chair. All levels seem to consist of the same three colors: green, brown and grey. Now I don’t mind a desolate setting but when maps start to look alike, then there’s a problem. The mechs (I should say “hounds”) themselves are nicely crafted with lots of detail and a realistic metal shine. You can see evey bolt sitting so to speak. Also the animations are of a high level: each hound behaves differently and moves very natural.
The sound on the other hand is a lot less. During your missions you’re target for some dramatic music that, after a couple of hours, starts to bore. During missions you almost never hear anything on the radio and the sound of the surroundings is the bare minimum. Your briefing is given by the dry electronic voice of a woman. Apparently a sensual voice actrice was too much to ask from Sega and developer From Software. The sounds your moving mech make are quite nice though and the explosions as well as the firing of the weapons are loud and impressive.
Don’t expect too much from the storyline either. In a fictious Eastern-European country a war has broken out and you with a couple of support units are sent out to calm things down. Sounds familiar? Should be… The campaign is in fact more or less a loose follow-up of 42 not too long levels. You shouldn’t expect too much coherence in the six subcampaigns either. You get seven missions per mech class. The Soldier class is a pretty decent allrounder while the Sniper-Mechs mostly fight from distant. Defenders are heavily armored and slower while Scouts don’t have too much firepower but are agile and fast. Heavy Gunners give you heavy artillery but move slower than a grandma that has Parkinson and one leg less, and last up there’s the Tactics Commander. This mech is less armed than the average army of Malta but he can lead squads of other mechs and give commands. Especially in multiplayer this class gets its justice.
It’s also there that Chromhounds also gets justice. The multiplayer through Xbox Live consists mostly out of the Neroimus War. The fun is that the war continues also when you’re not logged in. The game uses a persistent world where things go like this: you choose one of three available sides, join a squad of six players and choose on the tactical map a next battlefield where you can fight. The idea is to conquer the capitol of your opponents (and of course protect yours). Fun is that you can quickly earn money and new parts when playing well, while you loose cash when you don’t. You can also improve the saldo of your bank account by taking up some AI missions with your squad. However, these aren’t as great as the fights in the War. The large amount of achievements that can be earned and the quasi lagfree gameplay are two additional aces of the multiplayer mode.
The fully adjustable mechs are the biggest positive point of Chromehounds. Although you can finish the campaign with standard hounds, it’s a lot more fun to assemble your own machine and tweak it to the smallest detail. You’ve got lots of batteries, cockpits, chassis and of course weapons at your disposal. Do you put a railgun on your mech for long distance combat or will you go for heavy close-range cannons? Do you want a fast, agile, but therefore also light armored mech or do you choose that fat plated block of granite that looses a race against a slug? The choice is yours.
The sad thing about the customisation is that it takes some time before you can get to the good parts. In singleplayer you’re almost forced to do a dozen of missions with a hired mech because you don’t have enough decent parts to put together a strong machine. Unless you immediately start online, which I wouldn’t advise.
Chromehounds has a quite obnoxious interface that needs some adaptation and getting used to. You’ve got two views and neither of them is ideal. In the standard third person view you don’t have a normal crosshair but a square in the right top corner with a zoomed-in aiming cross of your weapon. Ideal is the last thing I would say for this during combat because you’re too occupied with other things to be able to decently aim. If you want to make a sure hit, you’re almost force to use the zoom camera fullscreen which makes Chromehounds play almost like an FPS. With the disadvantage then that you loose too much overview and that your mech moves even slower than normal! That is, by the way, another big downpoint to the game (both online and offline). Your mech is really as slow as a slug. Even the scouts can hardly be called “fast” which is quite annoying as it brings down the pace of the game. You also get a lot of hits due to this which sometimes makes the game feel dishonest.
Also the interface could use some extra touches. Next to the use of a decent crosshair (see above) also the rest is quite a mess. Instead of one life meter you’ve got different ones that show the status of all parts with on top of that a fuel meter. As such I don’t mind this but the icons all look alike making you clueless of what type of damage you’ve suffered. A very useful radar is also very absent.
You do have a tactical map with you COMBAS radar area on it and this needs some explanation. All over each map there are COMBAS towers that you can conquer. Each one has a detection range in which it can spot enemies. If you manage to capture multiple within each others range, then your radar area grows. Since enemies are shown as white dots, however, you can hardly make them out which immediately chops down the use of these towers. The combination of all annoyances mentioned before nicely tackle the gaming fun.
Although Chromehounds contains quite a few new ideas, it fails in the finishing. It was clear that the makers wanted to create a mech sim, but they’ve lost track of the pure gaming fun. The sloppy interface and stupid aiming system nicely thrash the joy of playing. Online there’s some fun to be had with the game but you can completely neglect the singleplayer part. Do know that on multiplayer, there are a lot better games to be found on X360.