In 2006, war was beginning. At least, it was in Chromehounds, the most multiplayer capable mech game to date, in which the Neroimus War takes place. From an innovations viewpoint, Chromehounds offers little that is new or different, and apart from the multiplayer aspect, you could get the same experience out of playing any MechWarrior game. However, the Xbox Live experience is where Chromehounds really shines, and really, what it was built around.
The single player campaign in Chromehounds is at best tedious, though it doesn’t last long. With seven missions for each role type (RT) of Hound that you’re able to command as well as a general training mission when you begin the game for the first time. Controls are easy to master, and might even be called simplistic, or possibly minimalist if you’re feeling generous. Each role type also includes a role specific training mission, to familiarize the player with the method of operation specific to that RT, cutting an actual mission off of each RT storyline. Still, with six missions and one training mission for each of the seven role types, there’s still a fair bit of play there, at about two hours a role type if you’re an apt pilot. The role types themselves are quite diverse too, though they all function approximately the same. The key is applying a strategy that fits your current RT. Luckily, most missions force the player into a set path, where there isn’t much opportunity to screw up tactics-wise. Sniper missions aren’t going to give you much of a chance to rush in guns blazing and take on the enemy face to face; likewise you’re not going to be doing much sniping with the shotguns on the sniper. Speaking of weapons, no need to worry about going wrong with those either. With each mission, you have the choice to either build your own Hound, or use the prebuilt hound that you “borrow” from your employer, Rafzakael. Really, though, there’s absolutely no reason to build your own Hound for the single player missions, as the Hound provided is always perfectly equipped for completion of the mission. Additionally, it’s often impossible to build a well suited Hound, as only after completing a role type’s specific storyline do you actually collect the parts required to build that RT. In terms of customization, single player campaign Chromehounds is the mech genre’s equivalent of a rail shooter.
Lackluster graphics don’t do much to help the game out either, especially in comparison to other current 360 titles. Landscapes are fairly simplistic, with low resolution textures and sometimes blocky hills and cliffs. Trees are interactive, however, and make a pleasant crunch when they topple after you ram into them with 30 tons of steel. Explosions are decent, but certainly nothing special. In contrast to the landscapes, the Hounds themselves are rather well detailed and animated, all parts visibly functioning to propel that unlikely machine in a lumbering gait. Or possibly propelling it on rotating wheels, if that’s how you roll. In any case, ignoring a few rules of physics, Hounds move with a good deal of grace for something that heavy. The HUD is also well designed, minimalistic yet informative, with a picture in picture view of what your currently selected guns are aiming at. Alternately, you can zoom in and look right down the barrel of your cannons at whatever luckless shmuck is on the receiving end. Information on the current state of your Hound is right alongside the map, but you’ll know when you need to start worrying by the sparks an various ominous electrical sounds coming from your hound.
Musically, Chromehounds is again found wanting. This isn’t to say that the music in Chromehounds is akin to punching a nail file through your eardrums, its more like riding New York public transportation every day. What seemed exciting, possibly even dramatic at first soon turns into a repetitive drudge. The soundtrack is fairly rote orchestral fare, with some choral work thrown in to spice it up a little. However, they would have done better to include more than four tracks. Sound effects, as well, could have been more polished. Gunshots, far from the thundering booms you’d expect from the howitzer sized arms on the Hounds, sound more like fireworks in a tin can. Actually, most everything in the game sounds like they forgot to scale it up. Bullets zinging off your Hound’s armor, while making a zing appropriate to a trashcan shot with a .22, are hardly appropriate for tank rounds. Turning your Hound produces a high pitched whine, more like a servo in a model care than anything built for the torque required to move tons and tons of metal and ammunition.
The single player mode and less than stupendous graphics make sense though when taken in the context of the multiplayer experience, however. Chromehounds‘ campaign is really little more than training for multiplayer, the main focus of the game, giving you experience with each type of RT, soldier, sniper, scout, defender, heavy gunner, and commander, before you’re forced to pick one and strap yourself in for the Neroimus War. The game even gives you an experience level for each RT based on how well you performed during the campaign, encouraging players to sharpen their skills a little before they engage the enemy on a global level. All those parts you collected come into play too, and you can finally build your very own war machine, just how you like it. Interestingly, Chromehounds adds a twist to the usual customization process, literally. Weapons, other smaller parts, and even bigger parts like generators can be oriented in any direction to better accommodate your chosen tools of destruction. Once online, the player selects alliance with one of three countries, Morskoj, Tarakia, or Sal Kar. Which country you ally with matters little, except for minor fluctuations in the economy. Oh, and which accent you like. Completing a few missions will soon have you rolling in credits though, so even that limitation means level, making the Neroimus War a fairly level playing field. Playing online requires a certain amount of commitment, as you must join a unit and participate in online battles with that unit, in groups of up to six. Units who can achieve a group dynamic and work well together however are nigh unstoppable, especially when combining all six RTs effectively. Working with a skilled team is a highly enjoyable experience, when everyone knows their role and everything flows smoothly towards victory.
Chromehounds certainly isn’t a game to buy for the depth of its mechanics or even it’s customization, and certainly not for a deep storyline, though the ministories for each campaign aren’t bad, if a little shallow. Armored Core, From Software’s other mech franchise, does a much better job on that end. No, Chromehounds is for all those who’ve ever wondered who exactly was backing them up when they faced armies of security bots, turrets, and other mechs. Sure, there were AI wingmen, but frankly I wouldn’t trust them to guard my sandwich, much less all my base. In the end there’s really no substitute for a real live person on the other end covering your six. Better yet, six people covering all the hours of the day, fighting for all of Neroimus.
Seven out of ten
- Whatever your playing style, there's a Role Type to fit
- Joining a squad online encourages players to return and actively contribute to their squad
- Single player campaign is lacking in depth
- You'll want your own music after listening to the same background track fifty times
- Those not willing to join a squad and participate online fairly regularly won't get much out of Chromehounds