Chromehounds Xbox 360 Review
You’re a paid for hire mercenary engaging in conflict between three warring regions. Your actions and those of people around you face the shape of a nation gripped in the throes of a war carried on for 20 years. Over the past 20 years mankind has given birth to an unprecedented weapon of war, these so-called “HOUNDs” are mecha equipped with the best fire-power of its nations and the ability to cripple a regular battalion. You stride forth into war, what will be your destiny?
So first impressions as the game loads and I’m treated to a gorgeous CGI cut scene showing the HOUNDs in action as they fight within the confines of a ruined city. Showing us the destruction of a city on such a detailed scale leaves us watching in awe and hoping for something of a similar level in the main game. However this does not seem to happen and whilst the game does do some things well graphically it fails in many other areas.
Upon first loading up the first training mission I find myself looking at my HOUND and admiring its design and style – a lot of work was clearly put into coming up with the concepts and creating these HOUNDs as they have a great amount of polygonal detail on them such as the way the hydraulics work individually on separate parts of the HOUND, the movement, as well as the recoil from the gun fire, and when taking damage in individual sections. This game does look impressive when you see the detail undertaken to make these HOUNDs. The enemy HOUNDs almost display the same level of detail and look very good especially when moving. I felt myself imagining Star Wars watching the enemy HOUNDs in motion – especially the soldier HOUNDs.
Little objects such as the tanks and the other vehicles look fairly underwhelming, like a version of something that was created on a PS2, albeit in high resolution you can’t help but look at the enemy vehicles and tanks and be disappointed. The humans on the game look very bad too, and obviously being a mech-driven game things such as humans and smaller buildings are scaled down therefore lacking the detail to make it seem as believable as it should. I get the feeling that the PS2 could possibly and the Xbox could recreate (already has with mech assault) these elements as well. The buildings and environments are pretty well done considering the scale and the size of the areas you fight in, and these actually get much better further on in the game and they look excellent and amazingly immersive at times.
As you patrol through an area in a mech, it leaves its own un-imitable footprint or tire track on the land as you move from section to section. This is a nice aspect, but it’s just a shame that it didn’t transfer to the damage that gunfire or explosions cause or should cause to the land. The explosions are both one of the best and one of the worst aspects of the game: whilst it looks excellent when you hit a tank with a shell and it explodes in a brilliant particle display it also looks disappointing as no sooner has the explosion and the smoke disappeared than the traces of a tank being there are totally un-noticeable. When you blow up something it disappears completely, no damage to the scenery apart from the odd brown/black mark on the ground and no debris at all… I mean come on – this is 360, the next generation of gaming, and no debris remains from a destroyed tank? I think someone needs to take a look at Battlefield: Modern Combat to see that exploded trucks/tanks do in fact leave debris if not flaming debris. But then again graphics are not everything, are they? It’s all in the gameplay, right?
Fighting as one of the regions (Democratic Republic of Tarakia) as a mercenary, you are given the choice to pilot a choice of up to six different RTs (Role Types but referred to as RTs for the rest of the review): Soldier (easy mode), Sniper (easy mode), Defender (medium mode), Scout (medium mode), Heavy Gunner (hard mode) and Tactics Commander (hard mode). To get the best rating and gamer score it is best to play through all the RTs and finish all the missions (7 for each RT). Essentially these missions are training scenarios commanded to you by General Edgardo Gilardino. After completing a few training missions you are sent out as a paid for hire Mercenary who undertakes missions for the Republic of Tarakia, listening and responding to the Tactics Commander Silvy. You are sent on simple missions such as destroying the base of the rebels in the mountains, following the mouse and mounting a surprise night attack on some rebels and so on. Very simple mission types only get harder as you change RT, and as I stated before these missions are essentially the training modes for the main game which is really the online component. Many reviewers have therefore labelled the game as boring and lacking in gameplay mechanics without actually getting to the core of what this game is about: the ongoing online war between the different regions (more on this later).
As you work through the missions for each RT (amounting to a grand total of 42), you learn the different nuances of each and every RT such as the way the HOUNDS handle. For example you will have a much easier time manipulating a Sniper HOUND than you would that of a Heavy Gunner HOUND due to the difference in armour and weapons weight as well as the design of the HOUND. Sniper HOUNDS are very quick and pacey with an impressive zoom on their weapons types (obviously) and impressive power to compensate for their lack of armour protection, I myself favoured this type above the likes of the Heavy Gunner HOUND and the Soldier HOUND due to its pacey movements and easy manoeuvrability.
The weapons are impressively modelled as are the HOUNDs and this is great when you let of rounds of fire with each of the different types. In the earlier missions with the Soldier HOUND I found myself running almost straight towards the enemy with little or no strafing and unleashing the powerful cannons and machine gun fire straight at the tanks and the enemy HOUNDs. As you get further into the missions with the Soldier HOUNDs and definitely the other HOUNDs, tactics are needed to be employed so you are not targeted by the well positioned Heavy Gunner and Sniper HOUNDs. Veterans of Mechwarrior games will feel right at home here and find the particular characteristics of different HOUNDs to their liking.
The meat of this game handles in its online component, though initially I had difficulty actually getting online and could not access the Chromehound servers for over a week. When I finally got online I had to first register my chosen affiliate country and my HOUND number – the manual informs you to ask your friends country of affiliation first before registering so you can be in the same squad. As I was playing this just on release I had no other friends who were online so I just randomly chose my own country which was Democratic Republic of Tarakia – the same as the Story Mode. On this section you are given 4 options: join/manage a squad, build or buy HOUND parts, participate in Neroimus War, or Free Battles. Initially I tried to join a squad. This was a time consuming and annoying experience for me as I was requested to wait whilst the squad had a debate on whether I was to be allowed into the squad. Whilst a good method to maintain the tight knit community aspect and mostly stop annoying kids joining your squad and therefore ruin the game, the way it was implemented was very off-putting as I could not find a squad to join and the only way I was going to get into a squad was to go online via the regular internet to a site with a forum and request we set up a squad between us. This kills the community aspect online for me as I would like an easy but slow introduction into a squad such as doing some sort of mission or quest to gain approval. But anyway enough about that, I selected the Free Battle option whereby you undertake a particular quest which is restricted with a specific time limit with the plus of gaining a cash reward for completing your mission, which you can use to upgrade certain aspects of your HOUND. This is one of the best aspects of the game and I hardly saw anything about it in reviews I have read for the game. Whilst constantly criticised for its (admittedly poor) offline campaign, it has yet to receive the plaudits it deserves for its amazingly deep and immersive customisation features. You can change every facet of your HOUND from the actual mechanics of the HOUND to the paint type your HOUND has. With such a deep and genuinely intriguing feature I can see mech aficionados spending hours on this feature alone.
If I was to simplify the gameplay aspects down so most could understand without going crazily in depth, I would say that each HOUND type handles very differently with many different aspects that are easy to get on with or tough for others. FPS enthusiasts will enjoy the Sniper for its quick and graceful movement with quick and effective attack options with an easy method of retreating if need be. Driving game (such as Twisted Metal with more depth) enthusiasts will enjoy using the Defender and Scout HOUNDs as they employ, track, tire and hovercraft style abilities with good handling and impressive but heavier weaponry. The Soldier HOUND is easy for most gamers to get used to as it features a good all around ability in all areas, you could say it is a Jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. It’s basically a case of sticking with the type of HOUND represents the style you like to attack in and complete the missions in the Story Mode with that before taking it online with the (continuous) Neroimus War campaign.
The game is haunted with an epic and orchestral operatic-style harmony for its theme soundtrack – something of the likes of a war movie such as Saving Private Ryan has. It makes you really feel that a war is coming or you are in the midst of a conflict already. It’s just a shame that the main theme seems to be the only music you will hear on the game on a constant loop of around 25-30 seconds which can grate when you leave it on the menu or in a customisation section for too long. The sounds of the explosions are deep and satisfying and each weapon packs a meaty punch. It would have been nice to hear the sounds of the men screaming as you drive over their comrades on the battlefield for that vital immersion factor. Overall the soundtrack is solid, but not spectacular.
The main story mode will only last you a week or so of solid playing (if that) and if you’re an offline player it will only be short and unfulfilling. The online conflict however, the Neroimus war is a continuous battle which goes on for a two month period or until a region has crushed the opposition of the other warring regions. After this period the game then undergoes server maintenance to reset the war and the battle shall begin again maybe under different scenarios – more shall be revealed as the game goes on… So basically if you stick with the game for a long period you will build up a nice community with which to play online with and the war shall be a long maybe endless one.
Although not perfect in so many places, the environments start off dull, but get much better as the game goes on (yet still not what I’d consider next generation) This game is a very solid mech début from the team that brought us Armoured Core on the PlayStation and whilst perhaps not living up to the greatness that many see as MechWarrior, it is still a much better and more fulfilling game than Mech Assault. With the right community behind it this game could become a very popular and strong online game especially with constant content being provided.
A solid start for what could be a good series.