IGN Review of Chromehounds
Quite a bit, it turns out. The Xbox 360's first mechanized combat game developed by From Software is finally on store shelves. Boasting single player and extensive online modes, myriad customization options, and flashy explosions, Chromehounds certainly seems like it could be a worthwhile gaming experience. After playing through, however, a number of problems became apparent that keep this one from being as good as it could have been. Though some Xbox 360 gamers may have been drooling at the opportunity to finally hop in a mech and blast missiles every which way, it's hard to call playing Chromehounds a satisfying gaming experience.
Before going any further, it needs to be said that Chromehounds is essentially an online game. If you don't have access Xbox Live, you're going to want to stay far away from this one. It's not for lack of single player content that Chromehounds fails; it's just that it's incredibly boring to play through. Offered are six, seven mission campaigns, each focusing on specific mech Role Types (RT). Split up into degrees of difficulty, players will play as a Scout, Defender, Soldier, Heavy Gunner, Commander and Sniper. Each RT campaign, despite being surrounded by story and filled with numerous characters, falls flat.
The game provides plenty of backstory for the entire wartime scenario. It centers on a conflict known as the Neroimus War, a battle between the nations of Sal Kar, Tarakia, and Morskoj. However, the war has yet to break out in the single player campaigns. Instead, they detail the period leading up to all out fighting. Players take on the role of a mercenary unit called Rafzakael. With an allegiance to no particular region, players assist each of the three nations with quelling various terrorist uprisings, all amidst whispers of war. This kind of narrative setup leads on to one of the single player story mode's problems: a lack of engaging elements. Each campaign has its own set of characters, but they're all so flat and clich?d there's never a time where you verge on caring for any of them. Even with a detailed historical timeline and character profiles, it fails to generate interest. Since the game forces you to hop between national allegiances, it's impossible to maintain any kind of vested interest in how a region fares.
Instead of drawing players along through the single-player portions with engaging narrative and characters, the only motivation for players is achieving good mission scores to unlock Hound parts. These are achieved by quickly completing objectives and fulfilling extra conditions like preventing friendly units from taking damage. The other motivation for trudging through each mission is to get a grasp of how to control each RT, which is primarily what each campaign is for. With the single player mode so obviously designed to train players for the online Neroimus War portion, it'd be a shame for someone without Xbox Live to pick this title up and not be able to experience what they're supposed to.
Regardless of single-player or multiplayer modes, Chromehounds has a few nagging issues, two of which stand out prominently. First, movement around the battlefield is excruciatingly slow. Second, the combat system in the game requires little skill to score a hit with missiles. Even in the speedy Scout, it still takes upwards of a minute to even reach goals like capturing COMBAS radio towers. The Heavy Gunner is the worst offender. Burdened with several arrays of long range cannons, it could barely distance itself from a crippled turtle. The lack of speed contributes heavily to why the combat is so nauseatingly simple. Since hardly any of the Hounds move at a decent clip, dueling an enemy Hound breaks down to slowly circle-strafing and leading your aim reticule just enough to ensure a successful shot.
Credit needs to be given to the game's multiplayer modes, which without a doubt offer more than most of the games in the Xbox 360 library. Players can engage in a number of simple deathmatch, capture the flag, base destruction or COMBAS capture scenarios. The options go far deeper than that, however. Entering the Neroimus War offers players the chance to join up with a Squad, the equivalent of a guild or linkshell or whatever you want to call it in an MMORPG or clan in many first-person shooters. Once accepted into a squad, members can launch into a number of battle territories spanning the area of the Sal Kar, Tarakia, and Morskoj. As squads secure victories it helps out whatever nation they've sworn allegiance to, expanding that nation's influence, and eventually it's controlled territory. The ultimate goal is for one nation to seize the entirety of the map, which in turn would reset the servers and start a new war.
This kind of persistent online world without a subscription fee is an excellent feature, and develops even further levels of nuance as players must consider their repair costs, winnings, and how to upgrade their Hounds. Not only are parts to build custom machines won in the single-player missions, but also available through the online shop. When first entering Chromehounds' online world, the game tallies up a player's offline progress, assigns level values for each RT, and gives a starting sum of credits. After that, it's up to the player to build more of purse. Winning Neroimus War missions is one way to build a fat purse as well as increase online rankings. Another is to participate in the far less thrilling online individual missions, where players are tasked with taking out a certain number of AI enemies in a time limit. The advantage to the individual missions is no repair costs are incurred, though the returns pale in comparison to Neroimus War missions.
To keep players hooked into the wartime developments of their nations, notices frequently pop up indicating which cities have been lost, where aid is needed, and which players have been generous and donated portions of their funds to the national cause. Practically all these stats are tallied and able to be viewed on leaderboards, letting players know who the best squads and players are currently in action. These are welcome features to help keep Hound pilots absorbed in the game world.
Building a Hound is an equally in-depth process, requiring numerous parts to be joined together. These include mobile bases, cockpits, shotguns, rocket launchers, generators, computer chips for weapons and control, night and thermal vision upgrades, NA arrays for mobile communications and enemy detection, grenade launchers, mine layers, sniper rifles and more. It's an impressive list, and all of them need to be combined within weight, diameter, and power limits. Building a Hound is no simple process, something any customization freaks out there are sure to appreciate. The menu system could have used some streamlining, however. The build menus aren't laid out as intuitively as they could have been, and even in the single player you'll need to click through a seemingly inordinate amount of screens.
Playing online is definitely a better experience than the shoddy single player since you can tactically command around a squad. Properly utilizing Scouts to secure COMBASs, Heavy Gunners and Snipers for support, Commanders to keep communication lines open, and Soldiers to maintain front lines is essential to victory, assuming the opponents are equally organized. Even if teams are organized, battles degenerate into exactly what makes the single player missions so disposable, mindless strafing battles. The formula for victory involves shoot, switch weapon set, shoot, wait for cooldown, keep strafing, shoot, hope for explosion. After you've battled 10 or 12 Hounds, it gets boring really fast.
Since there's little skill involved in the actual toe to toe fights, it comes down to who's got more armor and stronger weapons. As long as players have even a shred of aiming ability, they'll be able to hit the targets, no problem. This even goes for the long range heavy gunners, since their weaponry, assuming players have equipped them properly, causes splash damage. Playing Chromehounds online and actually enjoying it over a sustained period of time will definitely require players to seek out squads dedicated to tactical precision and proper RT deployment. Otherwise, it's a bust even despite the numerous options for play.
A Commander unit with an NA array is arguably the most important, as it allows all players within its range to converse on their headsets. The circular ranges of COMBASs serve the same function, but if they're recaptured by the enemy it results in radio darkness until players can get the tower back in their control. Plodding through the atrocious Commander missions in single player is much more of a chore than using the units online. Since barking out orders to AI over a headset isn't possible, players instead have to use an awkward macro messaging system. Its inelegance is a result of the inability to group squadmates together for orders. It's either an individual unit order, or an order for every unit. If two or more units are deployed on separate COMBAS capture missions or assaults, it's necessary to individually issue orders to other squad members. This takes longer than it should, and is entirely devoid of entertainment value. The only other option is to announce another order to all, overriding any other orders units are still trying to complete.
Yet another reason why the single player missions are an uninteresting mess is the atrocious enemy AI. All any of the units ever do is walk in a straight line and shoot. Oftentimes they'll respond to a direct missile hit with a few steps to the side, or nothing at all. As bad as that is, it's surprisingly similar to what players will find when they go online to fight real opponents. The reason? There aren't any other combat options. Sure there are pressure sensitive triggers. There aren't any quick shifts or strategic movements. There aren't any speed gauges to monitor, gear shifts to manage, or other intricate Hound controls. It's simply jam the control stick forward and wait. It's all slow, methodical, mechanical lines of motion that occasionally switch direction with a leisurely sway.
With such a lack of control mechanics at the helm of a Hound, players will likely find themselves gazing at their surroundings. The graphics of Chromehounds are in some cases very impressive. It's got the best explosion effects on the system. Some of the lighting effects during nighttime scenarios are enough to drop a few jaws, especially when using night vision and flares. Hound animations are slick as well, tromping across landscapes, kicking up dust and leaving distinct footprints. If players look closely they'll find the water actually distorts Hounds' legs if they're standing in it.
The graphics aren't without flaws. Landscapes are largely barren and monotonous. The models for cities, elevated pipes, refineries, and wind generators that occasionally populate maps are repeated fairly often. When destroying any of those structures, they'll periodically burst apart. Other times, however, they'll sink and disappear into the ground in a jarringly unrealistic fashion. The same goes for other lesser mechanized vehicles. When they're destroyed they simply disappear under a plume of fire and smoke. It's a far cry from the splintering, scattering, and spectacular mechanical dismemberment players would want to see. Aside from that the framerate is generally smooth both online and off, though chugs a bit when too many explosions clutter the screen. Though we played the game on multiple televisions, we couldn't seem to escape significant V-Sync issues, which cause horizontal lines to scan through and distort the HD image.
In the audio department, Chromehounds delivers some listenable symphonic soundtracks and booming explosions. Voice acting during the single player missions is flat and tedious, however. Aside from that players will only feast their ears on the repetitive mechanical squeals of their Hound in motion, as well as some gratingly repetitive spark effects should they take too much damage. After several minutes of walking to get to a required destination point, players will likely wish there were more to hear on the audio spectrum outside of flipping on their own imported tunes.
For those interested, Chromehounds supports no offline multiplayer modes.
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