Chromehounds from SEGA and From Software is a first and third-person shooter that throws the player’s nameless mercenary character into the midst of various bouts of politically fuelled territorial conflict some 20 years after the nuclear calamity of World War III. But, rather than hit the contested war zones as a well equipped foot soldier (ala Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter), the player must grapple with the controls of giant mechanical robots (HOUNDs) that are armed to the steel teeth with all manner of destructive firepower. However, while the prospect of embarking on campaign missions to help sway the tide of battle for the highest bidder may sound like an enjoyable way to waste a few gaming hours, curious consumers must be made aware that without access to Xbox Live, Chromehounds swiftly amounts to little more than Rustymongrels.
Indeed, the game’s packaging and instruction manual are both overtly geared to the Xbox Live experience and online play is pushed into the foreground at every opportunity. The game’s single-player aspect is labeled on the box as merely a mode to “sharpen your tactics and create a HOUND that best suits your fighting style,” and that’s pretty much on the money in terms of single-player content. The campaign, as it is, involves separate combat missions based around the game’s six different RTs (Role Types), which are Soldier, Sniper, Defender, Scout, Heavy Gunner, and Tactics Commander. Each showcases a new style of HOUND and includes a simple tutorial level to allow for a degree of control and tactical acclimatization, which is then followed by six linked missions that follow (tenuous) narrative threads while gradually evolving the player’s skills. Once these tiered RT campaigns have been conquered, which won’t prove especially taxing despite a ramped difficulty level, the player is then much better prepared to hit Xbox Live and join the ranks of fellow HOUND pilots looking to enter “fast-action strategic battles amidst a massive global conflict via Xbox Live.”
The pace of gameplay while in single or multiplayer mode is dull and plodding thanks to a general lack of maneuverability across the available HOUNDs along with fairly mundane and limiting environments. This stilted atmosphere is further compounded by fractured camera usage that renders the player almost as blind as they are immobile. The game offers up a panoramic third-person view of each sprawling battle zone, but the screen is shamefully devoid of an aiming reticule, which renders third-person action all-but impossible to perform effectively as rockets, sniper rounds, and machinegun fire predictably never seem to find a target. Thankfully the player can click in the right-analogue stick and switch instantly to first-person mode, but, while this does offer various forms of weaponry-specific zoomed or standard reticule, the player’s peripheral vision is shrunken so dramatically that it’s not long before frantic switching between each camera view is absolutely essential to ensure tactical movement while picking out targets. Of course, the first-person camera’s advantages regarding accuracy of fire also mean that close-quarter conflicts often cloud the player’s cockpit view with billowing black smoke and ferocious explosions, whereas discharging heavy armament means incurring massive recoil that sends the camera view shooting upward and leaves the player’s HOUND dangerously exposed.
Chromehounds leaves a modicum of carbon scoring across the ‘next-generation gaming’ target but, despite the wealth of impressive HOUND explosions that litter proceedings, ultimately fails to break through its Armour. Anyone having played iterations of Armored Core or Mechassault will be left somewhat dissatisfied by Chromehounds’ seemingly endless parade of rolling landscapes, uninspired urban settings, and general lack of graphical polish. Granted, From Software’s visuals are a step up from the two aforementioned mech-based series, and the HOUNDs themselves are always beautifully rendered, but players taking the time to blow up a small town really should be duly rewarded with fabulous next-gen destructive effects—not the disappointing sight of buildings collapsing unconvincingly and literally ‘melting’ into the landscape. Behind the action of each campaign, there’s certainly a considerable amount of visual love and affection pumped into the game’s customize-crazy ‘Garage’ element, where players can piece together and tweak their own personal war machines from awarded HOUND components. The level of depth and detail involved in sculpting, road testing, and perfecting the performance of individual HOUNDs certainly occupies a great deal of pre-mission game time. It’s just a shame the missions themselves fail to inspire the same degree of immersion.
Game music is fairly solid throughout and its moody orchestrations ebb and flow at all the right moments. Sadly, the musical score is tarnished by some truly ineffectual voice work that shatters the game’s ambitions where narrative tension and character believability are concerned. Each single-player mission has an overly melodramatic monotone preamble—that sounds similar to old radio announcers from the 1950s—while the in-game HOUND pilots, commanders, tactical officers, etc, expound nothing but shallow, cliché-riddled nonsense about protecting their homeland and fighting for freedom. Yawn. Thankfully, the mission outlines and mind-numbingly slow preambles can be skipped; though the equally slothful action that follows is hardly ever a welcome savior.
The Xbox Live element of Chromehounds is certainly its flawed saving grace, and players can take their created HOUNDS, form squads of 20 (maximum of 6 deployed to any one battlefield), and take part in an online campaign called the Neroimus War. Here they can battle against rival human squads or AI squads to attain victory funds and merit, which can then be filtered throughout the squad to prepare for the next battle(s). Then there are Individual Missions to play through, which exist as freelance squad-based side missions to help boost a squad’s funding for the Neroimus War. Unlike the main campaign, the Individual Missions don’t cost anything, don’t affect the online campaign, and maintenance fees are fully covered. Finally there’s Free Battle, which offers up the standard selection of multiplayer modes, including Death Match, Capture the Flag, and Survival. The online gameplay of Chromehounds is certainly more engaging than the single-player section, but it’s still blighted by the same camera and aiming deficiencies along with the frustratingly slow lumbering of the HOUNDs themselves.
Chromehounds offers nothing especially ‘next-gen’ to the mech genre and, apart from its in-depth customization and online squad aspect, it really emerges as a distinct disappointment. The single-player campaign is sadly disjointed and inconsequential, the gameplay is often limited to mundane pointing and shooting, the camera and aiming mechanics are always a hindrance, and the graphics fail to reach far beyond present generation standards. Add to that the hammy and poorly realized character voiceovers and tediously slow mech speed, and Chromehounds is scant little more than a badly reared puppy that’s bound for the pound.