|Chromehounds is herePublished by patto on Thursday, July 13, 2006
Tagged: Gaming, Xbox 360,
Chromehounds has arrived, wiping away the sour taste of Armored Core from our mouths. It's a different style of online play that is initially disconcerting but ultimately unique. Giant mechs, little mechs, and mechs with funny antenna-heads all get their chances to shine in a rewarding Live environment.
The backstory of the game is that a trinity of small countries (with various superpowers backing them) is locked into warfare a few decades after the eruption of sunspots made traditional electronics very nearly nonfunctional. This clever (goofy, but clever) hook explains why there are giant robot tanks walking, rolling, and hovering all over the place. Put anything too far into the atmosphere, and the sunspots cook its electronics. Therefore, no planes or long-range missiles, let alone spy planes or satellite networks, so no warfare as we currently know it. This justifies the game's resources/capture points: comm towers. Capturing these hardened stations gives you radar and the ability to chat with your squadmates within their broadcast radius. They're big enough to be easily spotted at a distance, but not big enough to stand on or enter, so they're essentially impossible to defend.
This drives the combat style, which consists of a lot of frustration for lone wolves and unorganized squads. The six types of Hound aren't all necessary, but a scout and a commander are essential to enjoying the game's excellent multiplayer. Most Hounds move fairly lethargically, but by using a commander's localized radar and comm systems to coordinate the squad and sending the fast (especially by comparison) scouts to actually scout, a good squad can put its Hounds exactly where they need to be. They can lay down an incredible amount of artillery fire to support their position or their advance. A scout or a fast soldier can create a diversion while the rest of the squad moves to seize the real objective. And once combat breaks out, it's a savage, beautiful festival of explosions and heavy weapons. Chromehounds isn't just a shooter where you play a tank-on-legs, it's a mech game where the combat actually plays out like high-tech science-fiction tank warfare. Multiplayer like this isn't what we're used to, but it's excellent despite being unfamiliar.
The single-player story is divided into six minicampaigns. That's one set of missions for each Hound type, and they all serve a purpose. They teach how the various mechs work, and do a good job of introducing the strategic level of combat that players need for Live. They also let you get used to the graphics, saving you the humiliation of getting in a squad and your first sentence being, "Man, what the hell is wrong with my TV?"
The actual Hound models look and sound amazing. Light hits the barrels of your guns just so; every piece you add or remove is reflected on your mech, and when you fire an artillery piece or a set of four linked assault rifles, you'll feel it. But the environments are terribly empty, and a lot of them just look like trash. Maybe not PlayStation bad, but early PS2 bad. The hard stuff (like the light from a flare drifting down, hitting all the models in a massive firefight) is done just right, so how did the easy stuff (like the ground) end up looking so bad?
But we spent most of the time looking at our Hound and our enemy's Hounds anyway. The premade Hounds are functional, but despite the really, really irritating From Software trademark of identifying parts only by serial numbers, the customization engine is easy to use and incredibly rewarding. The primary benefit of participating in the persistent online game is access to new parts -- from conquest, or from advances your nation researches, or from winning lotteries for them. And getting your Hound, and then your squad, tweaked just right to serve some nice, cool revenge to the squad that beat you out of your home country is a sweet feeling.
Chromehounds won't just out-and-out replace the Live games you're playing now; it's a very different type of game -- an innovative take on how shooters and mech games can play, with a very nice addition of "collect-'em-all" gameplay from the variety of parts available. This is a plum for 360 owners looking to avoid the outdoors over the summer.
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