Pros: robust online features, mech customization, easy controls
Cons: pointless single player mode, boring graphics, forgettable storyline
Battletech, Armored Core, MechWarrior, Mechassault, Steel Battalion, and the list goes on and on. Mech simulators are popular games focusing on a fictional combat vehicle called a mech. Simply put, mechs are larger fighting robots usually the size of sky scrapers. Now US gamers or fans of this genre were probably first introduced to mechs by the old school anime series called Robotech. From then on there have been smatterings of mech games here and there yet the controls were usually the question. The so-called sim games were either too slow or the controls were too complex for the majority of the US market. Where the UK and Japanese markets eat these games up on site, US gamers only showed moderate love to the genre. Of the different series, the TSR generated world of Battletech (which was loosely created from the Robotech world) has seen the most success. More recently, their arcade style Mechassault 2 saw success on the Xbox. And now that the Xbox 360 is out, Sega and its partners have decided to try their hand and push the genre a bit.
With the success of tactical shooters and online multiplay, Sega decided to make a game that focused on mech tactical combat. So, in an effort to do so, they merged concepts from a number of other games in the genre. Add the deep customization of Armored Core, the simple controls of Mechassault, the online persistent world of Mechassalt 2s online gameplay, and a class based structure similar to the Battlefield 2 structure and you have a possible hit, right?
Well, not quite. First off, Chrome Hounds basically falls victim to the same issue that most other Xbox 360 games do there really isnt much that distinguishes this game as NEXT-GEN. You'd think with an Xbox360 exclusive title you'd get something graphically outstanding with massive mech AND vehicular combat and customization or deep single player gameplay. Instead, you get quite the opposite.
The graphics are HD but the environments are definitely far from spectacular. The mechs are alright but nothing so say Voltron or Devastator to. The environments come off more like Afghani landscape than anything (in other words they are boooooooring). And the AI opponents are definitely lacking. The sound effects are decent but not really noticable. The music is blah, boring, and definitely mute-able.
Now, some may complain that the controls are too simplistic but I think that adds to the appeal of the game. I mean, why would I want to buy a $100 accessory for a system that has little functionality beyond one game? (COUGH steel battalion COUGH). Anyways, the controls of the game are basically copied from Mechassault. One thumb stick to move, one thumb stick to aim, right trigger fire, left trigger special function. Theres not that much more to it.
Also, some reviewers might complain about the 'speed' of the mechs or the battles being entirely too slow but the purpose of mechs is that. Mechs are HUGE and relatively slow tanks the size of buildings. That's why weapon selection and strategy provide the edge that can turn boring close range blast fests into quick artillery-ground pounding routs. Just depends on the pilot and the selected mech.
As for the aiming mechanics, it is basically a sim. You must learn the functionality of each type of weapon and adjust according to its function. Artillery weapons are meant for long range splash damage, HOUND piles are basically melee weapons, sniping weapons must lead the target a bit when moving, missle racks have a wide angle spread, and so on and so on. Thanks to the variety in parts and styles of mechs or HOUNDS, as they are called in this game, there is a potential for all kinds of ballistic and missile weaponry that can rain death from above and afar. From bomb dispensers, land mines, rifles, shotguns, cannons, grenade launchers, and more. And to add to the appeal of the different weaponry, focusing on specific areas of a HOUND will destroy that particular component first. Aim for the cockpit to disable or destroy the HOUND or aim for its weaponry to reduce its lethality before the final blow. Blast a scouts wheels or base to steal its mobility and speed before trashing it.
This fact brings us to the actual strength and appeal of the game. Because of the simplicity of the controls and the variety in weaponry (notice there are no laser weapons), Chrome HOUNDS provides a massive opportunity for different mech building strategies and a fighting styles. These strategies are generalized by the RTs or role types built into the game that support the games intent to have squads team up and work together. Soldier RTs are the front line warriors. Scouts are fast and are usually meant for recon, HQ ID, and tactical support. Defenders load up on weaponry and armor. Snipers add long range assault or defense support. Heavy Gunners pack the devastating artillery weaponry such as big cannons and howitzers. And Commanders coordinate the mission and issue in-mission commands. As pilots get more and more familiar with how they best operate, theyll build their own mechs that may merge multiple RT types depending on what parts they purchase or acquire.
All of this so-called strategy and planning can translate to some pretty furious HOUND battles or some ridiculously quick ones. Pilots will quickly learn to identify weaponry on a mech to avoid getting blasted close range by a swarm of missles or piled by a scout that seemed to be avoiding combat. Theyll also learn to build HOUNDS with counter-measures to extend their weapon life or their HOUNDs. Placing armor about your critical weapons, night-vision to ID the enemy earlier, and missile-counters to avoid heat seeking missiles can provide just enough of an edge to overcome a hard battle.
To say the least, this game will eat up time to play for the most part. The default HOUNDs are functional but will usually get trashed by experienced pilots with customized HOUNDs. Learning to build the mechs, distinguish the parts, talk to your squad, issue a strategy and such can sometimes take the entire 15 minutes that the pre-mission lobby provides before each match. Terrain and time of day will affect HOUND selection and strategy. So, arcade-y mech pilots will get annoyed by the occasional over-planning that will occur during most online battles.
This brings me to the game options both online and off. First , if you dont have online capability, DO NOT BUY THIS GAME. The single player missions of this game are meant only to support the online portion of the game. In a sense, the off line portion functions as the training grounds. Essentially, you can beat all of the single player missions in a day or two. Most of the missions are easy. Also, the final grading of each mission determines what bonus parts youll acquire to allow you to build custom mechs. Most times these parts are quite valuable when playing online.
The online modes include a persistant online war, Free Battles, and a more traditional online multiplayer match style play. Most of the excitement will come from the online war feature which was done quite well. In it, pilots will pick a nation to be affiliated with (each offering different kind of HOUND technology), youll pick a squad (which can hold a max of 20 pilots), and youll jump into a fictional war defending and attacking points on a map with your squad. Here their squad team play takes center stage by presenting a squad lobby where as soon as you enter the mode, youll be able to talk to any squad-mate that is online in the war as long as they arent in a battle already. No searching, no friend requests, just hop in and figure out what point to attack or defend next. Also, if there isnt an human online enemy available to battle in the area you are attacking at the time, there is even an option to fight against the CPU. There are trade rooms, numerous pilot stats, medals, shops, national elections, experimental and salvage part lotteries, and more that will keep the online appeal of this game fresh for quite some time. The other multiplayer modes provide the usual multiplayer modes like Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, HQ assault, and a few other somewhat unique modes. Again, the online feature of this game is its strong point.
So, in the end, this mech sim wont convert Ghost Recon or Halo players to jump ship, but it will provide war strategy buffs a reason to show off their stuff. Chrome HOUNDS is definitely an excellent online addition to the Xbox 360 roster. Those that loved the online features of Mechassault 2s online war will adore Chrome HOUNDs approach and appreciate the variety of the mechs as well. Customize, squad up, destroy, and enjoy!