t takes a certain type of player to get pulled into a Japanese-designed mech game – most titles require hours of number crunching and machine balancing before you can even get your hands dirty. Still, for fans of the genre, there's nothing better than seeing the "70 ton fruit of your labor" utterly decimate the competition.
Such is Chromehounds, the recent mech sim from Sega and From Software. There have been a lot of negative reviews floating around the web in recent days, many of which compare Hounds to FASA Game's MechAssault. That's all well and good, but these two titles are hardly in the same genre – it's like comparing an adventure RPG (think Zelda) to a tactical RPG (i.e. Ogre Battle). If one steps into a traditional mech game expecting a shooter's instant gratification, they're bound to be disappointed.
In examining Chromehounds, it's imperative to look at its single player and multiplayer components separately. Admittedly, the offline game is a bit thin: missions are relatively simplistic; the AI is passable at best; the storyline is of the B-movie variety. Still, this single player experience is really just training for the Xbox Live portion of the game, and as such, it succeeds. From a gameplay perspective, Hounds isn't all that difficult – the controls are well laid out, and the player never feels bogged down by their complexity. It's in the design process, though, where some may begin to get turned off. Like any good mech game, Hounds requires the player to spend hours in the garage, balancing their machine for maximum effect. Without much documentation, this may turn into a frustrating bit of trial and error for the less experienced tinkerer. Still, for those willing to put in the time, Hounds is one of the most rewarding mech games out their (easily eclipsing its "cousin by design", Armored Core).
Once on Live, Chromehounds difficulty ramps up considerably, as does its fun factor. This game was designed to be played by a large group of friends, each taking on a specialized roll within their squad of players. Hounds' machines are broken up into six different categories, from light and fast scouts to lumbering artillery pieces. Each has its place on the battlefield, and each is crucial in developing a balanced fighting force. The biggest flaw in the online game at the moment has nothing at all to do with the game, but rather with its community of players. As these titles aren't very popular with Western gamers, you're bound to play against many from Japan. I'll warn you now – games like these have been on their shores for a LONG time, and they WILL make you wear your ass for a hat. Still, one can always lead their squad in a battle against bots, which is surprisingly fun in its own right.
Chromehounds graphics are nice, but by no means spellbinding. Environments are clean and pleasing to look at, but are a bit too sparse to be called beautiful. The one standout visually are the mechs themselves: even though you'll spend most of the game staring at the ass end of your creation, it's a sight to behold. Animations are good enough-- these are giant robots after all, so organic movement really isn't necessary. The "graphical tearing" some reviewers speak of is present, but I'd take it rather than a sluggish framerate any day. Audio, though impressive at points, is really just par for the course with nothing to fault.
This title is a tricky one to review. Fans of the genre shouldn't hesitate to buy. For everyone else, it's at least worth a rental. Now, back to the front.
(This review was originally published on arcological.com on July 14th, 2006.)