This unique mech combat sim looks great in action, but gets most of its mileage out of its persistent online campaign, which can be very fun for dedicated players.
- Inventive persistent campaign draws you into online team-based competition
- Deep, well-designed mech-building system is a lot of fun to play around with
- Distinctive mech designs and impressive presentation during battles
- Lots of gameplay variety and replay value during online play.
- Single-player portion of the game is undercooked and relatively disappointing
- Interface for online play could have been much more streamlined in spots.
In an alternate-reality version of the present day, three nations with conflicting ideologies and shared borders are locked in a violent struggle, waging war against one another using massive tanklike combat vehicles known as hounds. In Chromehounds, you'll not only get to build your own hound based using a large variety of different parts and weapons, you'll get to pilot it in some impressive-looking battles, and you'll even get involved in a persistent online struggle for supremacy between the warring states. It's important to note that the single-player portion of Chromehounds serves merely as training for the online component, in which players from around the world may form squads, engage in missions or skirmish against each other or computer-controlled enemies, and buy and sell all kinds of different hound parts. This online component is naturally time-consuming and caters to a relatively hardcore crowd, one that's willing to schedule playing time and coordinate in battle. But if you're willing to make that investment, Chromehounds can be a richly rewarding experience.
Developer From Software is no stranger to mech simulations, having worked on the long-running Armored Core series for many years now. Chromehounds is similar to that series in certain respects, especially in how the mechs you can build in this game don't all walk on two legs; some have tank treads, some look like mechanical spiders, some are wheeled, and some are hovercraft. The alternate-reality present-day setting of Chromehounds also gives the vehicle design in this game a rather distinctive identity--this isn't your typically clichéd futuristic warfare with all sorts of crazy plasma guns and monotonous female computer voices. Instead, the mechs in this game have a gritty, low-tech feel to them, as if in an alternate version of the future, bombers and fighter jets simply didn't exist (they're strangely absent from this game) so humankind just kept building bigger, deadlier tanks. What's particularly noteworthy about the hounds is the hexagonal frames of most of their weapons. If one long-range cannon or heavy machine gun isn't good enough for you, the hex shape of these types of guns lets you cluster several of them together, multiplying your firepower.
Chromehounds is a deep game, which you might expect from a mech simulation, but the action out on the battlefield is surprisingly simple for the most part. Typically, you just drive around while using a compass and a tactical map to guide you, then point and shoot at your targets, cycling between different slower-firing weapons. It's easy to pick up and start playing the combat portion of the game, though in one quirk, you must frequently switch between the standard behind-the-mech view to a first-person aiming view. Your weapon view has a fixed level of magnification depending on which weapon is currently at the ready, so long-range rifles automatically let you see targets from farther away, while a shotgun won't help you spot a mech bombarding you with a heavy mortar from miles away.
You can visibly tell as your opponents take damage, and overall, the visuals of combat look great, especially in HD. Details like the sleek effect of switching to and from weapon view, how trees shed leaves or tip over when caught in crossfire, and the intensely white-hot tracers of machine gun fire all help make Chromehounds by far one of the best-looking mech games to date. Some of the scenery appears very plain--all hills and tress and such--but there are some nice-looking urban environments and impressive weather effects to be found as well. The city maps are particularly entertaining because no building can withstand much of your firepower before collapsing in a heap of dust and rubble; which not only looks cool, but also is tactically significant. The game's audio is characterized by booming, bass-heavy footsteps (if your hound has legs), the creaking of machinery, and weapon fire that sounds fittingly powerful. It sounds like a tank battle, and it fits Chromehounds very well.
Your options when building your hound are satisfyingly extensive. In terms of weapons, you've got plenty to choose from, including missile launchers, mortars, howitzers, rifles, rocket arrays, and even close-combat weapons designed to puncture enemy armor. While the hound-assembly process initially looks intimidating, it's pretty easy to feel your way through it and get comfortable in about an hour. Your mech just needs a base, a cockpit, and a generator, and the game lets you easily snap these pieces together almost like a jigsaw puzzle. Then you start adding guns and things, paying close attention to your maximum energy supply and weight limit. This becomes an intuitive process. If you want a speedy little roller skate mech, suitable for quickly scouting out your enemy's position, you shouldn't expect to be able to mount six long-range cannons on it (you might be able to squeeze in one or two, though). It's yours to decide which weapons go where, and you need to decide whether to conserve a little extra weight to add armor plating, or to make it lighter on its feet by not packing your hound to the gills with guns. The interface could have been a little easier to use in some spots, but overall, the mech-building portion of Chromehounds is a very well done, fun, and interesting part of the game.
Ironically, you can go through the entire single-player experience of Chromehounds without ever setting foot in the hound-assembly garage. This is one of the several reasons why the single-player portion of the game is pretty disappointing and not worth the price of admission taken on its own. You don't even get to see some of the best-looking environments in the game during this portion. For what it's worth, Chromehounds' single-player mode at least is up front about the fact that it's really just a series of story-driven training missions and combat scenarios designed to familiarize you with different hound roles. There are six discrete "role types" in the game: soldier, sniper, defender, scout, heavy gunner, and commander. If anything, the game is a little misleading at first to suggest that these are rigidly defined roles. In reality, you define your hound's role by virtue of the parts you use to build it; you don't need to create a highly specialized hound if you don't want to.