E3 06: Chromehounds Hands-On

We play robot jockey in the two-mission single-player E3 demo of Chromehounds.

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LOS ANGELES--From Software has made a name for itself among fans of mech combat simulations with its Armored Core series, which puts the focus on a highly granular level of customization and rather methodical combat. The Japanese development house is now bringing its brand of realistic mech combat to the Xbox 360 with Chromehounds, of which there was a playable, single-player demo available in the Microsoft booth here at E3 2006.

The mechs generally controlled as you might expect with the left and right analog sticks governing movement and turret aiming, respectively. By default you view your mech from behind the back, though from this perspective you don't have any kind of aiming reticule, requiring you to just eyeball your shots, which is quite difficult. For better aiming, you can click in on the right analog stick to zoom in, at which point you're also given an aiming reticule. Our mech was armed with three different weapons, which we could cycle through using the top left and right shoulder buttons, and the targeting system and the level of zoom for each weapon was unique.

The demo comprised two unique scenarios, each of which put you in control of a different mech. Though the demo itself didn't allow us to customize our mechs, we could still go into a garage mode and inspect the stats on each of the mech's components. Playing the part of a mercenary mech pilot, we jumped into the first mission with the simple objective of locating and destroying an enemy base in a lush wilderness area that distinctly evoked the Pacific Northwest with lots of mountains, running rivers, and forested areas. We received a series of coordinates to the base over the radio, which we then had to pinpoint on the in-game map that we could pull up using the Y button. On our approach to the base, we were confronted with small clusters of enemy soldiers on the ground, as well as tanks, bizarre spiderlike tanks, and other mechs. In general, the mission was actually fairly short and straightforward.

The second scenario was a bit more tactical, placing us in a snowy mountainous area where we had to take our mech between a pair of high-altitude sniper points in order to take an enemy convoy that was on its way towards allied troops. The weapon loadout for this mech was markedly different from the mech in the first mission, and its primary weapon, while incredibly powerful, had a lengthy reload time, so it was incredibly important that we made our shots count. This mission was also much more difficult than the first, as the goal was far more time sensitive, requiring us to be at a specific location at a specific time, and the path to success was much narrower.

The whole of the gameplay in the demo was ultimately pretty straightforward and didn't have much that we haven't seen in other mech combat games before. However, there were aspects of the presentation that were quite impressive, specifically the level of detail in the mechs themselves. The animations for the mechs also carried a good deal of weight, and the explosion effects when we destroyed enemy vehicles were satisfying as well.

Of course, with the customization options missing, we were only getting a small part of the Chromehounds experience, and we're eager to see a more full-featured version of the game. Chromehounds is currently set for a Q3 2006 release.

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