TGS 2005: Chromehounds Hands-On

We get to try out Sega and From Software's upcoming mech game for the Xbox 360.

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TOKYO--Chromehounds is the recently announced mech game from Sega and developer From Software that was first shown in Sega's next-gen theater at this year's E3, where the trailer teased players with detailed visuals, a postapocalyptic setting, and massive mech combat. Since then the game has been officially announced for Microsoft's upcoming Xbox successor and is slated for a spring 2006 release. We recently had the chance to see the game in motion, and we got to see a teaser of what to expect from its playable debut while at this year's Tokyo Game Show today. Though our hands-on time was brief, we were still impressed by where the game is currently headed.

Chromehounds is set in a postapocalyptic future where powerful nations arm themselves and brace for an impending war. The game's story actually impacts both the single-player and multiplayer modes, which will tell different parts of it. The single-player mode will cast you in the role of one of six fighters on a squad from one of the game's three nations, and it will follow you as you prepare for an impending conflict. The multiplayer mode finds you fighting that war after it breaks out. The demo on display at From Software's offices let us get a taste of what to expect from a simple one-on-one versus game that pit us against a foe on one of the game's massive battlefields, which can be up to 2 square miles in size.

In keeping with the game's premise, the demo let us choose a mech that was tentatively balanced in one of six ways by being of the assault, sniper, defender, scout, heavy gunner, or commander type. A stat grid on the mech selection screen lets you see how the mech of your choice was skewed, as even within the specific types you'll see some variations. Once it was picked, we were thrown into an open area. The versus game we were playing pit us against just one other player, so part of our time was spent trying to figure out where he or she was. Once you spot your foe, it's all about hammering him or her with your mech's weapons until he or she explodes. The flow of the battle will depend on the mech type you've chosen to use. Scouts are smaller and faster units that appear to be best suited to quick strikes that lean heavily on bobbing and weaving as you try to take out your target. The heavy gunners, on the other hand, are heavily armored war machines that are slow but pack devastating firepower.

The control is simple and accessible, requiring you to use the left analog stick to move, the right one to aim, and the first left-shoulder button to fire. Clicking in the right analog stick lets you switch your view, while the X and Y buttons let you toggle weapon sets. (Our demo unit had two sets, but it looks like you'll be able to slot more in.) The game will also feature one of the staples from From's previous mech games: the ability to make your own custom battlebot from a massive amount of parts, ensuring the number of mechs in the game will be absurdly high.

The visuals are looking sharp and come close to what you see in the recently released trailer. It's hard to say how close they come to what's shown, due to the settings we fought in. The massive environments didn't let us duke it out in a city setting, but we were dropped into open areas set in natural, undeveloped areas. We tried a few matches and were able to see a plain wheat field, a mountain range, and a snow-covered field. The natural environments were expansive, albeit a bit barren in spots, and they featured some nice bits of functional eye candy. It appears the areas you'll be fighting in will feature a host of destructible elements that you can interact with, whether it's using them for cover or blowing them away to prevent your foe from eluding you. In addition, you'll see impressive little touches to help sell you on the fact that you're piloting a massive fighting machine. Bullets will yield flashy sparks if they hit your foe, or they'll kick up dirt or water if they miss their mark. The same holds true for the rockets you'll fire during battle, which shoot out in a flurry of light and smoke as they launch. The trails from projectiles, such as missiles and the like, are nicely done as well.

A mech game that features 12-player squad-based online play? Yeah, go ahead, and sign us up now.
A mech game that features 12-player squad-based online play? Yeah, go ahead, and sign us up now.

As for the mechs themselves, Chromehounds is probably one of the best opportunities for the From artists to cut loose. Whereas previous mech games from the developer, such as the Armored Core entries, have featured highly detailed mechs in the computer-generated movies in the games and less-detailed battle machines in the actual game, the mechs in Chromehounds are highly detailed creations that are on par with their CG counterparts. The game's high resolution yields a sick amount of detail that lets you make out the myriad of moving parts and unique weathering on the mechs, which is impressive considering the game's unfinished state. Better still is the animation that complements the high detail by letting you see the almost graceful movement of multilegged and treaded mechs as they move around, in addition to the jerkier strides of the two-legged mechs. The 360 hardware has also allowed From to have some fun with the game's camera system, as you'll be able to switch between third and first person on the fly during a battle, with whatever view you're not in displayed in the upper right-hand portion of the screen.

The game's frame rate, while inconsistent in a few places, is running pretty high. Finally, one of the most significant aspects of the visuals we noticed is how clean the visuals look on a normal television. To date, Microsoft and third parties have typically shown 360 games on HDTV's to highlight the insane clarity you'll get from 720p resolution, which, while eye-popping, has had us wondering just how the games would look on a standard television. Today's demo was running on two stations. One was a high-resolution PC monitor, and the other was a standard television. Though the game obviously looked sexier on the monitor, the clarity and resolution still looked pretty sharp on the standard television.

We got the extended warranty, just in case things get out of hand.
We got the extended warranty, just in case things get out of hand.

The audio in the version of the game we played is a robust extension of the chatter and weapons fire heard in From's previous mech games in the Armored Core series. There are few developers that nail the atmosphere of gritty mech combat like the seasoned pros that have been perfecting their work in the mech genre since the late '90s. You'll hear chatter from your radio, as well as a whole lot of explosions and weapons fire that are extremely satisfying.

This teaser has served as a good appetizer for the TGS demos of the game we'll see later this week. After months of just hearing talk about the Xbox 360's power, it's nice to see a small portion of those muscles flexed in our brief look at Chromehounds. The game looks very good and features some nice touches that should satisfy mech fans all over the globe. The online component of the game should also be a meaty experience that players can sink their teeth into. Chromehounds is currently slated to ship in 2006, so look for more on the game over the next few months and from this week's Tokyo Game Show. Until then, however, check out our Q&A with From Software regarding the ambitious game, and be sure to watch the first trailer for it.

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