July 19, 2006

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Chromehounds: the single player section feels more like a long tutorial than a campaign; the massive robots plod along too slowly for fast-action fans; sim fans will be disappointed by the thin manual and apparently simple controls; online matchmaking leaves long downtimes between between battles, while the undocumented and unfriendly online interface remains annoying even to veterans; and it is less forgiving of misconfigured internet connections than most other Xbox Live titles.

Despite all this, Chromehounds still succeeds and is nearly impossible to put down thanks to one simple fact: it boasts some of the most deep, unique, and compelling online play the Xbox 360 has seen so far.

At first glance, Chromehounds looks like most other formulaic G.S.R. (Giant Stompy Robot) games. Three nations are joined in battle, each trying to overrun the other’s territory. They gain ground yard-by-yard, fighting with tanks, turrets, and massive human-piloted robots. The robots (called HOUNDs) bristle with weaponry derived from today’s technology. There are no particle cannons or lasers here, but giant machine guns, sniper rifles, artillery pieces and rocket launchers abound.

Bolting these pieces together to make a custom HOUND is the first place the game’s flaws and magic both become apparent. Neither the in-game descriptions nor the paltry manual explain what most of the various parts do. Only a dangerous game of trial-and-error reveals what a condenser does or whether adding a second radiator will make you a harder target. Once familiar with the gear, however, the enjoyment from designing a blazingly-fast hovering scout or fire-raining heavy gunner is nearly unending. Not limited to simply installing parts into slots on a pre-built machine, players can capture, buy, and trade for hundreds of parts to make sure that their next creation won’t look or fight like their last. HOUNDs, like everything else in the game, are rendered with great detail and look great in motion. These aren’t stunning graphics, but they are undoubtedly next-gen and add exactly the right weight and believability to this world.

There is little need to build a HOUND in the single player missions. The seven missions per HOUND class (soldier, sniper, defender, scout, heavy gunner, and commander) are basically training missions, and the HOUNDs available for the tasks will do the job. Early in the game new players are saddled with some of the least interesting loadouts, and don’t yet have the experience or spare parts to build something better. More parts can be earned by advancing and achieving secondary goals, adding some replay value to these missions. In the end, however, only those players without a Gold Xbox Live account will focus on the the offline portion of the game.

Everyone else will feel sorry for those saps, as they turn their attention to the game’s online multiplayer faculties in the jungle that is A

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.