Gears of war

Mech combat rumbles onto the Xbox 360
By MITCH KRPATA  |  July 25, 2006
2.5 2.5 Stars

COULD REAL-LIFE ROBOT BATTLES possibly be this dull?
Gigantic fighting robots have long been one of Japan’s main cultural exports, second only to Hello Kitty merchandise, so the existence of Chromehounds should come as no surprise. The game posits some vaguely imagined future where the whole of human activity is restricted to endless, mechanized warfare. That may not be too far off the mark. But could real-life robot battles possibly be this dull?

Put Chromehounds on the long list of games that consider “realistic environment” to mean long expanses of rock and sand occasionally brightened by some low, rectangular buildings. Spend enough time traipsing across these lands in a clanking gray machine and you might start gasping for air. Of course, you’re not really supposed to be looking at the environment, except to seek and destroy your foes.

A streamlined control scheme makes it simple to pilot your HOUND. You can cycle through up to four weapons using the right bumper button and fire using the right trigger. A click of the right analog stick toggles between landscape view and gunsight view; whichever viewing mode you’re not using is displayed, picture-in-picture style, in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. There’s a lot going on with a

HOT TIP: Don't sit there waiting for a weapon to cool down — cycle through as fast as you can.
minimum of button pushing. Watching someone playing, you might think the control interface was a lot more complex than it is.

  The poorly executed story mode is barely worth playing, but Chromehounds offers a twist. The war among three factions is raging on-line at all times. It’s not quite at the level of a persistent universe found in World of Warcraft, but it takes the multi-player experience beyond a mere series of discrete deathmatches. (Don’t worry, you’ll find those too.) You align yourself with one of the fictional nations and fight until one side has control of the entire map. This means that on-line wars can last weeks or even months (Sega supposedly resets the game server every two months, regardless.) Clan matches and pick-up games have an impact on the outcome. If only the combat packed a little more punch.

The customization system is a nice feature. You acquire different parts by completing single-player and on-line missions; you then take them into the shop to create a HOUND of your very own. The possible combinations of weapons, mobility bases, and specialty parts must be almost infinite. You also have an impressive degree of control over the placement and orientation of your parts. On-line, no two HOUNDs are the same. The only problem is the non-intuitive interface. After I made a few modifications to my HOUND, I tried to deploy, only to be told that I needed to “check my settings.” I checked them all right. It took a thumbing through the instruction booklet to figure out the problem — never a good sign.

The HOUNDs have their share of impressive weaponry, but they seem to sag under their own weight. Ponderous pointing and shooting is about as deep as it gets here. Although the capabilities and general feel of each HOUND are noticeably different, they don’t change the game as they ought to. Perhaps with more varied environments, and maybe aerial vehicles, the fighting would have the dynamism it needs to keep things exciting.

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