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Chromehounds

July 25th, 2006 · No Comments · Gaming, Reviews, Xbox

My recent leisure-time-suck, which has been absorbing all my would-be blogging moments, is Chromehounds for the Xbox 360.

The reviews from the major gaming sites are widely mixed, and I’m here to give you the real dope. Chromehounds is one of the best games for the Xbox 360 if:

  • you have Xbox Live,
  • you have several friends on Xbox Live,
  • those friends enjoy working as a team,
  • and you want a game that involves a little more thinking and planning, and less pure reflex.

Admittedly, this isn’t everyone. But if it isn’t you, you’ve already got lots of twitchy shooters that require no teamwork to play. But if it is you, like it is me, at last we have at least one game now.

What makes the game very compelling for a group of friends is that unlike any other game, this one is truly about playing as a team. Since everyone can customize their unit dramatically, each player can find a design that suits his or her style of play. But every design will involve compromises, so each unit will depend on the others in their squad to be effective. The actual combat is relatively simple, and the units themselves aren’t very fast, so the game doesn’t involve having cat-like reflexes. The key is in working closely with teammates to make sure you always have a better position and more firepower than any enemies you engage. Players who specialize can be very effective, but specialization involves vulnerability that can only be compensated for by having a teammate with a different specialization.

This is made all the more complicated by the lack of intel during battle. The Chromehounds designers made some key design decisions which makes information very scarce, and communication between players essential. Players who want a larger radar view of the battlefield must configure their unit with heavy, power hungry radar equipment, at a trade off of firepower and speed. So usually one team member makes that choice and then directs his teammates what to do and where to go. Those other units are limited to what they can see, or to a very limited “sonar” that can only detect movement at a close range (and it doesn’t discriminate between friendly and hostile units). Add this to the need to capture radio towers to enable a “network” of radar and radio communications, and you have some fairly deep, team gameplay which you can’t find in any other Live game.

Did I mention that these battles can take place in a persistent “war”, where you participate with one of three nations? You can fight against other human squads or against CPU opponents to gain ground against enemy nations. So far these wars tend to last about 2 days before one nation claims victory, but it’s a clever gimmick to make the matches feel more meaningful and get you to play “just one more game” before bed. Next thing you know, it is 2 am.

Chromehounds isn’t perfect. There’s a bit of interface clunkiness that can be a little confusing in navigating the menus, though this doesn’t effect actual gameplay. And there’s a few problems on Live which can make setting up some game types a little frustrating, though this should improve with time as some fixes are made. But all in all, for gaming groups looking for true tactical game play, this is the game to get.

Thanks to Chromehounds, I’ve learned the NATO phonetic alphabet so I can guide my team better. Who says video games aren’t good for anything?

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