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Chromehounds

With these dogs, you'll be crying all the time

Towering titans reducing packed cities to rubble and fleeing citizens to shoemush, cars crunched underfoot, punched holes in skyscraper walls and thermonuclear weapons used in a manner specifically forbidden in the manufacturer's instructions. Our demands for a fun mech game are simple enough, so how/why does Chrome Hounds ignore every single one?

In fact, From Software's robo-sim does precisely the opposite: ponderous lumps galumph across vast open expanses of empty countryside, occasionally pausing to fire at the dot on the horizon. It's rural, it's ponderous, it's long range and it's brown. And whatever the generation, whatever the technology, however pin-sharp the superhigh resolution, brown equals dull.

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It's also slow. Horribly, vein-openingly slow. For each mech, regardless of bulk or tonnage, moves and turns like oil tankers on a glacier, pulled by a team of snails, across a bed of treacle. And this crippling lack of pace also applies to everything: loading times, reloading times, weapon selection and issuing orders. And in a move that can solely have been designed to maximise suffering, most of the 42 missions involve trudging back and forth across this small but sparse landscape attempting to follow vague and never-repeated orders. And all too soon the arbitrary or obscure objectives leave you wandering and wondering why the mission won't end. And with no way to check on your task bar without quitting, you're left pumping rounds into any remaining random buildings to see if that will finally stop the horror. Because until Ordnance Survey Extreme Rambler: Scafell Pike Edition is released, you won't play a game that demands this much pointless cross-country ambling. Of course, with the action being this numbingly plodding, the thrills must be cerebral, strategic or tactical? No, the combat is scattershot, chaotic and slightly cheap. Imagine Battlefield 2 but set in glue. 'Hounds robotically march towards you firing wildly, and you circle-strafe, slowly. Enemy tanks sit motionless on a spartan hillside and fail to react as your rockets reduce their friends to smouldering pile of rusting metallic bits.

LOST AND HOUND
Except there is no smouldering rubble, because after the reasonably impressive explosions the enemies simply evaporate out of existence when they die. No limbs are lopped off, there are no stumbling death throes, no parting shots, just a pause and those fade-masking fireworks. Mercifully, the shelled building and stomped trees do fall and leave some meagre remains behind, even if the way they go down could be called Didier Drogba-esque, if you like.

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If it sounds like we're picking on Chrome Hounds, we're not. If we really wanted to savage it we could be spilling over into the Lord Of The Rings review and still be going on about the woeful plot, the appalling script and the hackneyed and stereotyped voice acting way past the porny phoneline ads. We could also make more of the fact that if you take out the hours spent lost, vexed and perplexed you can see the credits in a day.

We're not angry, just hugely disappointed because there are some nice ideas buried in here. For example the six main types of mech and the extras you create all look and feel very distinct and very different. So the feeble Commander class with its toast-rack design and reliance on giving orders is a neat touch, as too is the Heavy Gunner, which forces you to lob artillery shells onto distant foes by eye and estimate only. All of which makes the fact that both are rendered nearly useless by the clunky controls and duff mission-design all the more buttock-clenchingly offensive.

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