June 16th, 2012 | By Dominic Tarason
Chrome Hounds was both one of the most pleasant surprises, and most crushing disappointments of this console generation. An advanced-beyond-it’s-time semi-MMO mech warfare sim with an incredibly flexible robot contstruction lab, and a persistent campaign that split players between three warring nations, with the goal being conquest of the continent every few weeks, followed by a server reset.
It was a great game when it worked, but it failed to sell. In part, due to terrible reviews; despite being an entirely online game, with singleplayer consisting entirely of a couple of tutorial missions, several big-name sites and magazines reviewed it purely on the basis of the offline content. On top of that, the game had balance and gameplay issues that weren’t easily addressed due to Microsoft patch certification policy, and SEGA’s (the publisher) unwillingness to bankroll further support. Did I also mention that it was by FromSoftware, the studio behind the Souls series?
Enter two-member indie outfit Bombdog Studios, and M.A.V. – Modular Assault Vehicle. They’re pretty open about what this game is: an indie PC version of Chrome Hounds. Anyone familiar with CH’s hexagonal-mount weaponry and mech assembly screens will spot the resemblance immediately. Currently in public Alpha form, anyone who wants to take a peek at the game can grab the latest demo build and give it a test-drive. Right now it’s a little bare-bones, but the core elements of the mech lab are in there, with a variety of core chassis types, including tracked and bipedal designs. There’s a singleplayer test-field where you can try out your designs.
There’s masses of potential here. It sounds like they’re shooting for a familiar blend of solo and multiplayer action, as in CH. It looks like most of the core features are already in place already, even if it’s nowhere near completion. Right now, the movement speed (at least on the biped model available right now) is a little fast compared to the heavyweight stomping of CH’s mechs, but the impressively nuanced gunnery, with each cluster of weapons having a mounted camera from which you aim, is fully intact. Unlike many mech combat games, Chrome Hounds was often about long-range engagements. The vehicles were more akin to walking/rolling battleships than anything, capable of shelling targets from miles away, giving it a more weighty, authentic feel than most. If they can recapture that magic, I’ll be a very happy geek indeed.
The game runs on Unity, which has proven itself a very powerful and flexible engine in recent months, and the current build has very low system requirements, so there’s not too many obstacles between you and just downloading/trying the Alpha demo. Development of the game currently seems very active, with the latest build being released just today. Even in this extremely early state (a mere 20 or so weeks into development), the game boasts an impressive 86 weapon types, many of them immediately familiar to Chrome Hounds veterans. There’s basic tracked and legged chassis types available, and random bots to scuffle with, so it should give you some idea of how the core gameplay is shaping up.
Of course, it goes without saying that Bombdog have a long road ahead of them. Reaching the heights of CH at its strongest is just the first step. While a great game when it worked, it had a fair few issues that eroded away at its online player-base. If M.A.V. can address those and bring balance to what was previously a quite abusable construction engine (improbable wobbling artillery mechs and cockpits hidden behind heavy plate armor were among the issues), then this game might just have legs. Big, stompy metal ones at that.