When war happens in Chromehounds, it doesn't come through statistics. When I hear my squad commander report that the terrorist we've been hunting has been killed, I know it's because, while standing atop a barren brown ridge, I planted my four huge metal feet squarely on the ground, turned my cockpit with a whirr until I faced the oil refinery that was sprawling on the sand several miles away, tilted my mortar launchers into the air, and launched bomb after bomb in hideous black arcs until the entire building erupted into a ball of crimson flame, and the terrorist and his bodyguards tottered out, burning and sparking to a mechanical death.
The biggest difference between Chromehounds and 21st-century politics (aside from the fact that nobody is really killed in the videogame) is that I'm aiming a giant mechanical robot instead of a rifle. The "hounds " are massive artillery-bearing machines that lumber across the game's large, monochromatic battlefields like tanks with legs. No air support crosses the sky. This war is fought on the ground amid oil wells, water purification plants and countries growing hostile toward each other due to the meddling of the "U.S. " I fight as a mercenary for all three sides in the game's offline single-player campaign, and with each victory, I'm rewarded with new parts for my hound. But the game also presents me with people whose homes are being destroyed and whose dialogue reflects the fact that they fight for ideals.
Chromehounds also features an online multiplayer version of the same war. Certainly there will be real-world devotees who are willing to treat their virtual nations seriously. But most players will arrive unwashed from the Internet, interested only in their own gains. As Machiavelli observed, a fighting force made of mercenaries from foreign soil isn't likely to fight loyally or with much devotion. In this case, it becomes a group of people linked not by ideology or land, but simply by broadband. And when allies begin to break into factions, exploiting the game's bugs and playing only for the spoils of victory, within and without the Xbox 360, Chromehounds will fall apart.
THE GOOD: The story behind Chromehounds gives a multifaceted perspective of war that touches upon contemporary politics, and the game's writing keeps the sentiments human, even when the screen shows nothing but big robots talking to each other.
THE BAD: The problems in Chromehounds are emblematic of the worst qualities of this early generation of Xbox 360 games: intricate-yet-repetitive combat, unimaginatively designed landscapes that stretch into infinity, primitive graphics mixed with refined visuals, and an over-reliance on online play.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A weekend binge-worthy sampler of mechanical combat that lacks the politics necessary to sustain an ongoing online war.