A lot of great people have suffered for their art: Van Gogh lopped off his ear, Salman Rushdie had a bounty put on his head for writing the Satanic Verses, and I played Chromehounds for a week. This may be a tiny bit of exaggeration on my part, although I did once slip with a razor and nick off part of my ear, but I wonder how long those two guys would have been happy to spend aimlessly wandering an apparently barren and deserted battlefield, in a vehicle boasting all the pace of a limping tortoise.
The sad part is Chromehounds starts so well. A breathtaking intro movie, once the star of E3 a couple of years back, shows giant robots crashing through a city in an epic, explosive battle that sends a tingle down the viewer's spine. "This is going to be incredible," they tell themselves before signing up for the kind of war previously only depicted in those awesome Manga flicks.
Hands trembling with barely contained excitement, they click on the Story Mode option and watch another tantalising movie that sets the scene for the action. Despite a disclaimer to the contrary ("This game bears no resemblance to real events..."), the game essentially depicts an alternate future where the Cold War ended much, much worse. Twenty years later and the world is caught in the grip of a never-ending Eurasian conflict where only the side with the biggest robots will emerge victorious. You join the battle as a mercenary ready to fight for the highest bidder in your Mech (sorry, Hound) and make a wad of cash in the process. Trust me, by now you will be at fever pitch - "I want to blow things up and bring peace to this troubled, fictional world. Just let me at 'em!"
Then the training begins and your enthusiasm for a great evening's entertainment couldn't be more swiftly quelled if your telly got stuck on a BBC4 documentary about Polish architecture. (Writer's note: Analogy based on a true, painful story - I was forced to read a book). A series of story arcs are laid out for you to choose from, each based on a particular class of Mech (sorry, Hound) - Soldier, Scout, Sniper, Heavy Gunner and, for the real warmongers amongst you, Commander, and there are a handful of missions to complete for each.
These sorties mainly serve to train you up for the real battles online, with a gradually increasing number of bad guys to blow away and more objectives to complete, but there was really no reason to make them so turgid and unrewarding. The initial missions are especially painful, with an excruciatingly slow talker of a Commander telling you to "move... to... point... E5... on... the... map." It feels like being taught Chess but without the sense you're learning something useful and intelligent. The in between mission updates hardly stir the blood either, thanks to a narrator who sounds like his previous work was recording guided meditations and the dreary animations of flags moving around a featureless map.
To be fair, the later levels are little more dramatic - with more Mechs (sorry, Hounds) and smaller enemies (soldiers, tanks) to fend off - but, even then, the vague instructions from your Commander often leave you wandering the huge battlefields, wondering where the action is. When it does occasionally work, though, like when attackers are coming relentlessly from all sides, Chromehounds is fleetingly a real blast and you can almost smell the leaking gasoline of potential for a truly great game.