Halo Wars (Xbox 360)

The Master-Chief is back…. oh no wait, he isn’t because this is 20 years earlier, and in full on RTS stylee.
Can Ensemble Studios recapture the magic of the epic Halo series? Find out in my Square Go review.

Halo Wars

3/5
Halo Wars

We thought we’d seen all there was of Halo, the flagship xbox shooter trilogy that has kept Microsoft’s loyal fans glued to their tv screens for the last eight years. As it turns out we were wrong. Since the story of Spartan 117′s one-man mission against the Covenant and the universe destroying HALO device has now been rounded neatly off in Halo 3, the franchise has taken a step in a new direction. Real Time Strategy (RTS).

Set twenty years before the first Halo game, the player is thrown into the midst of the Human-Covenant war; a long space conflict between us Humans and the religious ugly-critter Covenant Empire.  Spinning out the story of heavy cruiser The Spirit of Fire and action-man hero Sgt. Forge as he tries to stop the bad aliens from finding generic  superweapon #52. Helped by a bevvy of troops, jeeps, lazers and other assorted things of BOOM.  Cue lots of fun with tanks and bases getting thrown up and blown up in seconds left right and centre, and even a few Master Chief’s to play with as well.

Making a game that suits the RTS crowd as well as trying to draw in old Halo fans who prefer shooters, was always going to be a a tough balance and Halo Wars has tried to give a player-friendly experience. It works pretty well for the most part, with a good selection of units, upgradable bases and a nice variety of missions but considering the recent bevvy of RTS releases of late, it feels a bit sparce (or even SPARTAN [Really?? -Ed]).

Since original team Bungie handed the Halo torch to old school pros Ensemble Studios; better known for the PC strategy series Age of Empires, and in going from a gung-ho shooter to a battleground game it was obvious things wouldn’t work the same. Lumping into the mix it being a 360 only release and the crossover to console-land has never been more apparent. While the controls are well thought out, it’s pretty simplistic stuff. Everything can be done with a button press or two at most, so no spider-hand feats of contortion are required.

While you can build fortresses you can’t choose where they go, and keeping track of your units in the heat of battle is made awkward by the lack of hot-keys. There is a nice trigger-menu system but in practice it’s too easy to select all your troops by mistake, and spoil a mission. In the end most situations can be completed by rushing all your troops en masse against your enemies. With only superweapons and the the fungal-virus based Flood needing a rethink of tactics.  Worst of all the game has a horrible habit of creating traffic jams, and you’ll spend ages sorting them out like a demented space-traffic cop.

There’s another weird side to the experience as the game’s storyline is told mainly in gorgeously rendered CGI cutscenes, all bleakly lit in washed out greys and blacks, making everything look gritty and dark, when suddenly it’ll cut to the same scene in the game engine and the garish colours, familiar to anyone who’se played Halo, are an assault on the eyes.  It’s like watching Aliens and having the marines attacked by tellytubbies. Not that it really effects the game but it’s an odd choice. As if, much like the rest of the game, it doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

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