Halo Wars

BY Matthew Theroux  //  March 17, 2009

Console-friendly RTS with Halo's look and feel.


alo Wars is the swan song for Ensemble Studios. Even though this is their last game, they've stayed true to the excellent titles that they've produced in the past — and Halo Wars proves to be no exception.

Taking place twenty years prior to the first Halo game, Halo Wars follows the crew of the Spirit of Fire as they investigate Covenant activity on the recently retaken colony planet, Harvest. As the story progresses it's discovered that the Covenant are after Forerunner technology that will help them get the upper hand in this human-alien war — and only you can prevent that from happening.

Done remarkably well
for RTS on a console.
The game feels very much like a Halo game; this is done in most part through the audio experience. Effects sound as though they were taken right out of the past games, and the music has the same feel as something composed by Martin O'Donnell. Graphics for the game are also exceptional. Units that made an appearance in the Halo games are accurately represented here and the new units that have been added look and feel like they belong to the Halo universe. Cutscenes are among the best that I've ever seen in a game; they look absolutely stunning. They work fairly well in setting up the mood for each mission ahead. Maps also have a lot of variety to them, so you have a lot more to marvel at than just your troops.

For an RTS on a console, things are done and mapped out remarkably well. Decisions are made via a circle menu allowing for quick building choices to be made. Every thing else on the controller makes sense and, most importantly, feels natural to use. Despite the natural controls I only have two small gripes about them. First, there are no options to assign units into separate groups, making two-pronged attacks or flanking maneuvers more difficulty to perform than they need to be. My second issue is that the game won't let me zoom into the action as much as I would like. It's a shame that camera controls hinder the player in being able to take all that detail in.

Halo Wars looks to have been developed to give players who are not as familiar to the RTS genre have an easier go at things. As such there are certain limitations on the things that you can do. For one, each race has a restrictive cap on unit production, so players won't be able to make as large of an army as they may want, though they'll still be able to produce a very destructive force. Secondly, many of the aspects that are seen in other RTS games, when it comes to base development, are removed. Bases are based upon a set template; you can do whatever you want to your bases but you're stuck within that template and in that location. Essentially what this means is that you can't build a base wherever you want, narrowing some of the tactical options for veteran RTS players. However, the benefit to this design choice is that resource gathering is more automated — you simply need to build supply structures to collect resources. People who don't like the harvesting aspect of other RTS games are sure to enjoy this simplification.

The single player campaign has a good deal of mission variety to it. You'll encounter escort missions, destroy objectives, as well as the standard destroy-the-enemy-base mission and a few others. Difficulty progression is fairly gradual so newcomers to the genre won't be running into anything too difficult.

Cutscenes are stunning.
An interesting addition to this game is co-op gameplay over Xbox Live. Control over units is split between the two people but control over one person's units can be give to the other player; this allows for one person to deal with all the base-keeping and unit development while the other worries about the fighting. Or if that's not your style of play, it still allows you to be in control of two different areas at the same time.

Multiplayer offers the standard skirmishes gametype as well as a deathmatch mode. In deathmatch scoring is based on the number of units that you destroy, as well the production cap is limited based upon how many bases that you control, making base capture a more vital aspect to gameplay.

The only real major downside to the game is that the campaign focuses solely upon the UNSC forces. What this ends up doing is making the Covenant feel much weaker than they really should be, just because the player is not given ample time to experiment with their development through the faction's own campaign mode. That aside, Halo Wars is still an excellent game, on that both Halo fans and RTS fans can find a great deal of enjoyment in.

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