Halo has become over the years a very important franchise title for the Xbox 360. If you think of Xbox, you think of Halo. Ever since it’s original debut on the original Xbox some seven years ago, Halo has only ever gone from strength to strength, creating a deep and captivating story for which gamers around the world have lapped up. But now for the first time, a new developer has had a crack at a game in the Halo universe. Ensemble Studios have taken Halo back to where it was originally meant to begin; as an RTS.
It’s quite a daunting challenge to try and replicate the feel and excitement of Halo as a RTS. Shooters don’t always translate well into strategy games (And vise versa), and with the absence of Master Chief, Ensemble Studios had quite a hurdle to overcome. And I give them credit because they have done extremely well. Halo Wars takes place some 20 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved and you begin on the human colony of Harvest, where for over six years; humanity has struggled to regain control from the alien scum known as the Covenant. You play the role of Captain James Cutter, commander of the Spirit of Fire, who’s at the frontline with your men ready for battle.
The game plays similar to most RTS games such as Command and Conquer and Age of Empires. One thing that is noticeable from the start is this game has been designed with a controller in mind, which makes playing the game much more enjoyable. Commands are very easy to execute and usually only require one or two button presses, with selecting units to building, a circular menu appears allowing you to simply choose what you want to do. And selecting units is just as easy. ‘A’ will select a unit and pressing ‘X’ over an enemy with send that unit to attack. Move the cursor with the left thumbstick (or rotate camera with the right,). It’s also worth mentioning that this game isn’t a hardcore RTS as say Civilization or Empire Earth. Halo is about action and this is what makes Halo Wars so incredibly easy to play. You want your units, and you want them now.
Building up your base is also similar to most strategy games out there, by building barracks, reactors, vehicle depot etc, your base can look and be pretty damn powerful. Halo Wars does however limit you to where you can build your base. You can build a new base after destroying a Covenant one, but you can’t set up camp anywhere you like. This may seem restrictive at first but again, it does make this game more accessible than other RTS’s. It’s a new way of playing a game like this, and for a console strategy title, I welcome the new format.
Having your base stuck in one spot doesn’t mean the strategy is out the window either. Halo Wars’ campaign has some very tricky and well thought out scenarios as well. Over the course of its 15 levels, you’ll be more than taken aback by the sheer force of some of these army’s. They’re not stupid either. The AI isn’t all guns blazing. They work as a team and will try to outnumber you whenever possible. They will try to flank you and they will do everything they can to succeed. Trust me, the Covenant want this as much as we do.
Halo Wars really is a pretty game, as everything in the game looks spot on in the Halo universe from the well presented menus to the design of each individual unit. The animations as well look polished although I would have loved to be able to zoom in closer as the war rages on. The scenery as well is top notch, with flowing rivers to dense forests; Halo Wars doesn’t let up on the graphics front. The CGI cutscenes are also incredibly well done and makes you really have a sense of attachment to the game and its outcome. Halo fans won’t be disappointed with the detail and overall polish in these scenes.
The music and sound effects in this game are also great with similar cues from the previous games. The units each sound like the devastating forces that they are and you won’t be disappointed with the beautifully created sounds of gunfire, grunts and explosions. The music gives a good sense of what is happening and you’ll be on the edge of your seat, and it’s nice to have music that’s just as iconic as the game itself with Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori both lending a hand in the creation process.
The multiplayer side of Halo Wars is just as deep as you would imagine giving you three choices in either Human or Covenant. Both are well balanced and it does take some serious skill to really utilize most of the resources around you. It doesn’t expand on anything that hasn’t been done before, but hey, it’s a formula that works and has worked for quite a long time. You have 1v1, 2v2 or 3v3 options with AI teams available for selection. A region filter would have been a nice bonus and is becoming the norm for online games but really doesn’t affect the overall experience of online multiplayer.
Halo Wars is a fitting inclusion into the Halo Universe and Ensemble Studios, with which this is their last game, have done an excellent job in creating a fantastic RTS. While it may not be a hardcore RTS, it has never tried to be. They’ve captured the feel of the franchise that Bungie have poured blood, sweat and tears into and it shows. With DLC on the way, one thing is for sure, the fight will continue for a long time.
AAG Score: 8.5/10
1. Well thought out campaign
2. Balanced Teams
3. Looks and Feels like a Halo Game
4. Terrific Online Multiplayer
1. Perhaps A Little Short
2. No Covenant Missions, Or Flood!
Reviewed & Written By Luke Slater