Taking the Halo series in a completely new direction, Halo Wars jumps into the mix with a new way to play. Instead of being a first-person shooter like the other Halo games, Halo Wars takes a different look at the saga as a real time strategy game. This game takes place before the escapades of Master Chief, so players will get a peek at what the Halo world was like when Spartan soldiers like Master Chief were more commonplace. If you’re a fan of the Halo series, but don’t have much experience with the RTS genre, Halo Wars is accessible enough to make a novice RTS player’s experience enjoyable. If you’re looking for a challenging RTS that will test your wits against impossible odds, you might want to look elsewhere.
Halo Wars gives players a look at a time about 20 years prior to Master Chief and his adventures. You follow the story of Captain James Cutter, Sergeant John Forge and Professor Ellen Anders. When you start out the objective is to retake your main base on the planet Harvest from the Covenant forces and eventually you chase them to other planets to protect civilians they are trying to kill and to stop them from unleashing all hell upon humanity. Along the way you run into mentions of the Forerunners, an ancient and mysterious civilization, and the Flood. Yes, the Flood is in this game, but they are considerably less annoying than they are in previous Halo titles.
What really keeps the story going are the cut scenes. Between missions you are treated to cinematic cut scenes that look great and keep the story from feeling like one static mission attached to another. The high points of these are watching the Spartans that are in your squad fight. Although they can do acrobatics and other moves that other soldiers can only dream of, it had me wondering why I couldn’t do those awesome moves in the other Halo games. Other than that, these cut scenes really make the story line stand out rather than just putting it on the backburner with text in between missions like many other RTS games.
Other than the cut-scenes, the graphics look like your standard fare for an RTS game. You’re looking at the world from a top-down view and since everything is so small you can’t really see any huge attention to detail. What I like the most about the look of the game are the animations. The United Nations Space Command’s (UNSC’s) buildings are “constructed” by a hatch opening and the building rising up from that hatch, while the Covenant forces pray and use otherworldly means to construct their buildings. The most entertaining thing to watch are the Spartans taking over enemy vehicles. It is very similar to the other Halo games in that they jump on the vehicle, punch the crap out of it to get the enemies out and jump inside. Overall the graphics hold up well and it is always entertaining to see a huge battalion of tanks steamroll over an enemy base.
The audio in Halo Wars sounds familiar to the other games. You will definitely recognize some of the score from the previous games, but everything sounds good and fits the game well. The voice acting is also very solid. During the cut scenes the characters sound believable and the voice work enhances the story. During actual missions characters will say different things depending on what you are attacking or what weapon you are using. For example, if you tell your infantry units to unload their grenades they will shout “Grenades!” or something along those lines. Aside from those, the rest of the voice work for actual missions is par for the course. These include generic sayings like “Yes sir,” “Leave it to me,” “I’m on it,” or any of those standard acknowledgments.
The first thing most people question when they think about console RTS games are the controls. The PC has long been home to the RTS genre since the mouse and keyboard make controlling multiple units easy. Consoles have only recently adapted to functional RTS controls and thankfully Halo Wars is a step in the right direction. After viewing the tutorials and playing the first couple stages in the campaign, the controls become fluid and easy to navigate. At times it may be cumbersome when you only want to select a few units at a time, but other than that the controls are rarely a hindrance.
As far as actual game play goes, Halo Wars is a standard RTS with a Halo skin over it. You have one main base and you can create buildings around it that supply resources, troops, vehicles and research. You also have to have a power supply to build some buildings or units, so there is a building delegated to that as well. As far as defense goes, both the UNSC and the Covenant have turrets and while the UNSC has stronger ground troops, the Covenant have shield generators that can protect their bases for a longer period of time.
Most of the missions boil down to the same strategy. Build up your main base and army, take over outposts and make them secondary bases, and wipe out the opposing force. There are a few missions where the objective is to either get a certain vehicle somewhere on the map, or to rescue fellow soldiers, but the strategy is always the same. I would say it gets repetitive after a while, but the campaign was too short to have it wear on me.
Veteran RTS players might be a little disappointed with Halo Wars. The first thing they will notice is the game is not that difficult. This is great for newcomers to the genre, or for people who like Halo, but haven’t played many strategy games. Experienced RTS players will want to look elsewhere for a challenge. Also, there are only two “civilizations” to choose from when it comes to multiplayer. In a lot of RTS games there are many different civilizations to play as and each one has their own unique style. In Halo Wars you can only choose between the UNSC and the Covenant. Each one has three different officers you can play as, but all they really come down to is those officers having different abilities on the battle field. Since there are only two play styles to choose from, it is doubtful that the multiplayer will be as popular as other RTS games.
In the end, Halo Wars seems like an experiment to put a popular game franchise into a new genre. There are some aspects that are good, and some that could be changed for the better. Even though the story is about another gruff space marine fighting aliens, it still has its high points. It is especially interesting to see what the Halo universe was like before Master Chief’s debut. The cut scenes also look great and add to the story. However, the campaign is rather short and the multiplayer will not add much depth to the game since you can only choose from the UNSC or the Covenant forces. Halo Wars is worth playing, but you can probably finish it in a weekend and once you do there really isn’t a reason to come back to it.
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Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by: Ensemble Studios/Robot Entertainment
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Platforms: Xbox 360
Release Date: February 26, 2009
Genre: Real Time Strategy