So, is Microsoft pillaging the Halo
universe? That is the question. Or is it. Surely the real question is: 'Is Halo Wars
any good as a real-time strategy (RTS) game?
Well, fortunately the answer to the first question is “No” because the answer to the second is “Yes, it's not bad at all”.
For many console gamers, the very idea of an RTS leaves them cold. Console gaming being, as it is, a pacey, racy thing full of quick reflexes and... well, not much thinking a lot of the time.
But pause for a second and consider that even something like Gears of War
(or even Halo 3
itself) is, underneath it all, simply a speeded-up RTS.
Yes, that is pretty weak. Forget that I said it.
So, Halo Wars
then. An RTS on a console, based on a venerable and much loved fictional universe (yes, it is fictional). I enjoyed it, in fact I enjoyed it more than I've previously enjoyed any of the Halo
This could be down to the fact that I also enjoy blitz-chess more than I enjoy Mouse Trap, and I enjoy watching cricket more than I enjoy watching basketball. With that in mind, I'm not totally hung up on what Master Chief is wearing; how evil the Covenant are at this time of day, or whether a Warthog can really go head-to-head with a Wraith. I carry little history.
I still enjoyed Halo Wars
. I even enjoyed the cut-scenes that powered the single-player's short, 15 episode (mission) game along. The simple reason for my enjoyment is that Ensemble Studios (rest its soul
) has produced an intelligent game that can be slipped into with or without an in-depth knowledge of what preceded it. It can, in fact, be slipped into without much previous knowledge of RTS games.
It is, in fact, a perfectly acceptable, good looking, interestingly constructed video game that stands alone.
Yes, it does work using the Xbox 360's controller. This is an achievement. Let's be honest, this is a controller made for running around the place, panning cameras and shooting things. It is not a controller made for selecting individual units of combatants to create intricate battle strategies that interweave complex tactics.
Okay, it can be fiddly to control your United Nations Space Command (UNSC) squads, let alone the individual, key figures who are required to carry out specific duties. Yes, it bloody can, and at the outset this lead to some frustrated cries of “Move you little bar-stewards, can't you see that I want you to attack over there, you go over there, you stay with me, and you guard that with your life! Of course you can't, you're bloody idiots!”
But that, at least, showed that I was getting involved in the gameplay. For me, getting involved in the gameplay is still pretty, damned well the entire point of any game. I can kick a storyline into touch most of the time in fact, and make my own one up: comes from playing chess. I can even do it in PES.
So, if you've not played an RTS, what's the story (oh, I went there) with Halo Wars
? Simple: you have to build bases, ensure that they have power supplied to them; get them supplied; breed and then train troops and vehicles; send them out to fight the bad guys of the Covenant. That is unless you're playing the multi-player, online version in which you can opt to play as the Covenant (baddies) if you and your (up to) five pals think that's a good thing.
The single-player mode is short and sweet and is all about getting you sorted and ready to go online. It's an elongated training run that enables you to make mistakes (allocate your resources to the wrong areas; send your lads as a lumpen mass into one area of the fray and see them wiped out; stay at home and get overrun, that kind of thing).
All this plays out a couple of scores of years before the Halo
series that's more widely known kicks off. And it takes place on the planet Harvest... and there is a story to follow, well you must follow it in fact.
Seasoned RTS players who are more into the intricacies of something like Empire: Total War
or even Ensemble Studios' own highly successful Age of Empires
series will probably look askance and down their noses at the simplicity of Halo Wars
. Seasoned console shooter fans will probably take one look at it and - bug-eyed at the complexity of having to actually control other characters - run wildly away, careening off walls and looking for places to duck, cover and shoot (or even shoot while moving, which I believe is possible in some games nowadays).
To an extent both sets of players would be missing out. As I'm sure Microsoft was aware, Halo Wars
provides a well-made 'in' to the world of the console for RTS fans, while at the same time providing something taxing enough to intrigue Halo
acolytes into adding the game to their collections.
The look, sound, feel, plotting, intelligent conversion of controller to medium, sensitive use of the universe to enable a new way of playing in it, and general attention to a job well done are all great credit to Ensemble.
SPOnG Score: 75%
All in all, Ensemble should be proud of itself for producing a game that should bring the somewhat more cranial action of the RTS to the world of the console. There's nothing stunning here but nothing whatsoever to moan about either. If you have a 360, love Halo, and aren't too reticent to try new things, it's worth the risk (pardon the pun).
Don't forget to read our multi-player hands-on right here.