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Halo Wars Review
developer: Ensemble studios
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Mar 03, 09 (released)
|» All About Halo Wars on ActionTrip|
Ensemble Studios, up till now solely associated with the Age of Empires RTS series, took their first step into the Halo universe. Microsoft made a decision to shut down the prominent development studio right after the launch of Halo Wars, the 360-exclusive real-time strategy. Few developers mastered the challenges of making a decent console strategy game. For their latest game Ensemble ensured console gamers won't have any difficulties when it comes to controls, GUI elements, etc. So, before you get all steamed up about having to fiddle around with potentially cumbersome RTS controls on a console, you should know that Halo Wars works smoothly on that front.
While the excessively milked Halo franchise is as over-hyped as they come, it still has great potential as a game setting. Ensemble and MS thought hurling players into a prequel RTS might make a nice change of scenery. For the purposes of story presentation, this was a good move. Introducing players to new characters and events that occurred 20 years before the first Halo is unquestionably a key element for fans. Halo Wars lets you control UNSC forces aboard the Spirit of Fire - a ship tasked with investigating suspicious Covenant activities. Mind you, most battles are fought on land though. At any rate, the storyline offers plenty of memorable moments for Halo devotees, mostly thanks to well-directed CGI cut-scenes.
Thanks to the folks at Ensemble, you should find the single-player campaign enjoyable all the way. Our only gripe was the omission of a Covenant story mode, which would've made a terrific addition to the game. Still, the variety of missions is quite satisfactory, so chances are you won't get bored. Diverse tasks are placed before you and usually very challenging ones. The challenge increases of course depending on the difficulty (Normal, Heroic, Legendary...). Speaking of challenges, AI-controlled Covenant put up a decent fight and often make an effort to send an assortment of tough land and air units. Friendly units also respond properly to enemy activity and won't run off blindly to their doom unless you order them to. In fact, on the technical side of things we don't see anything wrong with this game. Even the path-finding was satisfactory, which is more than we can say about most strategy games nowadays.
Getting back to the crucial thing -- i.e. the controls -- you'll find that managing units and giving orders is simple and intuitive. Jumping to structure or unit is extremely easy. You shouldn't have any trouble defending buildings and, say, fighting a battle with your troops on the far side of the world map.
More than anything else, this game should be praised for awesome overall design qualities, specifically for the work that went into making the maps, character and unit models, all of which correspond to the Bungie's well-known Halo setting. Also, there's a decent choice of units to control, making way for different approaches to each battle. SPARTANs can, for instance, seize Covenant vehicles and use them against enemies. We enjoyed dealing with diverse battle situations. In one mission players must conquer and defend 4 bases simultaneously, which is no easy task. Then again, during another scenario, you're ordered to clear the hull of the UNSC ship, which was infested by "The Flood" (the merciless alien species from previous Halo games). The cool part is that the main campaign is also available in co-op. This makes each mission even more exciting.
Our biggest problem with Halo Wars was that lack of truly distinguishing features that would make it stand out in what has always been a competitive genre. It's mostly just the traditional RTS routine seen in too many titles before. We've expected a bit more from the makers of Age of Empires. It's also somewhat short as a single-player experience. In the end, I'm afraid some restrictions might annoy veteran PC gamers, such as the inability to assemble and order different unit groups - yep, I missed the keyboard on more than one occasion, especially when I wanted to assign hotkeys.
As I've mentioned before, the single-player doesn't allow you to control the Covenant, but you can do so in the multiplayer/skirmish modes. The game feels very different at that point and it certainly makes online battles interesting. The Covenant possess some kick-ass units, like the devastating Scarab (remember those colossal things from Halo 3?.
With all the effort Ensemble invested into Halo Wars, the game still doesn't quite boast the kind of tactical depth and control smoothness we've all come to appreciate in PC real-time strategies. On the other hand, a lot of gamers won't be along for the ride just because they want to see a group of tiny Master Chiefs charge across the battlefield. Halo Wars is bound to ward off those looking for a new-fangled and exciting RTS experience.
All the same, what you are going to find here is a solid and polished console strategy. Halo fans shouldn't pass up the opportunity to charge the battlefield with groups of valiant SPARTAN warriors, as they blast the ruthless Covenant into oblivion. Ringing true to earlier Halo games, the talented game designers introduced delicately animated units, familiar sound effects (Covenant laser fire, the sound of the shield on the SPARTAN's MJOLNIR armor as it recharges) and a great music.
8.0 Very Good
Well-designed console RTS, smooth controls, a must-have for Halo fans, fine voice acting, cool soundtrack, diverse and challenging tasks, AI;
Still doesn't come close to PC strategies, lack of Covenant campaign mode, relatively short single-player, hardcore RTS gamers won't find any innovation here.
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