Halo has been safely nesting in the loving hands of Bungie for more than seven years. And it's excelled as a first-person shooter, proving finally that you can make a great shooter on a console.
In Halo Wars, gamers return to the beloved Xbox franchise to explore its early days in a real-time strategy title by Ensemble Studios. The game promises the chance to control not one Master Chief, but an army of marines, Spartans, Warthogs and Scorpions.
Can Halo Wars ride on the success of its lineage and, with the help of some of the best real-time strategy developers in the business, do for strategy what the original title did for shooters?
Essence of Halo: The biggest selling point for this strategy game is its setting, characters and story. Set in the Halo universe, Halo Wars delivers across the board on everything a Halo fan could want, from a tightly paced plot, to memorable characters, to the rush of commanding a squad of Spartans
Cut Scenes: One of the best parts of this game are the cut scenes. Delivered in amazing detail with highly polished graphics, there's enough there to keep you captivated throughout the single player campaign.
Graphics: The cut scenes are spectacular, but the gameplay graphics are just as adept at delivering an eye-catching experience. Units from the UNSC, Covenant and Flood are all meticulously detailed and the backdrops vary just enough to keep things interesting.
Eclectic Missions: Instead of having gamers run through a familiar gauntlet of control points and forward bases, Halo Wars relies heavily on the story to create an interesting selection of missions on multiple settings, from ship hulls, to infested planets. You even have to solve a puzzle in one.
Strategic Strategy: The smartest thing that Ensemble Studios did in making Halo Wars was realizing the limitations of playing a strategy game on a console. You don't have a keyboard of hot keys, or a mouse to zip around the map with. So the game limits the size of maps, units and pushes things to the point of being hard to manage, but not frustrating.
Simplistic: While creating a strategy game too complex for console controls would have killed Halo Wars, making it a tad too simple means hardcore strategy fans will at best find this game a brief amusement. Gamers new to the genre might find it a good introduction to strategy.
No Hot Keys: While Ensemble Studios couldn't include keyboard controls in the game, it would have been nice for them to come up with a better system for group selecting and saving to buttons. As it stands, you can only really jump between types of units or local and all units. Something that severely hampers the experience.
Camera Issues: The camera works relatively well, though I noticed that it got hung up on scenery around the border of maps at times. My biggest complaint, though, is that the zoom doesn't zoom enough. There were plenty of times when I wanted to really zoom in and watch a Spartan beat down a bad guy and steal his vehicle, but the zoom doesn't offer that level of detail.
Not Many Units: There really aren't many units to pick from in the game. In the single player this isn't that evident, but once you start slugging it out with real people online you start to realize that there's not much to choose from in this game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Limited Multiplayer: Real-time strategy games, like first-person shooters, live and die in multiplayer gaming. After you get through the game's 14 single-player levels, that's the only reason you'll still play it. But there's just not much there. No multiplayer Flood. No massive battles. Not much of a map selection.
I enjoyed my time with Halo Wars, it was just too short for a game that I can't see myself playing much online. Perhaps gamers would have been better served if this iteration of Halo Wars included more campaigns, played from the perspective of the Covenant and Flood, and less multiplayer.
It's odd, being a long-time fan of both strategy games and Ensemble Studios, to love the single-player experience of a game they made, but feel so flat about the multiplayer sessions. Halo Wars is a fun ride, an action strategy game that delivers on everything but, perhaps, where it needs to deliver most to succeed: multiplayer gaming.
Halo Wars was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360. It will be released on March 3, for $60. Played single player campaign to completion, played multiple battles on Xbox Live against other players.
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