Halo Wars

 

On the Halo Wars FAQ site, one of the top questions is why Halo is being made into a real-time strategy game. The simple answer is “Warthogs are cool. Scorpions are cool. Controlling lots of Warthogs and Scorpions and sending them into battle is really, really cool.”

And yes, Halo Wars is cool. It manages to deliver the challenges expected by serious RTS players and the style that made the series a first-person-shooter staple. But the balance isn’t perfect, and the use of console controls instead of a more precise mouse and keyboard creates a serious roadblock for micromanagement. The result is a visually stunning game that’s bound to appeal more to players looking for casual matches than the complexity offered by PC games like Starcraft and Supreme Commander.

Set 20 years before the action of the first Halo, the Halo Wars campaign follows the United Nations Space Command ship Spirit Of Fire as its crew battles the alien forces of the technologically advanced Covenant and the parasitic Flood. Controlling heroes with unique skills and a variety of infantry, vehicles, and air units, players test their skills while surviving continuous threats, cracking bases, and going on timed evacuation missions.

The controls make it simple to send all your troops out to explore or engage the enemy, but splitting them into guard and attack forces is tricky. Supplies are dropped in from space, limiting your production to speed of delivery rather than control of nearby nodes. Instead, you’ll fight for control of the limited locations where bases can be built. Within a base, buildings can only be constructed in select areas, which might annoy fans of intricate defensive design, but makes playing easier.

One major disappointment is a lack of distinction between Covenant and UNSC forces in multiplayer mode. (You can’t play as Flood.) Call a Warthog a Ghost, but if it costs the same and does the same thing, it’s still a Warthog. Tech trees offer plenty of options for customized strategies, but for the early game, the aliens play a lot like the marines, only purple.

Beyond the game: Ensemble Studios also developed the Age Of Empires RTS series.

Worth playing for: The beautiful graphics for each unit, with unique animations for basic and specialized attacks, upgrades, and explosive deaths.

Frustration sets in when: Your repair units go running off into the fray and you have to individually select each one and put them back to work.

Final judgment: A leap in the right direction for console RTS games. 

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