It’s a well-known fact that real-time strategy games aren’t the most successful titles when it comes to consoles – compared to their PC counterparts. The Xbox 360 has had its fair share of RTS titles, with none of them really excelling. This includes the likes of: Warhammer: Battle March, Universe at War and three Command and Conquer titles. The main problem is that the pointing and selection of units within the games are so much easier to control using keyboard and mouse, but when Halo Wars was unveiled in 2006 as an Xbox 360 exclusive, many started to relish new faith into the genre.
Being based on the popular first-person shooter and coming from the developer of Age of Empires, Halo Wars was always going to be a hit, though the conversion of an FPS to an RTS is an interesting and inquisitive choice. Rather than being a sequel to Halo 3, Halo Wars acts as a prologue to the series and is set in 2531, 20 years before Halo: Combat Evolved, therefore there is no sign of Spartan 117, also known as Master Chief.
The game’s campaign begins with protagonist Sergeant Forge rounding up fleeing survivors of the Covenant’s attack on the Alpha Base. Forge, along with his newly recruited team of survivors, storm the base and regain what is rightfully theirs. UNSC (United Nations Space Command) then learn the Covenant has discovered a Forerunner facility in the snow to which the aliens have started an excavation of. It’s Forge’s role to recruit and command a team of UNSC soldiers in order to defeat the Covenant, and prevent them from using the facility.
Throughout the campaign the game’s many cutscenes will see you aboard the Spirit of Fire, a UNSC ship commanded by Cutter – who assigns the various tasks and missions for Forge to complete. There are also appearances from Professor Anders, a young attractive female scientist (where haven’t we heard that before) who discovers that the Forerunner facility is a map leading to another star system. Initially, the storyline appears to be quite confusing and a little hard to follow, though once you’ve got over the preliminary wow factor of the cutscene’s graphics, it soon becomes clearer.
As I just stated, graphically, Halo Wars’ cutscenes ranks higher than any other Xbox 360 titles (and that is saying something). The modelling, graphics and textures have all been done – to what I can only describe as being perfection. Not one scene looks badly designed and I can’t recall ever thinking “that could have been done better”. This is true next-generation. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the in-game graphics.
The gameplay graphics aren’t necessarily bad; just they are nowhere near the standard of the cutscene graphics. There’s good use of textures and everything is easily identifiable, though I can recall a few moments where the picture was grainy and poor-looking; more specifically during mid-game cutscenes. The first one I came across appeared on Mission 04 – when one of the transport ships was destroyed. The production of that scene seemed very cheaply done and slightly rushed in comparison to the remainder of Halo Wars.
The game’s layout is very simple. The simplistic, easy-to-read and understand radar is located at the top right hand corner of the screen. As with the majority of real-time strategy titles, the radar will only display the areas in which you have units situated. Accompanying this radar are three figures which represent the number of units you currently have (and maximum you can hold), your base’s power outlet and the amount of supplies you currently own. Another good aspect of the layout is the easy-to-navigate menus which appear when selecting a unit or building. Moving the thumbstick in the direction of the intended option is straightforwardly done and has been done extremely well by Ensemble Studios to ensure that the navigation wasn’t a issue.
Another issue Ensemble Studios had to avoid was the controls, which (once again) have been implemented superbly. The main control is the ‘A’ button, which is used for the selection of units and buildings, whilst the ‘X’ button is the main command control. ‘Y’ is used as a secondary attack button and the remainder of the controls consist of shortcuts to various bases and units.
Aside from the campaign, Halo Wars offers three other game modes. These consist of Training, Skirmish and Xbox LIVE. Training is split into basic and advanced, both of which can prove vital if you are to succeed at Halo Wars. Both training missions give a good indication to how the controls work.
As with almost every real-time strategy title, a Skirmish game mode is offered. Players have the choice between 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2 and 3 vs. 3 on either Standard or Deathmatch. Both game types play very similar, some would say too similar. The main goal of both is to eliminate the enemy, though the main difference between the two is that Standard offers a low amount of supplies, whilst Deathmatch offers a high amount.
Depending on the amount of players and game type, Halo Wars offers a good variety of maps in which to compete on. These all have slight differences and variations on each other and they have all been produced to a very good standard. Over time, as with most titles, you’ll start to choose your favourites and your not-so-favourites.
Skirmish mode can be taken directly online, which plays almost identically to that of the single player, with very little lag and smooth gameplay. The biggest difference is the fact you have to wait in a party in order to be inserted into a game. Fortunately, the party system works very similarly to Halo 3’s, in which you and the remainder of your party can go into a ranked match together. The amount of players in each game type and game mode are on display so you can increase your chances of getting into a game quickly.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Halo series is the incredible soundtrack and Halo Wars is no exception. Stephen Rippy, who has previously formed the soundtrack for Ensemble’s Age of Empires series, has really gone to town with the high production of the incredible music and a pleasurable experience which I am pleased to hear coming from my speakers. As for the rest of the game’s audio, character voice acting and sound effects are all to a high standard.
In conclusion, Halo Wars is a great addition to the Halo series. Whilst it’s not perfect, the rendition to a real-time strategy was a gamble worth taking and will be enjoyed by RTS and Halo fans alike.