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Straying away from the FPS genre I was amazed to find Halo Wars a triumph as a Real-time-strategy game. The accessible controls and generous interface meant that it became an unusual family game of the week, kicking off staples such as Little Big Planet or Banjo Kazooie. Despite a lack of depth likely to irritate hardcore RTS fans, this new foray for the Halo series is an entertaining experience for all.
Everything about Halo Wars is slightly deceptive. A cursory glance at the marketing gives the impression that this is another Halo 3-style shooter. Even the back of the box is so ambiguous that my other half assumed it would be one of ‘those' games that she'd be better off missing. But mixing the familiar Halo universe with some standard RTS tenets turned the traditional impression of Halo as a jock-centric shooter into a more thoughtful strategy game.
Taking place twenty years before the first Halo game it sets up the conflict between The Covenant and the UNSC with the minimum of fuss. It even introduces the Flood in a painless way (something the previous three games never learnt to do). With the controls pared down to the absolute minimum, generating units or buildings came quickly and easily, leaving me to concentrate purely on the tactics side of the game.
The problem came when I demonstrated this and was promptly ordered to start being a better Commander of my forces. Now my other half was now giving me orders about what troops or new base structures to produce. Dinnertime conversations now centred around the merits of spending resources on upgrading our vehicles or just producing more plain old grunts for the UNSC cause.
This all changed with the involvement of the family. All of a sudden each squad, Warthog, Hornet and Scorpion had an individual identity and woe betide any of these being destroyed in a battle or en-route to an objective.
As wonderful as this might sound I was soon acutely aware that failure came at a high price. When I play a game like this I tend to have very little consideration for my units. They are, after all, only virtual grunts on a chessboard and I have no problem in throwing men into battle with the same disregard as Lord Kitchener.
This all changed with the involvement of the family. All of a sudden each squad, Warthog, Hornet and Scorpion had an individual identity and woe betide any of these being destroyed in a battle or en-route to an objective. This attachment to the units actually helped me get a whole lot more out of Halo Wars than I expected. Whilst the family was having fun with this completely new genre, I was struggling to find much depth beyond the familiar visuals. Only with this obsessive connection to each unit did any real strategy come into play.
Although the controls didn't encourage anything complex, they were simple enough to split my forces up if needed. Soon we were making pincer movements, feigning attacks and counter-flanking during some great multiplayer sessions. One of the best modes I encountered was death match. Starting us off with a large amount of resources and a fully researched tech-tree, we could build up an impressive army within moments. This led to some ridiculous overblown battles that degenerated into a mass of explosions and plasma blasts. Not exactly a deep strategic experience but enormous fun nonetheless.
Despite my concerns at the lack of depth it remained a thoroughly entertaining romp through the Halo Universe. Seeing the recognisable troops and vehicles from the previous Halo games in this new light gave me a thrill I wasn't expecting. Although the storyline had its weak points it was dramatic enough to keep us playing through each scenario and served up some thrilling family gaming.
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