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The first Halo game for the original Xbox, revolutionised the console first person shooter by getting the controls absolutely spot on. With Halo Wars, Ensemble Studios hoped to do the same for the console Real Time Strategy game. Whilst they didn't quite produce the revolution I hoped for, they still provided a high octane, action packed adventure that appealed to my love of the Halo universe and my strategy roots.
Being an old school RTS fan myself, I welcomed the release of Halo Wars with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The combination of a great franchise and a respected developer gave much to be thrilled about, however, the almost constant failure to successfully bring the RTS genre to the console from numerous developers, some equally as experienced, was something of a concern.
Being a huge Halo fan, I found Halo Wars to be a great addition to the series. I welcomed another opportunity to delve into the history
Indeed, I found the game rather dumbed down in terms of tactics and controls. More often than not, I secured victory by quickly upgrading my simplified base and produced enough top tier units to just roll over the enemy. I found this approach was mirrored in the controls which allowed me to select all units on screen, all units I'd created or just use a rather inaccurate paintbrush to select smaller groups of units. I was pleased to see some consideration taken to micro-management with the triggers allowing me to scroll through selected units to unleash their secondary powers.
At first I felt these were real negatives but after more play I discovered that this approach improved the accessibility and playability of the game. It's exciting to get easy access to the more powerful units and I found the action-driven gameplay to be thrilling as opposed to being about resource farming, in-depth upgrades or detailed micro-management. It was fast, slick and fun.
I began my latest Halo inter-planetary adventure on Harvest, the first world to be attacked by the Covenant in the Halo universe, in a struggle to re-take the world and discover the Forerunner secrets hidden beneath it's surface. Of course, this is a Halo game and my expectations of a dramatic space opera story were rewarded and I quickly found myself gadding about the universe, fighting all my favourite Halo baddies.
Being a huge Halo fan, I found Halo Wars to be a great addition to the series. I welcomed another opportunity to delve into the history, continue to explore the extended universe and finally witness the satisfying multiple Spartan action I'd longed for since reading the first Halo novel. Sadly, the game didn't really deliver anything more ambitious that what I'd already witnessed in Halo 3. I felt they missed an opportunity to create some of the more grandiose battles I've imagined between human and Covenant forces.
I also found the plot a little dry. Rather than branching out into the extended universe fiction for inspiration, I found a rather insipid story about the Covenant trying to use Forerunner technology to destroy mankind. This wasn't helped by the inclusion of such clichéd characters that delivered trash like: "Put the girl down and we'll discuss this man to freak." Thankfully, the story is told through some of the most impressive and wonderfully imagined cut scenes I've seen. Frankly, I enjoyed watching each one as the indulgent love-ins for Halo that the artists and writers intended them to be. They climax in a gripping battle between three Spartans and a horde of Elite Honour Guard that I'll admit I've watched way too many times.
Sadly, the game didn't really deliver anything more ambitious that what I'd already witnessed in Halo 3.
Multiplayer options are available with standard skirmishes and thrilling death match modes which are supported with a nice matchmaking system. I was looking forward to enjoying some co-operative game play with friends but was disappointed to find that both players control the same base, units and resource and with no special co-op mode included, I feel it's a token addition.
The Halo fan in me found Halo Wars very enjoyable thanks to its accessible nature, setting and overall presentation, while my increasingly casual approach to gaming was rewarded with simple controls and fast paced action. Sadly, the part of me that still loves RTS titles like Command and Conquer or Dawn of War felt a little disappointed with the simplistic game play and basic strategies. My hopes of finding another Halo-based console revolution have been dashed but, overall, Halo Wars is a great addition to the Halo franchise and Xbox 360 software line up.
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