Let’s start at the end. You know the final paragraph of the review, where I try to boil the whole thing down to three sentences and try to answer the question – “Is the game worth buying?” Only this time instead of an ending with an answer, let’s start with a question. How deep you are into the Halo mythos? Because Halo Wars is neck deep in it.
Set almost two decades before the events of the first Halo game, Halo Wars follows the crew of human warship Spirit of Fire as they race to stop the Covenant from uncovering a forerunner technology that could wipe out the humans quickly. The story is told through some of the most impressive pre-rendered cut scenes I have seen in a very long time and it’s an engaging tale full of the usual Halo twists and turns with some memorable characters. Presentation is top notch through and through and the game has a superb musical score and excellent voice acting to add to the top quality story telling. The single player campaign is spread over 15 chapters and will last you about 8 to 9 hours on normal difficulty.
[singlepic id=771 w=450 h=253 float=center]
“It’s an engaging tale full of the usual Halo twists and turns”
You can play the two tutorials provided to get a hang of the controls (more on them later) but Ensemble does a superb job of easing you into the gameplay in the single player campaign. The learning curve is fairly lenient and rightly so because the game is not only catering to a console audience, but most of that audience is made of people who love the fast-paced twitch shooter gameplay of Halo. That’s not to say the game is a total cakewalk, as there are a few missions that will require some careful planning so you can’t just spam units and hope for an easy win even on normal difficulty.
One slight annoyance is that the game doesn’t let you resume your progress once you save it and shut down the console, so if you quit the mission halfway through, you will be starting from scratch next time around. This can be fairly frustrating as most levels can last somewhere between 20-30 minutes. On a more positive note, something else that deserves a mention here is how diverse and enjoyable the missions are. You might be able to blaze through the game in 8 odd hours, but it’s a memorable ride and never feels repetitive. A variety of side objectives, skulls to find (which work in the same way as Halo 3) and difficulty settings that actually change the gameplay quite a bit add up to make the game enjoyable even on a second play through.
[singlepic id=766 w=450 h=253 float=center]
“It’s a memorable ride and never feels repetitive”
Besides the single player campaign the game also offer the basic RTS multiplayer battles. They can be played out on a number of maps (up to a maximum of 6 players in one game) against the AI or other humans over system link or Xbox LIVE. Unfortunately though, compared to the single player campaign, the multiplayer aspect of the game is rather timid and uninspired. And though it’s easy to find a game now on LIVE (gameplay works pretty smoothly as well, with almost no effects of lag), I can’t see this being a major LIVE game with a large following a few months down the line. Co-op, while being fairly smooth and well implemented, doesn’t exactly suit the gameplay here. If the communication between you and your co-op buddy is constant, you might have fun, but personally, I preferred playing the campaign solo.
Graphically, the game delivers. There is an amazing level of detail and the game looks gorgeous with minimal slowdown and no tearing. Halo veterans will love the little touches that seem so familiar even across the different genres. The explosions are right out of the Halo 3 scenery. So is a lot of the sound. Ensemble showed a lot of love to the original source and as a result, the game is full of those very typical Halo moments, the invulnerability you feel the first time you get your hands on a tank, the rush of running someone over with a Warthog, your first flood encounter, taking out a Scarab etc. The game even has a Halo universe timeline which coincides nicely with the three books. Either Ensemble were huge fans of the original trilogy or they had a lot of help from Bungie, because the game practically bleeds purple.
[singlepic id=772 w=450 h=253 float=center]
“Graphically, the game delivers”
Gameplay-wise some sacrifices had to be made to make it work on the console for a very non-RTS playing audience Ensemble stripped away almost everything that was non-essential or non-critical to a real-time strategy game. This is an RTS stripped right down to the bone. Gone are the complicated technology trees; they are replaced by the Reactor building which allows you to upgrade your units. Gone too is the freedom to build defenses or buildings where you see fit. Instead, now each map has certain pre-designated areas (often just one) where you build your base. Your essential buildings like barracks, vehicle and aircraft construction sites are all assimilated on to the base as well. The game’s currency (which dictates how many squads/vehicles you can produce) known as Supplies is mostly garnered by building a Supply pad on your base.
With everything else simplified to the point of non-existence, you are free to work on the game’s combat. The game lets you produce three types of units – infantry, vehicles and aircrafts. Each unit has a basic attack and a much more powerful alternate attack, which can be upgraded by the aforementioned reactors. For example, the basic Marine infantry can throw grenades as their alternate attack, Spartans can hijack any enemy vehicle as their alternate attack etc. Covenant gameplay (only available in the multiplayer aspect) works largely the same way barring a couple of minor points (mostly aesthetic in nature).
[singlepic id=773 w=450 h=253 float=center]
“Halo Wars is, in many ways, RTS simplified”
Controls too are simplified. This unfortunately ends up working against the game as much as it works for it. The games controls work flawlessly as long as you try to do what the game intends for you to do. About an hour in and you will be selecting squads, sending them into battle, asking them to use alternate attacks and calling down special strikes with no difficulty. Sadly, as soon as you try to do anything slightly more complicated you realise the limitations of the genre on a console. There is no way to make squads of specific units. You want to make a team of two infantry squads and a tank to defend a strategic point? You can’t. This is understandable because the controller (unlike a keyboard) only allows you a limited number of buttons but you cant help but think that Ensemble should have found some sort of workaround to this as it’s one of the core strategies of the genre.
All in all, Halo Wars is, in many ways, RTS simplified, but that’s not always a bad thing. In the end though, with all the positives and the negatives, we still come back to the initial question I asked, because the truth is that whilst Halo Wars is an enjoyable game standing by itself, how much you enjoy it will depend upon how much you love the series. For any Halo fanatic with even a passing interest in the RTS genre, this is a must buy. For RTS lovers on the 360 this is well worth the money. For everyone else, I suggest you try the demo first.
(+) Gorgeous graphics and cut scenes.
(+) Great sound, music and voice-overs
(+) Intuitive controls
(+) Diverse and extremely enjoyable single player
(+) Very accessible gameplay, even to RTS newcomers
(-) Bland multiplayer
(-) Single player campaign is short
(-) No mid mission save/resume
Halo Wars is in stores now on Xbox 360 for Rs 2,199
Join the discussion at the IndianVideoGamer Community forums