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Halo Wars (Xbox 360)

Halo Wars (Xbox 360)


Halo has been synonymous with developer Bungie for many years and surprisingly, Halo Wars is for the first time ever, the brain child of developer Ensemble Studios. It is a real time strategy game set in the world made famous by the charismatic green clad Master Chief.

Halo has been a success due to the fast paced action, effective graphics and a strong and addictive multiplayer facet, all in the confines of an interesting and exciting futuristic storyline. Rather than dramatically change our perception of the Halo universe Ensemble have tried to maintain as close to the winning Bungie formula as possible with Halo Wars. All the missions are very focused and the action is forward moving at a pace which will appeal to gamers who get bored easily. There aren’t a plethora of complex technology trees and you aren’t bogged down in resource gathering either. In many ways Halo wars actually might appeal to a wider audience than say Supreme Commander or Age Of Empires did.

When compared to classic strategy titles Halo Wars offers less control over base positioning and how you build your armies and even the way in which you can achieve your objectives … however in doing so the game offers a rather fresh take on an RTS game which might appeal to many people alienated by a plethora of confusing interface buttons.

In the console world many strategy games are shoddy ports of PC titles which translate badly due to poor design and interface implementation. Actions that often have been designed to be utilitised with a keyboard are butchered into a controller based mechanic and end up causing more frustration than enjoyment. Ensemble thankfully have approached Halo Wars from an entirely different angle and we end up with something surprisingly intuitive and fun to play.

Almost all your actions in Halo Wars can be achieved with two single button presses and the production choices are made from a radial mechanic which never has more than 8 options at a time. When you are on the battlefield for instance you merely tap the A button on a unit to select then you move the cursor to the position you desire with the left analog stick and press the X button for it to move. It really is as simple as that. If the location is unoccupied the unit will head in that direction and if there is an enemy in the position then it will attack as desired. Most of the units also have a special attack which is achieved by pressing the Y button. The famous Warthogs for instance run over enemy units dismembering them which is handy when overwhelmed with a mass of enemy soldiers. When you use a special attack in battle there is a recharge time so they need to be used wisely for maximum effect.


Vehicles and soldiers are still queued and built by the player so there is control over that aspect of unit creation. All of Halo Wars campaign missions are played from the United Nations Space Command viewpoint (no Covenant campaign which is a disappointment), and most of these missions start out with a single base of operations and a position to build it. These bases are supplied with three building sites and can be upgraded to accommodate up to four additional sites. In some of the campaign levels and most multiplayer maps you have the opportunity to control other bases but you can only build in specific areas.

Although base building is fixed to specific locations there is still a certain amount of strategy involved during the process. Every supply pad you build as the UNSC and every warehouse you build as the Covenant in multiplayer games provide the player with a good source of income that you can use to increase army numbers and well as strengthening your base and acquiring super weapons.

Ensemble have spent considerable time fine tuning the graphics and this is evident with the brilliant modeling and particle effects implementation. All the UNSC and Covenant units are painstakingly recreated with emphasis on the attention to detail. Not only that, but the CGI cutscenes are absolutely top drawer and they add a huge amount of impact to the immersion factor. Long time followers of Bungie’s epic series will be overjoyed with the care and passion that Ensemble have placed into even the smallest of details. There are cutscenes for each of the 15 missions and they are a great pat on the back for completing each level. The only possibly negative aspect would be the storyline, which is slightly lacking when compared to previous outings … although in the context of an RTS title it is more than adequate.

The main characters are Prof. Allen Anders and Sgt. John Forge and to be honest I found their characterizations a little less enjoyable than Master Chief and his band of misfits. Allen Anders is the stereotypical science egg head and John Forge is the run of the mill gun totting hard case who isn’t happy about babysitting a woman. Personally I found the Artificial Intelligence system “Serina” the most appealing as her subtle loathing for the humans is how I would expect a super intelligent self aware computer system to act. Kill them all I say !

The story is still epic by nature and it is perfectly tied into the whole Halo legend and even looking at the interface and dialogue boxes you are already assured of the game you are playing. Easy, Normal, Heroic and Legendary difficulties are all in place and the crossed swords icon represents them perfectly. Skulls are also scattered throughout the levels which you collect by achieving special objectives set out in the campaigns. You can turn them on just like in Halo 3 to get effects like Grunt Birthday Party which adds a shower of confetti when you take out a Covenant Grunt unit.

The multiplayer side of the game is well covered as Ensemble have left no stone unturned. Halo Wars features an online matchmaking system which is similar to the one Bungie created for Halo 3. You hop into multiplayer via the menu system and the game will find you a party and match you up with competitors via TrueSkill. There is plenty of information with a Halo 3 style ranking system and the great system of party matchups. Everything seems to work smoothly with minimal lag from my testing so I am hoping that is a good sign of the server systems in place across the globe.

Halo Wars has two playable factions, the Covenant and The UNSC and each side has three leaders to choose from, each of these leaders has access to different units, perks and bonuses. These leaders also make a huge difference on the battlefield and quite often depending on the one you are using it changes the style of gameplay tactic. It is a shame however that the Flood don’t make an appearance as a playable faction – however they are in the campaign. I am not sure anyone would want to play as such a hideous race however so perhaps the decision was wise.

Matchmaking therefore is fully covered, however there are custom online matches and skirmishes locally against AI players and you can even play through the campaign cooperatively with a friend which is a great touch. Cooperative play is the meat and bones of the game however because you can play 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 and there are 14 maps to suit each style of play.

Halo Wars might not suit the hard core strategist who wishes to micro manage every aspect of their gameplay, however to be honest none of these players will be using an Xbox 360 anyway. Ensemble have however successfully grafted together a playable, streamlined console RTS that sets new levels of intuitive control unknown beforehand to the platform. The cutscenes and graphics are lovingly created and if you own a Xbox 360 then this really needs to be on your want list.


Not a standard RTS mechanic which is all the better in the confines of a console gamepad.
Gloriously detailed, some slight slowdown with the more intense battles however.
Stephen Rippy provides a great score and the sound effects get the blood pumping.
Long lasting appeal particularly with multiplayer.

Highly recommended for all the Xbox guys.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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