A whole new genre for one of the most valuable properties in gaming, or a basic Command & Conquer-alike with the Halo name slapped on? Our early enthusiasm waned with the closure of Ensemble and a less-than-stellar preview version, and despite trying our best to see the positive side, Halo Wars remains a damned difficult game to warm to.
The borrowed foundations will be immediately familiar to RTS fans. You start with a base that can be customised with a limited number of bits to make it capable of producing different types of vehicles and soldiers, including many you won’t have seen in the proper Halo games. Depending on how you develop your army, you’ll have access to flamethrower marines, modified Scorpion tanks that lob devastating cluster bombs, Elephant mobile fortresses, multiple grades of Warthog jeep and even a handful of Spartans.
Bases can be expanded and upgraded, adding self-defense capabilities and extra modules for developing technology and processing resources – the game’s currency. Larger maps allow the building of multiple bases, making it possible to max out the army and hit a unit cap which can be increased, in some cases, if you have enough resources to spend.
After a while you’ll amass the kind of war machine that would breeze through any of Halo 3’s iconic set-pieces – a fearless, multi-skilled task force equipped to fight on foot, on wheels or in the air, and capable of replenishing itself as it rumbles through enemy strongholds. But no matter what specialities you decide to invest in, the tactical potential of any battle is woefully limited. When the bullets start flying it almost always degenerates into a headlong charge towards the enemy, the limited controls and jerky framerate lending your army all the responsiveness of a broken shopping trolley after a treacle spillage on aisle nine.
Placing stronger units towards the front of the pack and having long-range ones at the rear would seem to be the most sensible option in a battle, but no preset formations are allowed here. You have to try moving small groups of them individually, which is a real pain when there are countless enemies camped out nearby. While you’re struggling to assemble a particular group, any units not under direct control will succumb to bloodlust and start attacking, even if it’s a bunch of marines against a Scarab.
You can’t easily split the army and try flanking the enemy. The only real variation you can introduce into these predictable wars of attrition is to command units to launch their secondary attacks by tapping Y. It takes a while to recharge, and as soon as it’s ready you’ll want to do it again and again – because your opponent will be doing exactly the same.
When there are several players, either human or AI, you can team up with allies and co-ordinate attacks, but each player is still stifled by the same limitations that plague the solo campaign. It’s a shame because the cutscenes are of a supremely high quality and the presentation mimics Halo 3’s clean precision. Essentially, then, Halo Wars looks the part but it’s basically all show. There was a brilliantly innovative online RTS series a few years back that had the same sort of fun and depth as Halo – Bungie’s very own Myth games, now sadly forgotten. Reviving something like that would have been a lot more appropriate than the generic, inflexible Halo Wars.
Feb 20, 2009