Review by redapocalypse04

Reviewed: 03/16/09

RTS games and consoles were not made to coexist.

It's true. Having played a multitude of RTS games for both PC and console, I can honestly say that, to date, I haven't played an RTS that is truly as fun on console as it is on PC. Having said that, I will add that Halo Wars is probably the best you're going to get on console, and if you're a more casual gamer, then chances are you'll find this game fairly enjoyable. On the other hand, if you've played and enjoyed your fair share of RTS games, like me, you'll find Halo Wars to be so simplified that it makes parts of the game too complex. It'll make sense after you read the review.

First, the gameplay, which is the make-or-break area for gamers on this one. If you're a casual gamer, then this game will be fun, period. There's no question that it's an RTS, and the core control scheme is very simple and easy to grasp. The 15 mission campaign is exciting and each mission offers unique goals, including main objectives, setting up secondary bases, and finding collectables like black boxes and skulls. On the flipside, the controls and core gameplay elements like building bases and armies have been altered so much that veterans to RTS games or even gaming in general will find Halo Wars to be too damn simple and clear cut. If you enjoy being spoon fed, however, then go for it.

The control scheme, apart from the AI, is probably the most troublesome aspect of the game. It's simple, obviously, and that's not inherently a bad thing, but certain features are cut out of the game that are extraordinarily useful in the RTS genre. For example, you cannot hotkey anything. Ever. You can select all units, all units on screen, and all units by unit type. You cannot mix and match a part of your army unless you actually pick units out one at a time and group them together manually, which is very frustrating in the middle of a game. Many times I simply find myself throwing an entire army at something, even though one of the things I enjoy about strategy games is the ability to actually strategize. Not a game breaker, but you'll notice it.

Base building has also been altered, but not entirely in a bad way. You can only build up to seven structures around your main base, but after you build your core structures, there's not much else to construct anyway, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. There are infantry, vehicle, and air unit training buildings, a tech upgrade building, reactors and supply pads. Pretty basic. In most missions and on all multiplayer maps, you'll have the option to capture extra bases. You can't really use these as anything other than huge supply pads, however. There just aren't enough structures to really make a second base necessary, so you're stuck with adding more training facilities, supply pads, or reactors. Training structures are about useless, because even though each additional base adds 10 to your population cap, said cap is still pretty tight. You'll easily reach it with your own base, and this leaves reactors and supply pads. Supply pads are simply the easiest and most viable option, not to mention the most boring one, but oh well. To be honest, the concept of only being able to build on allocated spots is kind of confusing. It simplifies things, but not in a way that's actually helpful. What's confusing about having structures where you want them? It really gets on my nerves when turrets come into play, because I could use more on one end of my base, instead I'm stuck with four on the corners of the base, and at least one of those is useless 95% of the time.

Army building is pretty straightforward, and it operates off of an effective system. Infantry are good against aircraft, aircraft are good against vehicles, and vehicles are good against infantry. There are also specialized units that are good against specific or multiple unit types. Not a bad spread, either, with many of the units being recognizable vehicles, allies, and enemies from the Halo universe, and a few new guys thrown in to round out the mix. When you start up a multiplayer game, you also get to choose a leader out of six possible choices, three UNSC and three Covenant. Each offers a few unique abilities that definitely keep things varied on the battlefield. Unfortunately, online this translates into each person being delegated to a specific task, usually one that's related to their leader. It's effective, but not being able to use all of the buildings at your disposal (not that there's a lot of buildings anyway) is kind of boring. My only other complaint with the army building aspect is the population cap, like I discussed earlier. By far the most useless addition to the entire game, I'm completely unaware of how this is supposed to supplement the gameplay.

Despite all of that, the game would still be somewhat enjoyable if it weren't for the AI. THEY ARE STUPID. If you leave them alone, they will almost invariably get themselves killed. I don't know how many times I've tried to send out a scouting party to one side of the map, only to come back two minutes later and see that my main force has moved out on its own and is getting thoroughly owned. There are no rules of engagement, so you can't order your troops to stay put or anything like that, which has given me countless ulcers. They're also too damn stupid to move amongst themselves. If you're trying to move a portion of your army to the front or organize them in any fashion, give up now, because you'll wind up pulling your hair out. They will not find alternate routes around people, and the people they're trying to get around will not move out of the way, which I thought was a basic thing that all RTS games had. Guess not.

The story is probably the main reason I bought Halo Wars, and I have to say that it's definitely the highlight of the game. Halo has always had an interesting story, and fans of the series will be pleasantly surprised by the addition of a new cast of characters that are well connected to already established persons in the Halo universe. Plus, it has Spartans, and everyone loves Spartans. The cutscenes are great and informative, and there's a black box in each mission. These black boxes unlock portions of a timeline that you can access from the main menu, which gives you even more insight into the series' storyline.

The game also has some great graphics, especially for an RTS. In-game, you can tell that a lot of attention was paid to detail, and the cutscenes are beautiful. Unfortunately, the game suffers from framerate lag sometimes, particularly when there are a lot of units on screen in a multiplayer match. It's noticeable and persistent, especially when coupled with lag, but it's not too much of a problem. Sound quality is solid, with great voice acting, decent (if somewhat tired) soundtrack, and no cheesy live action cutscenes like some other RTS games. *cough*RedAlert*cough*

If you enjoy simple RTS games, and this happens to be your bag, then you'll be entertained for hours to come. Multiple difficulties, skulls and black boxes to collect, a complex medal system, and that's all just for the single player. It also has a cooperative campaign which is a hell of a lot more fun than flying it solo, although sharing everything, including bases, resources, and units, can be hard to get used to, but it works. Multiplayer only offers two modes: Standard, where you build your base and work your way up the ladder like the RTS gods intended, and Deathmatch, where you start with 15000 credits and everything is automatically upgraded from the start. You can participate in a 1v1, 2v2, or 3v3 game, which can be fun. The lack of a pure free-for-all deathmatch or a 4v4 or higher team playlist just reminds me of how much this game is missing, but if you enjoy the limited scope of the game, you might not have a problem with the limited multiplayer options.

A lot of people have told me that they've had tons of fun with the game, which is one of the reasons why I've tried to be fair in my review. Personally, with the campaign out of the way and the story fully imbibed, there's not much left for me here. The game is just too damn simple. Then again, it all depends on your tastes, which is why I'd highly recommend you rent it first, just in case.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Product Release: Halo Wars (US, 03/03/09)

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