Yeah, it’s not a shooter and many don’t even consider this part of the “Halo” franchise but, I gave it a go and it’s not bad. Be warned, however, if you’re a hardcore FPS gamer that happens to like “Halo” this isn’t for you; on the other hand, if you’re a hardcore “Halo” gamer you might just enjoy “Wars.”
Is it Halo-y enough?
Short answer- Yes.
Long answer- Ensemble Studios really did a good job in the design of the levels, sound effects of the vehicles, weapons, characters, and the color scheme. If you love “Halo” the campaign in “Wars” should feel right at home. There are some noticeable differences in the Spartans but, I’ll forgive Ensemble their trespasses in the name of character exploration.
The plot felt like home; the Covenant attempting to access Forerunner tech that holds the potential to destroy the human race that is only to be found on a physically impossible planet that both species stumble upon at the same time. Not original but, it makes for some cool cutscenes and its easy enough to follow plus it is exactly the same plot as the original “Halo: CE” so, it shouldn’t alienate too many of the fanboys.
If you’re looking for character development and the ability to identify with some of the key players in the game I would suggest you look elsewhere. The characters in “Wars” can be classified into two distinct categories; semi-interesting and cannon fodder. The semi-interesting category includes four stereotypical characters that, while more interesting than the other category aren’t particularly lovable. The warmonger, the nerd, the pretentious bitch, and the knowing grandfather; they all make their appearance and they’re all so tiring to listen to.
On a related note, during the cutscenes I couldn’t help but, stare at the female characters’ breasts. I’m a guy, my brain is wired that way but, the developers had a choice to either create characters with personalities that gamers can care about or create objects that gamers can ogle at; Ensemble went with the second option, too bad.
The other category, cannon fodder, is those little men and critters that one finds under one’s control. While I have to give Ensemble Studios props for the little details they gave the Grunts and the Marines, staying true to the “Halo” banter we’ve become so accustomed to. Ultimately, though, I just don’t find myself caring what happens to those little fellas on the ground. Sending 50 Marines to their slaughter only prompts me to send 60 Marines the next time, so much for the band of brothers.
The graphics were alright but, honestly I think that the original “StarCraft” has comparable in-game graphics. Where the pixels may betray the game the animation of the characters helps out. Not being familiar with contemporary RTS games (i.e. I can only compare “Wars” with the original “StarCraft”), it was refreshing to see the little characters move about. Watching Spartans punch pilots out of their Banshees or the Marines throw their grenades all added to that “Halo” atmosphere.
The cut-scenes, however, showed what Ensemble is capable of. The graphics and the action scenes are superb—though, like the breasts, I found myself staring at the curiously absent gluteus muscles of the Marines—just watch the second to last video with the three Spartans kicking ass to understand what I’m raving about. There are some beautifully rendered scenes that are comparable to Hollywood production CGI.
The campaign does suffer from some repetition and can quickly become boring, especially if you try to complete the story in one sitting. The co-op feature for the game is a nice touch but, like many other online games with a small fan-base one should be prepared to wait for quite a while for other like-minded players to show.
The simplified controls that one uses also are in need of praise. The RTS genre has never really been easy to adapt to a console due to the amount of commands one needs to issue to one’s minions to successfully control an attack or defense. The radial dial command of “Wars” is both innovative and simple to use which makes this game very playable, even for those unfamiliar with RTS games.
This is where, I found, “Halo Wars” to fail. Perhaps, it is because I didn’t pick up the game back when it was popular but, there’s no one on here except for boosters—nothing wrong with that—and, for all intents and purposes, professionals. I fall into the camp of RTS players that love to build up my little fortress, watching my men go about their routines and, when I’m good and ready, I’ll stage an attack. Unfortunately, that type of gamer is easy pickings for the vast majority of “Wars” gamers that hunt the multiplayer waters. I cannot find the words to describe how annoying it is to be beaten by my enemy’s single Warthog that comes strolling in behind my defenses…every time; a feat that I can’t seem to mimic with a modicum of success. As a result of my inabilities in the multiplayer I quickly lost interest, maybe playing a total of 5 matches.
All in All:
In short, the plot is welcoming to the “Halo” fan base but, the gameplay isn’t anything that would attract either FPS fans or hardcore RTS fans, for that matter. Tough spot to be in but, the game does have its moments. The campaign is where the meat is at and if the multiplayer had a decent (read: varied) player base it might have had a chance at being fun but, alas, the MP battleground is littered with mostly Generals that take no pity on lowly recruits. I wouldn’t tell everyone to go rent this game because it isn’t for everyone. But, if you like the “Halo” universe and you happen to have played and enjoyed some RTS games in your past I would suggest at least a rental. I would, however, caution that if you’re looking to 100% the achievements you should be prepared to boost because there’s no way you’re getting them on your own unless you’re really into RTSs.