by Keaton Arksey
previewed on X360
It is hard to believe, but the Halo series originally started out on the Mac. Yeah, Microsoft’s biggest nemesis once laid claim to what would become their biggest franchise. Not only that, but Halo originally started out as a real-time strategy game. Crazy, isn’t it?
What isn’t crazy is why the Halo series has become one of the biggest franchises in gaming today. Halo 3, the latest installment in the franchise still tops the Xbox Live weekly charts more than a year after its release, selling over 8 million units in that time. So naturally, you would expect Microsoft to milk this cow as much as possible. But taking the series back to its original routes in the form of a real-time strategy game? Is that even possible on a console? The answer to that is yes; when you get Ensemble Studios, developers of the Age of Empires PC RTS games, to make it! The reason the Halo franchise translates well to RTS gameplay is because of the large-scale battles and vehicles that are seen throughout the series.
The story of the game takes place 20 years before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, detailing one of the first encounters between the human United Nations Space Command (UNSC) and the collection of alien species known as the Covenent. The campaign mode follows the UNSC ship “The Spirit of Fire” and the crew’s struggle with the Covenent. Of course, everyone’s favorite space plague The Flood will be making a (non-playable) appearance in the game.
What makes or breaks any console RTS game are the controls. Halo Wars has the distinct advantage of being developed for the Xbox 360 exclusively so more time could be spent perfecting the controls. While they won’t match what the PC can deliver, they certainly impress. The basics like moving the cursor and zooming the camera in or out are handled by the analog sticks. Alternatively, you can just press the left button on the D-Pad and automatically return to base. Individual units can be selected by placing the cursor over them and hitting the A button, or all units can be selected with a tap of the Left Bumber. You can order them to move or attack by placing the cursor on your target and hitting X. If you are facing a more powerful enemy, you may find yourself in need of a stronger attack, which can be achieved by hitting Y. For example, doing so with a collection of basic soldiers results in a cavalcade of grenades launching towards the target, while Warthogs will ram right into them.
Halo Wars is primarily an action based RTS, so don’t expect to see much harvesting resources here. Instead, you can collect crates throughout the maps or build a supply pad at your base which is another way to get “supply points”. Instead of placing buildings wherever, you have a limited space to build a variety of different buildings, from the aforementioned supply pad to Barracks, Vehicle Depots, and even Reactors. They all provide an essential service, from training infantry and vehicle units to increasing tech levels for better equipment.