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''Halo Wars' for fans only

April 1, 2009

By John Powell - G4 Canada

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Point. Click. Drag. Point. Click. Drag. Point. Click. Drag. Point. Click. Drag.

Halo WarsYes, sir. It has been a long, long time since 'Age of Empires' in 1997. The sights and sounds of Real-Time Strategy combat are so much bigger and better now. You need to look no further than Ensemble Studios' 'Halo Wars' for the Xbox 360 to see how the simple RTS format has evolved from rudimentary sprites and pixels to the meticulously detailed masterworks of today.

Like its great grandfather 'Command and Conquer', 'Halo Wars' is all about establishing bases, harvesting energy and building troops to swarm the enemy. Since this is the 'Halo' universe, the enemy are the nasty alien Covenant and the creepy Flood. For fans of the 'Halo' series, 'Wars' is significant in the sense that we learn more about what started the whole freaking United Nations Space Command (UNSC) versus The Covenant mess to begin with. Can't we all just get along?

Taking place twenty years before 'Halo: Combat Evolved', 'Wars' has the UNSC and The Covenant fighting for control of the planet Harvest. The Covenant have found something important there. Something that could turn the tide of the war in their favour and the UNSC badly wants to know what that something could be.

Halo WarsThe struggle for Harvest triggers a mixture of scenarios that have you on the offensive, defensive or sometimes both. You will do everything from protect citizens as they escape from the worn-torn planet in crowded shuttlecrafts to ridding the world of an enemy bubble shield that is about the size of a small city. You do this using some very familiar troops, if you have played any of the 'Halo' games. Spartans, Marines, Warthogs, Scorpions, Hornets and many other mainstays of that universe are yours to command through the campaign and multiplayer skirmishes. In multiplayer battles online, you can also play as The Covenant.

Where the game really puts something like 'Command and Conquer' to shame is that each unit has their very own special attacks. Just like in 'Halo', Marines and Spartans can commandeer vehicles, run over enemy troops if told to do so or perform other exceptional moves. The animations by Ensemble Studios are painstakingly detailed to the point that you can almost see the smile on that Spartan's face as he hijacks a Banshee. Unbelievable.

If you are not a fan of RPGs to start with, 'Halo Wars' will not win you over. Ensemble does try to alter the typical formula by adding in scripted sequences but those cause more frustration than fascination. For instance, during the fourth mission, "Arcadia City", you have to assist in an evacuation as desperate citizens clamber aboard three spaceships waiting for them at three different landing pads. No matter what you do, the third location will be blown to bits in a cut-scene as its destruction is all part of the 'Halo Wars' plot. If you don't know any better, and you won't unless you have been tipped off, you will waste precious resources and precious time on a target site that can never be saved.

Halo WarsNot fair. Not fair at all.

Neither is the enemy's ability here and there to build units at will as if they are not under the same restrictions or challenges as you are.

Not fair. Not fair at all.

What made games like 'Command and Conquer' or 'War Craft' so popular is that it always seemed that you and the A.I. were competing on a level playing field. Whoever conceived the best strategy, won. It was a simple as that. That is not how 'Halo Wars' feels at all. It is if the chips have been stacked against you most of the time and that is not encouraging.

'Halo Wars' was Ensemble Studios' last project before closing its doors. While the company will be fondly remembered for creating both the influential 'Age of Empires' and 'Age of Mythology' franchises, it is too bad that the fleeting and sometimes irksome 'Halo Wars' turned out to be its swan song.

Halo Wars
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Ensemble Studios
ESRB Rating: Teen
Official Site:

Rating: 6 / 10


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