The RTS genre has never truly found a home in the console world. While the Command & Conquer titles have always been a brief distraction, and End War attempted to introduce a brand new control system, the lack of mouse and keyboard based play has consistently held the genre back.
So, Ensemble Studios (the fantastic minds behind Age of Empires II who now sadly have been disbanded) have crafted a brand new slimmed down control method to try and fit this traditionally PC branch of gaming onto your powerful consoles.
To start with, things are quite standard. One face button selects a unit, while another urges it to attack, and a third unleashes its single “special move”. But shortcuts are plentiful, including the brilliant inclusion of the ability to hop right back to your base with a simple nudge of the d-pad. Inherently simple, but such a fantastic addition that we wonder why it hasn’t been tried before.
Equally as intuitive and brilliant is the opportunity to flick through all the different unit types you currently have selected. As you can easily select both all the available units on screen, or even the whole army on the map itself, you can then handily flick through to the specific unit type you desire and head on your way. Much easier than attempting to drag a huge box over the units you want as some console RTS titles have requested.
Essentially, the control system works. It’s still not quite as free flowing and as masterful as utilising a mouse and keyboard, but this is easily as close as we’ve come. Yes there will be moments of frustration as you grab the wrong unit and send them off in the wrong direction. But those are few and far between, which is a heck of a lot more than most console RTS titles have managed. The only real annoyance is the lack of opportunity to assign custom groups. Something RTS fans adore to do.
Base building has been simplified too, confining you to only a few select options to set your base. Equally, units have a set upgrade path, so there are no tech trees to try and master and commit to memory. Whether that’s a bad thing or not entirely depends on your love of the genre.
The Halo name has been utilised to an optimum degree, and the feeling of being in control of a mass of Warthogs, marines, and Scorpion tanks is a truly great one. Thankfully the campaign has a big old mix of missions, certainly not restricted to simply building the biggest army and destroying your foes.
Set 20 years before the events of the original Halo, the single player campaign is jam-packed with fantastic looking cutscenes, and a pleasing enough story. There are moments that Halo fans will remember as fondly as some of the iconic moments seen in the three FPS games, though the ending is a touch of a let down.
For multiplayer gamers, you have the chance to not only play through the single-player mode via co-op, but also take your forces online. Sadly online things are lacking in variety, with the playable races far from different enough. The similarities are so close that there’s a lack of variety in tactical options available when your opponent essentially is packing the same power.
Halo Wars might be a simplified RTS, but the brilliantly crafted control system helps make it just as enjoyable as some of the better strategic titles you’ll find on the PC.
It does miss a few options, and the single player campaign won’t last much more than a weekend of gaming, but for Halo fans, Halo Wars is yet another in the series that requires a purchase.