Halo Wars winds back a few decades in the Halo Universe saga offering up some context to the UNSC’s battle against the theocratic Covenant during their first encounters. Moving away from the FPS format of the rest of the series it is an RTS game from Ensemble Studios, creators of Age of Empires, which adds a little pedigree.
Designed exclusively for the Xbox 360 the game offers quality cinematic presentation with great looking cut scenes which string together a really entertaining story. While some would argue that playing an RTS on console is a nightmare Halo Wars offers a simple, if somewhat limited, control scheme that makes the game easy to play from the get go.
In the campaign mode players lead the crew of the UNSC's "Spirit of Fire" from initial skirmishes to a full scale war against the Covenant. The best bit about the game is leading the iconic Halo units into battle; from marines, Spartans, Warthogs, and Scorpion tanks its just good fun. There is a good mix of missions such as escorts, recapturing bases, and building your forces for all-out war which stops the game from stagnating.
There are however a number of problems with the campaign mode. Its length, about 6 hours, means that the game finishes just as you’re really getting into it. The fact that you can’t play as the Covenant and the number of units that you have available being quite limited just adds to the bare feeling of the game. This leads to a scale issue. Battles should feel epic, but they just don’t. Adding to this issue is the fact that you actually have to click on a building to access its menu, making troop production during battle frustrating, which is worsened by the somewhat limited controls, highlighted by the fact that you can’t assign units to custom groups.
If you are looking to the multiplayer mode to redeem the game then you’ll be sorely surprised. The game only offers skirmishes in the multiplayer mode. So while it will keep you busy for a lot longer it lacks the variety the campaign mode offered. There is support for up to six players via Xbox Live, but the maximum number of teams is two. This limits the number of factions you can play leaving a big question; where is the Flood?
That being said Ensemble has managed to capture the spirit of the Halo Universe. The game looks good, plays well and really is enjoyable; just don’t expect to get hours and hours of gameplay out of it.