Halo Wars Demo Confirms My Fears about Console RTS Games

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Attack of the clone-stamped Master Chiefs!

I swore I was going to give Halo Wars a chance, and there was no better way to do that than downloading the absurdly large demo over XBL. Why is it 1.5G? Well, that’s because it contains no less than five hours of in-game cinematics I really couldn’t care less about because well, does anyone really play Halo for the story?

There are only two “missions” (if you can call them that in the demo. One is a simple “get from A to B” quest where you can pretty much bulldoze your way through meager Covenant defenses with your eyes closed and your finger firmly holding down the “X” button.

The second mission is the meat of the demo, where you actually sit down and establish a base and an army before you go traipsing off to blow up some sacred Covenant something or other. And here is where the console RTS issues crop up. A joystick is not a mouse, it never will be, never can be, and though Halo Wars tries to make the best of this, it just does not work the way it’s supposed to.

Instead of a floating cursor, you’re stuck with moving the entire screen around with the unit selector stuck in the middle. There’s a button that instantly selects all of your nearby units, but I’ll be damned if I could figure out a quick and easy way to only select a few, whereas a mouse could simply just click and drag. With this all-or-one philosophy, any time you want to do anything, you either have to send units in one by one, or drag your entire army with you. But I’ll forgive this because I’m assuming the tutorial just missed the part on selecting certain units, and it is in the game somewhere because they wouldn’t be that stupid. Although if it is in the game, it’s certainly not very intuitive.

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It doesn’t look this cool.

Base building is also a tad bit annoying, with a limited number of slots available for factories, barracks and power plants, as opposed to the traditional RTS philosophy of “build anything anywhere.” There are even a limited number of defense turret spots. I mean, come on! What good is a base if I can’t line all the walls with gatling guns and missile launchers?

Sure you can upgrade to get more building slots, but the whole thing just feels very constricted. And the lack of precise unit control makes the game feel less about strategy and more about building a massive army to just bulldoze through the opposition by sheer force. Which is exactly what I did. I’m pretty sure Scorpion tanks can’t even die in this game.

I actually think that Halo Wars might be a pretty fun PC game, although I hear there are no plans to make it so. But on a console? With a controller? It’s just not nearly what it could be. The graphics are great, sure, but while playing I kept having flashbacks to Stacraft 64, where I would sit and play it wishing my computer was fast enough to run the real game.

When Halo Wars comes out next month, I’ll probably give it a rent, but ultimately I don’t think this was a property that ever should have had this many resources poured into it. I would have appreciated an earlier release date for Halo: ODST to a much greater extent.

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Does the Elephant just sit on people?

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17 Comments

  1. I lost hope in mankind when I saw you didn’t know how to spell “lose.”

    And I’m assuming that selects all units of that specific type. But what if I want half my squadron of tanks and marines to go one way and half the other?

  2. I also play Halo for the story.

    I also have all six of the books, and I read those for the story too 😉

    I actually gave a little fanboi giggle with the first couple cgi cinemagraphics.

    Have you tried any of the other RTS for consoles? I have Supreme Commander ($5 through gamefly to own it, and that’s for a reason), and it lets you select individual units, and it lets you do pretty much anything that the ‘starcraft’ type of RTS will let you do on a PC.

    Halo Wars is much more like the Warhammer 40k RTS games or like the LoTR RTS games, which is much more suitable IMHO for consoles. The more you need to manage, the more you realize that you need a damned mouse to move around quickly. There’s a few other kinds of RTS types out there (mentioned above) I’d give them a go and compare them to the BGH type of games (starcraft, age of empires, etc). I hear the next Warhammer 40k RTS isn’t even going to have buildings. You just warp your guys in, and your points are based on command points that are under your control.

    I’ll be buying Halo Wars, if only because I am a Halo fanboi, and I demand ownership of all things Halo 😉

  3. You really should give the halo story more credit, you’re missing out on half the game if you just skip it. I thought Ensemble did a decent job with the controls, especially compared to the other console rts’ out there and many other reviews out there seem to agree with me

  4. this is very tru, i too am anoyed by the base building, and the fact my tv is realy rubbish doesnt help, and as the picture says it doesnt look this cool, and the Fog of war ruins the amazing scenery.

  5. First, as many said above…people play halo for the story. There are tons of fan sites

    Second, the meat of the demo comes from scrimmage mode.

    Third, he typed “loose” instead of “lose” big deal. If you press and hold A it does not select all units of a specific type. That is what you get for assuming.

  6. I totally hate people that are jaded when it comes to videogames. well the reason why this game sucks is because it isnt like this game or it is done better on this game. Then you end up only liking 5 games the rest of your life. Every game has redeaming factors and If you think that Halo Wars needs bigger bases and more guns you are missing out on the point. It isnt trying to be like all the other RTS games that on a different format (PC). Halo wars is made for fast Paced RTS action Online with your friends via XBLA. Honestly who out of all your console players friends really wants to spent hours and hours in one game. I remember I was in a game that lasted 2 hour and I just gave up due to needing a change of scenery. Obviously this was written by a PC biased gamer. But thats cool enjoy your 5 games, WOW, Starcraft, Elderscrolls Morrowind, Everquest and the origional warcraft with the horrible graphics, and a minimum of 5 hours sitting time per day. Its ok dont worry you can get married on WOW i hear.

  7. Of course the console RTS will never have the all-mighty mouse, if anyone else but Bungie tried to pull this off it would have probably failed. Halo is THE Xbox game, no doubt about, anyone who disagrees has no idea what they’re saying. My problem with his review is the fact that he stated it would be a good PC game, Bungie didn’t create this game so that people such as this reviewer could smash it for being on the console. They made it , I believe, to send a message to everyone who believes that RTS’s belong on the computer. The greatest thing that they did was everything that made up for not having the utensil that everyone believes you need for this type of game, the mouse. double A on a type of unit and everyone one of that type on the screen will be selected. Right Bumper = Local Units , all the ones on the screen. Left Bumper = All Units no matter where they are. The bases are what they are because I believe that they were trying to not create a resource gathering game, having seen those fail many times over but create an action-based RTS where when you’re off to battle, you don’t have to worry about the enemy slaughtering your resource gathering units. When in a fight, it relieves your mind of not having to always staring, as we all do, at the resource amount every second of the match, By the time you have either had all your units destroyed or have brought your focus away from something else going on to see that you have attained enough resources to start re-building your army. One last thing, I love the story, it is the core of Halo, as was the Master Chief until this and ODST came out, Bungie is showing us what they can do without the need to have the comfort pad of the energy shield all the time since only the Spartans can have it on the UNSC.

    Enjoy The Haloverse and Everything It Entails.

  8. Oh yeah, I forgot this one last thing i missed in his review, the game was made to have a RPS factor to it, each type of unit being superior and inferior to other types. =D

  9. Oh, one more thing. Everyone plays Halo for the story. Bungie cooked up a clever plotline worthy of praise. And, the “paintbrush” tool does not select units of a specific type, it selects whatever is highlighted.

    I really hate game critics that don’t do their research.

  10. if you dont play halo for the story why do you play it? compared to games like COD it doesnt have a lot of weapons or action or realism. Personally i love a good halo cut scene and i especially love the halo wars scenes. i have to admit the overall story line is pretty hard to understand at first glance but otherwise everything about it is cool.

    its also fun to switch between first person shooters and real time strategies in the same franchise. it lets you see the universe from multiple points of view.

  11. THIS GAME I HAVE HAD TWICE NOW THE FIRST TIME I DIDNT LIKE IT BECAUSE I WAS IN TO THE FIRST PLAYER ACTION GAMES BUT NOW I GOT IT AGAIN BECAUSE IVE GONE THROUGH A PHASE WHERE IM INTO THE STRATEGIC GAMING.

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