Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Review of Halo Wars

I don't know if I should do game reviews or not. I don't consider myself a gaming snob but I do play a lot of video games--a fact which my wife can confirm while rolling her eyes. But I am usually pretty picky about the games I play. These days, with the cost of a PC game hovering around $40 - $50 and the price of an Xbox 360 game being batshit crazy ($60+), I can't really afford to go apeshit and gobble up every game that comes down the pipe. At one point, I am pretty certain I did just that. But then my voice started cracking and I discovered girls. That was yesterday.

My most recent purchase is Halo Wars. I gotta say that I was on the fence about buying this game. In fact, after having played through a good portion of it, I am still on the fence. It's a mighty big fence, my friend. See, I am an avid lover of the Halo series. I don't necessarily think it is the best game ever (that title might still be held by Civilization II or IV) but it is thoroughly well done and immersive, partially because of the community and the rich universe that Bungie (the makers of the Halo series) have created. There are Halo books, graphic novels, and all kinds of other resources to enrich the Halo experience. And there are also plenty of "Aha!" moments (or, more appropriately, "Holy Shit!" moments) to keep the player on his or her toes.
The box art is cool, but how's the game?

But Halo Wars is a bit different. It's not a first-person shooter. It's a real-time strategy (RTS). I happen to love RTS games. I'm an avid fan of Warcraft, Starcraft and, Age of Mythology (created by Ensemble who also made Halo Wars--their last endeavor before being shut down). I played the demo and was lukewarm. I saw nothing in particular wrong with the game--it was indeed fun. But it just didn't feel like the RTS games I know and love. At the same time, it was not a Halo game made by Bungie and is not really considered to be official canon for the Halo universe. So it's not what I am used to in a Halo title, and it's also not what I'm used to in an RTS. So where does that leave it?

I broke down and bought it because I had $40 of credit at Best Buy. That is actually a pretty lame reason, if you ask me. Also, the collector's edition came with three new maps for Halo 3 so that tipped the scales. Also a pretty lame reason. Let's just say I bought it on faith.

The game has not disappointed. It is fun. But there is still a part of me that is left unsatisfied, yearning for an experience I have yet to find. Maybe I want to relive the heyday of Age of Mythology or maybe I just want a new, Bungie-made Halo game (that'll come soon enough). The gameplay itself is tight--Ensemble did a great job of adapting an RTS to console controls and the result is fabulous. The graphics are good, but that's not the reason people play RTS games so as long as I'm not left feeling disappointed, the graphics pass. The cutscene videos, however, are brilliant. The images pop! They look incredibly well-done and just make me drool every time I see them. Good thing, too, since the great video makes me overlook the subpar voice acting.

The missions are mostly typical fare--holdout, escort, seek and destroy etc. I doubt there is a whole lot of innovation left in that arena. But they work and are enjoyable. I guess my only complaint in this area is base-building. I'm used to RTS games where you can spread out and build most anywhere. In Halo Wars, you can only build at certain base spots. No more creating a forward base or random turrets to harangue would-be attackers. Base creation and resource gathering are a huge part of RTS games for me and, in Halo Wars, there really is none of either. That makes me a sad panda.

All in all, it is a fun game. If I'd never played an RTS I would probably think it was amazing. Maybe I'm jaded or my expectations are too high. To me, it's neither a true RTS or a true Halo game which puts it somewhere in the middle. I suspect if the word Halo would have been omitted I actually might enjoy it more. But the odds of me having actually bought it would have gone down considerably. So, in the end, Microsoft gets my money, Ensemble closes its doors, and I have a game that will provide fun for a while, but still leaves me hungry for something that doesn't exist.

I'd give it 3 1/2 stars out of 5.

Mother do you think they'll drop the bomb

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