Tony Goodman, the founder of the sadly-closed Ensemble Studios, reckons that Xbox 360 RTS Halo Wars was a "fantastic, under-recognized product," but that development proved challenging to say the least. Not only were the Halo trappings forced onto the project by Microsoft, which was originally in development as a distinct IP, but Bungie wasn't exactly enthusiastic about another developer entering their universe.Click here to read more...
If you're getting bored of the normal Halo formula, then this one'll provide you with a whole new experience, as you control and battle it out with entire armies. You can blast your way through the campaign by yourself, or cooperatively with a friend, and there are plenty of multiplay modes to keep you entertained. The game looks fantastic, but unfortunately the gameplay isn't quite as polished as some of the other RTSs on the market. Still, at £6.99 it's definitely worth a go, and you'll save £3 on the next best offer coming in from Choices UK. Thanks to swavgav82 @ HUKD.
Gamestation bring us a deal that doesn’t quite seem too appealing at first, but turns out to be quite the money saver upon closer inspection. You can get copies of Halo Wars for around £6 from elsewhere, but with this Classics release you get codes for DLC content that reportedly totals 1200 MS points, which translates to just over a tenner. That fact alone means this deal is a huge saving to those that wish to experience Ensemble Studios’ swansong. It may not have changed the face of RTS-gaming on consoles but it's an enjoyable affair if you’re not looking for deep tactical play or just want a different type of Halo experience. Thanks to lumsar31 @ HUKD!
Halo Wars was a bold attempt to translate a genre predominant on PC to consoles, with capable RTS outfit Ensemble Studios at the helm. The result, however, wasn't quite as triumphant as fans might've expected, and was a large factor in Ensemble's closure. But it's still a pretty damn good game with some cracking FMVs, and you can nab it all for just £5.99 off Sainsburys Entertainment, saving you about two quid.
Halo Wars is a brave attempt at bringing RTS to the Xbox 360... and in my book, it actually works really well. Sure, it mainly revolves around tank rushes, but the controls are decent and the gameplay is as slick and visceral as you'd expect from any Halo title. Watching a team of Spartans smash their way into enemy vehicles and steal them for the cause is a particular highlight. The story is also excellent, with plenty of ridiculously shiny cutscenes to reward your progress. It's not deep and it's not clever- but since I prefer twitch shooters to deep strategy, I felt right at home.
I know that Halo Wars is extremely divisive- and this is just my personal opinion. Let us know what you made of it in the comments!
Halo Wars is enduring something of a stock shortage at the moment, with most of the cheapest online deals OOS. However, in a time of crisis you can count on us to deliver. The Game Collection currently have over 80 copies of Halo Wars in stock, and at just £9.95 it's still a bit of a bargain. The first attempt by Microsoft to spin their mega franchise off into other genres, Halo Wars was a difficult title to judge. On the one hand, it's a wonderful recreation of Bungie's world, with polished, streamlined controls and gameplay. On the other hand, it's a little shallow for an RTS, not to mention surprisingly linear. However, it's chock-full of great Halo moments and truly beautiful CG cinemas.
Videogames have let us clamber into the virtual bridges and cockpits of truly incredible spaceships over the years, from the smallest fighters to gargantuan dreadnoughts. However, top ten lists tend to become dominated by the same usual suspects- and to this end, here's a true roundup of gaming's most awesome combat vessels that may include some unsung heroes you've sadly never even heard of. Strap in. Lock S-Foils in attack position. Engage!
Honourable Mentions: The Pillar of Autumn, DarkStar One, Millennium Falcon, USS Sovereign
Despite a fairly dodgy name, the Hellbender is an absolutely incredible war machine. Standing alone against the Bion menace, its powerful shields and ability to hover in midair allow it to become a devastating stationary weapons platform or blistering dogfighter at a moment's notice- packing enough raw modular firepower to annihilate entire fleets of Bion warships and ground troops. The jump engine allows the Hellbender to strike at any target system without warning, making it capable of inflicting massive shock and awe.
The Pillar of Autumn is a classic... but it turned out to be much more useful as a bomb than it ever was as a spaceship. The Spirit of Fire, on the other hand, is a much more impressive piece of military hardware. Once a humble colony ship, it was retrofitted as a planetary assault carrier that can engage multiple Covenant vessels in atmosphere as well as deploying unstoppable waves of ground troops to the battlefield. The combination of raw firepower and decisive tactical edge guarantee its place in UNSC history.
Any ship that's designed to crack planets more than deserves its place on the list, but the Ishimura's primary claim to fame are the nightmarish Necromorphs that haunt its claustrophobic corridors. Despite being a shameless homage to Event Horizon and System Shock 2, the Ishimura's mix of tight tunnels and massive zero-G environments make it a perfect setting for an unforgettable survival horror experience.
The Normandy is a fantastic vessel with a couple of major design flaws. First of all, its cargo lift frequently results in crew suicide due to its unbelievably slow transfer rate. More worryingly, it now sports an impractical 'open plan' new look thanks to the Collectors blowing it to seven shades of hell.
Still, credit where credit's due. The Normandy saved the galaxy from an implacable alien menace and inspired a Cerberus remake, cementing its place in the list.
The TIE Defender is a clear case of design by necessity. Let's face it: the standard TIE Fighter is godawful, featuring no shields and a pathetic array of weaponry. Realising their mistake, Sienar Fleet Systems went back to the drawing board added two more lasers, two ion cannons, a tractor beam, shields and two supplementary missile hardpoints. It had a cost to match, but rebel pilots stand little chance against the Defender's ludicrous armaments. Plus, it looks monumentally badass.Click here to find out which totally awesome spaceships made the top 5...
Personally, I'm not fond of Halo Wars for a number of reasons. One, for being the first truly mediocre Halo title, and two, for resulting in the loss of one of the finest RTS developers, Ensemble Studios. However, if you're less irked by all this, then why not pick up Ensemble's last effort from LoveFilm, available for just £6.93.
Averaging an 82 on MetaCritic, Halo Wars impressed critics with its streamlined RTS controls and accessibility. Personally, I was severely underwhelmed by the game. It's supposed to be a Real Time Strategy game, emphasis on strategy. And yet, for some reason, Ensemble decided to funnel entire armies through gauntlets of Covenant-overrun environments. You can't mine resources, or plan well-coordinated assaults. It is, essentially, a Halo game from an RTS perspective, instead of an RTS from a Halo perspective. And yes, I'm aware how backwards that sounds!
Set in the first years of the human-Covenant war, Halo Wars tells the story of one ship, the Spirit of Fire, and its crew of pilots, soldiers, scientists and, yes, Spartans. Following a Covenant attack on the planet Harvest, the Spirit of Fire and a Covenant fleet stumble on a Forerunner Shield-World, where the elusive architects stored an army of Dreadnoughts, ships with nigh-unstoppable power. The Spirit of Fire crew realise the Covenant seek to claim the Dreadnought fleet for their own, and know if they don't stop them, the Covenant will win the war.
It's an interesting story, although yet another reminder of how branching out series often results in a dilution of the original canon. Finding the Halo ring in the first game was supposed to be a seminal moment in Halo history, and yet now we find out the UNSC and the Covenant have already set foot on Forerunner land.
Halo Wars is slowly dropping further and further (holding out for sub-fiver territory myself) and now, thanks to Zavvi, you can pick up a copy for just £6.95, which'll save you just under a quid on nearest rival ShopTo.
Ensemble Studios did a pretty sturdy job with this one and I was pleasantly surprised to see just how well it worked on a console, the keyboard and mouse being the obvious choice for any RTS fan. But, largely due to the fact that it was designed from the ground up for the Xbox, it manages to hold its own, sacrificing a little tactical depth for mainstream accessibility.
Genre fans might well moan, but those looking for an alternative take on the Halo franchise would do well to give it a look, especially at this price. Plus the relative lack of resource management means that it's a lot easier to just jump into the fray and get stuck in...which is hardly a bad thing when you have Spartans on the ground!
Put your hands together for whizzkid over at HUKD for this one.
It's nice to start the week with a genuinely good deal. Halo Wars is a solid RTS that manages to translate the complex layout of a predominantly keyboard-centric genre onto a console controller. If you're a fan of Halo or the RTS genre, or simply fancy something new, then why not pick up Halo Wars from ShopTo? It's only £7.85!
Averaging a respectable 82 on MetaCritic, Halo Wars didn't share the same commercial or critic success as its FPS siblings, but did impress fans of both the series and the genre with its ability to map complex tasks to a single button-prompt. This is the cheapest deal around at the moment, and at under a tenner with free delivery, it's a nice piece of filler before the summer, and gives you time to brush up on Halo lore before Reach drops.
Set before Master Chief or the Halo rings had been discovered, Halo Wars puts you in control of an entire UNSC army as they face off against the nascent threat of the Covenant. In order to fit the complex genre on a home console, developers Ensemble Studios, of Age of Empires fame, have streamlines the RTS approach, with minimal resource gathering and order stacking. You'll push forward into new territory, as the clock steadily clicks towards your next reload of troops, ammo, vehicles and base upgrades.
Halo Wars succeeds on a number of fronts. One, it perfectly translates the Halo aesthetic to a different perspective, such as the trademark colour-palette, the Grunt squeals and Elite roars, and, of course, the shuddering chassis of the Warthog as it bounds across the terrain. It also manages to make the usually complex task of managing multiple squads and keeping an eye on resources extremely simple and accessible, with one button able to swiftly switch from base to base, squad to squad, and another single button able to perform numerous tasks. Tap A to select an individual unit, or hold it to expand a larger cursor across a group. Tap A again on a nearby enemy, and the selected troop(s) will attack. Simple, and yet intuitive.
Some limited editions suck. They'll come with a breakfast cereal figurine and maybe a glossy screenshot or a limp pamphlet of concept art and weigh in at £60. Not this one! Spartan tacticians your time has come, as you can now pick up the Limited Edition version of Halo Wars for just £12.99 from Play at the moment, which is cheaper than anybody else by nearly £20!
For that small amount of change, you'll net yourself the game in a special steelbook case, three maps from the Mythic pack for Halo 3, a graphic novel telling the tale of the first battle against the Covenant, a unique in-game vehicle, six glossy leader profile cards and a 'Spirit of Fire' embroidery patch so you can be the coolest kid on the block. Don't even try to pretend that you don't want one.
Let's be honest here, this is a bit light on the whole strategy thing. You won't find an enormous amount of tactical depth here and hardcore genre fans will walk away disappointed. However, this is an RTS designed from the ground up for a console, to work on a console, and by and large it proves successful. Fans of the Halo series will love this addition to the franchise, offering a new spin on things from a wholly different perspective. It might not be quite as expansive as a C+C game, but there's more than enough here to provide a few hours of genuinely good fun.
Thanks to goonertillidie at HUKD
Halo Wars is seen as something of a disappointment to many but it is, nonetheless, a fun strategic look at the Halo universe with a good storyline and a nice variety of missions. The limited edition usually sells for well over £30 (the next cheapest retailer is Amazon, who are selling it for £33.97) so Shop To are offering a genuine bargain here.
In addition to the game itself, this limited edition comes with the following: 3 new Halo 3 multiplayer maps; "Assembly", "Orbital" and "Sandbox", graphic novel Halo Wars: Genesis, unique in-game vehicle, "Honor Guard Wraith", Six Leader Cards and a Spirit of Fire patch, allowing you to start the game as a member of the Spirit of Fire crew and it is, of course, all beautifully presented in a special extra-shiny case.
The action takes place during the year 2531; 21 years before the start of the original Halo: Combat Evolved. UNSC warship Spirit of Fire is sent to the decimated planet Harvest to find out what the Covenant are up to there. The investigations lead the crew to discover an ancient artifact, the secret of which eventually leads to an all-out war.
As Real Time Strategy games go, Halo Wars definitely feels a bit slim line; being a tad simplistic and over all too quickly with disappointingly few multiplayer options to flesh it out. However it is none the less enjoyable for it and the title sports plenty of positive features. The story is engaging and entertaining and it is well presented, with particularly impressive CG cutscenes. There is a nice variety of missions and a nice control scheme. If you are a fan of the series then you should enjoy the game even if it's not quite the epic strategising you may have hoped for.
Thanks to Ben Woodcock for pointing me towards the deal!
Console real-time strategy sucks.
It does. Standard controllers simply can't handle the sheer number of command and control inputs that armchair generals need in order to manipulate their armies. However, if any game were to break this dismal cycle of failure and regret, it's Halo Wars. The esteemed (if sadly closing) Ensemble Studios and the rich Halo mythos provide the perfect one-two combo for an epic RTS. So, does their lovechild manage to revolutionise the genre?
The short answer is no. But the longer and infinitely more important answer is that it never intended to.
Rather than completely reinventing the wheel in order to make it roll on unfamiliar terrain, Halo Wars strips back the genre to its bare essentials. Each player is assigned a small modular base that can equip a limited variety of outbuildings; some of which produce units or contribute a steady trickle of resources to the cause. There's no harvesting or finnicky resource management to speak of, meaning that a few quick minutes of turtling results in a functional foundation for an assault. After all, we're here to control iconic Halo units rather than faff about with silos and refineries.
Right. About those units, then. The UNSC fields a familiar army of marines, Warthogs, Scorpion tanks and aircraft that can all be upgraded with extra firepower or alternate abilities (such as infantry grenades that can be deployed with the Y button)... but they all fulfil the cliched scout, heavy ground, air & anti-air roles that we've come to expect from every game that's come before. The addition of a dedicated anti-air unit that's never previously appeared in a Halo title helps to demonstrate this failure to innovate. However, the Spartan super units provide much-needed variety with the ability to hijack any enemy vehicle. The Covenant forces actually handle in a very similar way to their human counterparts, though a weaker overall strength is compensated for by powerful unique heroes. The conniving Prophet of Regret even makes a playable debut on his grav throne! Halo fans will get a huge kick out of commanding their (our, who am I kidding) favourite vehicles.
It's time to tackle the million dollar issue: how it handles. The left thumbstick controls a scrolling cursor that can select individual units or highlight multiple adjacent troops with a radial brush. Once selected, context-sensitive commands do the rest. Build queues and upgrades can be accessed through accessible radial menus, along with a couple of handy hotkeys for snapping between bases and heroes. It's nothing fancy, but it does the job.
Up to a point. This setup works reasonably well for simple 'tank rush' tactics, but unfortunately it's easy to get thoroughly overwhelmed when attacked on multiple fronts by the AI. More gallingly, however, it's nigh-on impossible to return the favour. As mentioned above, players can only select single units, proximal clusters or every single unit on the map... but there's no option to cherry-pick and designate specific unit groups. Unit grouping is one of the most basic and fundamental parts of any RTS, and its omission means that an essential tactical dimension has been lost. Battles usually descend into chaotic furballs rather than choreographed masterpieces, and diehard RTS veterans will quickly sling their controllers away in disgust.
But that's fine. Halo Wars doesn't pretend to cater for the hardcore. It's marketed squarely at the legion of shooter fans who have little experience with PC strategy gaming. The singleplayer campaign charts the adventures of the Spirit Of Fire: a retrofitted colony ship-turned troop carrier that's sent to take back Harvest from the Covenant. However, some early revelations soon turn the routine ground pounding into an desperate scavenger hunt of intergalactic proportions! A range of levels provide the usual selection of standard wars of attrition, timed objectives and escort missions along with a couple of unique challenges (including a memorable face-off with an immobile Scarab). Luscious cutscenes, an interesting plot and an unlockable timeline to pore over gives Halo fans a good reason to forgive the mechanical shortcomings... that is, if they even notice them in the first place. Newcomers will find it a perfect gateway into the otherwise intimidating RTS scene.
Multiplayer is competent if a little on the basic side. Six-player skirmishes (including tag-team modes) can be held over Xbox Live, and surprisingly the campaign can be played cooperatively with a mate. Though several selectable leaders provide slightly different unique units and powers, it's a shame that The Flood weren't included as a third playable faction. I fear that there's not enough variety between the two armies to hold our interest over the coming months.
Finally, it's important to note that the visuals are absolutely superb. The game engine combines luscious terrain with extremely detailed unit models that move, attack and even loiter realistically. The net result are absolutely gobsmacking engagements that look and feel quintessentially Halo. Fans will relish the opportunity to see their favourite units duke it out in glorious that make even Two Betrayals seem like a tiny skirmish by comparison. Copious plasma, bullets and explosions make every engagement more visceral than you'd expect from an RTS.
The Short Version: Halo Wars is not the next giant leap forward for console strategy and will leave RTS veterans cold... but at the end of the day, that's not what it's for. It's pure fan service that provides Halo aficionados with a decent- if simple- introduction to the genre. The accessible mechanics and sumptuous presentation eclipse the niggling flaws long enough for RTS newbies to have an absolute blast.