We’ve got a new set-up here at bit-tech, as you might have heard. Fancy new London offices, mail that gets delivered to our desks instead of being thrown in the corner and a selection of less-lethal eateries are just some of the benefits the move to Dennis HQ has bought with it.
It also means that the console game reviews get done in the new labs, down in the basement, where there are a lot more people milling around and looking over my shoulder as I review games. A lot more people offering their opinions and telling me why they think, just by looking at it, that Halo Wars is an awful game.
Those people probably share the same thoughts as you do; it’s a cash-in game, real-time strategies don’t belong on a console, you can’t zoom out far enough and the graphics look a bit weird.
All those points are right and I know it, but I find myself defending Halo Wars anyway because, believe it or not, it isn’t totally awful despite all that. It has quite a lot going for it, actually – it’s just that PC gamers who judge it at a glance won’t think so.
First thing's first though; Halo Wars isn’t a sequel to Halo 3 and it isn’t directly attached to the upcoming episode from Bungie either. Instead, it’s a prequel to the first game, set twenty years before humanity ever discovered the titular Halo and when we started to first really lose significant ground to the theocratic Covenant.
The linear singleplayer campaign starts off on an ice-covered planet called Harvest, which unbeknownst to the human colonists also holds some ancient technology left by the forerunners that the Covenant has come to take advantage of. Fortunately you’re able to foil their plans a little and, after getting a quick glimpse of what the Covenant might be after, you set off after them. And by ‘You’ we mean the charismatic, stubbled Sgt. Forge and his potential, but stubborn love interest Lt. Anders.
Ice planet? Hidden technology? Stubbled soldiers with a dry, generic sense of wit and short Asian love-interests with unsubtly hinted-at relationship issues? So far, so bland for Halo Wars. The opening to the game is as predictable as they come and it isn’t helped by the fact that, since it’s a prequel, we all know how this story ends. Something about an armoured Denzel Washington falling in love with a hologram, if we recall.
The levels don’t particularly help remove the tedious predictability either. There’s one level in particular where you’re assaulting a Covenant base and you need to bombard the shields with plasma from multiple points in order to breach the defences. Your base is sat just behind five different bridges, all of which are broken in ways that overlook the shielded base, so it’s fairly obvious that the whole idea of the mission is to position five plasma tanks at those points and fire.
Instead of just telling you this and letting you get on with it though, the mission puts a limit on you and will only give plasma tanks at certain times. You’re forced through the annoying hoops of putting one tank in position, firing it, listening to the characters saying that that didn’t work and how you’ll probably need to use two tanks. Then they say you need three, then four, and you have no option but to do things one by one despite the apparent abundance of tanks.
Ostensibly, there’s nothing wrong with that of course. The design of the mission is straightforward and the level itself is fun and nicely challenging, as is the vast majority of Halo Wars, but it’s also obviously forced. It’s clear what you have to do in that level, you want to do it, you know how to do it, but the game won’t let you for no good reason and that doesn’t do anything but irritate. It's a fault which speaks oddles about the way that Halo Wars has been put together.