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Halo Wars (Xbox 360)

Rated: 16+.

Story: Twenty years before the events of Halo, a human military expedition sent to clean up remnants of a Covenant invasion on the colony world of Harvest discovers the aliens unearthing an ancient installation left by the mysterious Forerunners. What is found inside leads to a chase across uncharted space, a battle for survival, a first encounter with the Flood and plenty of clicking on lots of little green tanks to send them off to pummel lots of little purple ones.

Gameplay: Halo Wars is a real-time strategy game. In the single-player story, you get to control the human forces over fifteen missions as they battle various aliens. Most missions begin with establishing a base and choosing what buildings it should contain (e.g. barracks for producing infantry, a vehicle factory for tanks, multiple reactors to allow more advanced units, etc). Once the base is up and running, it's a case of manufacturing military units, moving a pointer where you want them to go and then sending them off to explore and fight. The quantity of resources available to build units is mainly determined by the number of supply depots in your base.

Mission objectives vary. Examples include: destroying all the opposing forces, holding out for a set amount of time, protecting civilian vehicles and escaping to an extraction point.

Save System: Save at any time. (Hurray!)

Comments: There's something about ordering tiny soldiers into battle that's quite compelling. There's a thrill from looking down on the battlefield, taking command of the situation and carving out new territory. I like to take my time over my planning, though, and way up the odds of every skirmish. As such, I tend to find real-time strategy games somewhat unsatisfying. The speed of events makes me panic and simply charge as many units as I can produce in the direction of the enemy, hoping to eventually wear them down. That this approach usually works is both a relief and a disappointment. I prefer turn-based gameplay which relies more on thoughtful tactics than lightning fast use of a controller.

The last real-time strategy (RTS) game I played at any length was Warcraft 2. That was over ten years ago. I suspect there have been plenty of advances in the genre since, most noticeably in terms of depth and complexity. Halo Wars takes a different approach, however. It's real-time strategy for beginners. Everything has been simplified and streamlined. There's no need to mine resources, pore over complicated technology trees or co-ordinate multi-pronged attacks with ninja levels of dexterity. Halo Wars cuts quickly to the fun bit of amassing a big army and sending it out to cause explosions. Strategic input is mainly limited to constructing a suitable mix of units for any given situation and making sure bases are upgraded quickly and efficiently. Far from being a letdown, though, this makes the game fun and accessible.

Halo Wars knows its own limitations and moves forward at a swift pace. The high production values, involving story and short, varied missions distract attention from the shallow nature of gameplay. Combined with a perfectly adequate control scheme and a brief but eventful campaign, these features provide a great introduction to the joys of being an armchair general without the frustration or head-scratching that other games can bring.

Conclusion: RTS for Halo fans with two left thumbs and a short attention span.

Graphics: Excellent. Units are detailed and clear and easy to tell apart. The movie sequences are amongst the best in any game.

Length: Short. Most single-player missions are around thirty minutes long on normal difficulty. There are extra maps which don't form part of the story, though.

Rating: 4/5.


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