By BlazeHedgehog 3 Comments
So I just finished up the campaign part of the Halo Wars demo. I thought about capturing some video of it for this blog, but I'm sure you could just go find some Halo Wars footage and see for yourself. Especially considering the demo is like 30 minutes long and Youtube has that whole 10 minute limit.
So, Halo Wars. After watching one of the recent Video Documentaries, me and Ashuku agreed that Ensemble seemed to be trying to make an RTS game for people who don't play RTS games. They described concepts like building bases and training units as if you were trying to explain fire to a caveman. This carries over in to the actual game, which, while being a real-time strategy game, is very simplified. If you thought Command & Conquer was simplified enough already (with Tiberium being the only resource), then prepare to be amazed: Halo Wars is even more simplistic, as there are no resources to "collect". You yourself manufacture resources at your base (from an infinitely deep well) and you build additional structures to increase the speed in which resources are manufactured.
Controls are simplified, as well. If you've ever played any other console RTS, grasping these controls shouldn't be too hard - you can select all units on screen, or you can select individual units. Hold the "select unit" button to select all units within a certain radius. I didn't bother with the tutorial for Halo Wars, but one thing that bothered me is that there doesn't seem to be a way to select an individual unit type - like I can't just select all of my Warthogs. This makes traversing a map somewhat of a grind because everything moves at the speed of the slowest unit.
The maps in the campaign sort of feel like they took Halo 3 campaign maps and pulled the camera out to an RTS perspective. I guess in a way they're a little more open than that, but Halo 3 had some pretty wide-open spaces, as I recall. Regardless, I suppose they nailed the Halo "feel" in this regard. Also, a really small touch I liked: I hate what Halo 2 and 3 did to how Covenant guns sounded, which makes Halo Wars great, because in it stuff sounds the way I always remember Halo sounding - like Halo 1.
I don't like, though, is the story. Halo's story and my feelings about Halo's story are very mixed up and sort of jumbled. Halo, to me, always felt like it was at odds with itself: take the TV commercials for Halo 3 vs. Halo 3 itself. Microsoft was dead-set on portraying Halo 3 from the perspective of a marine; you got to see gritty war footage from the front-lines, and you heard tearful stories from veterans. I have never, never once, felt like Halo was a "war". Maybe it's because war is such a frequent setting for videogames (especially shooters), but the war-like elements of Halo never really registered as such with me. Neither did the concept that I was special - these same war veterans in Halo 3 commercials treat Master Chief like some kind of incredible figure head, and the games themselves never really touched on that very well. Half-Life 2 has a lot of the same themes, but Half-Life 2 does a lot better job of portraying Gordon Freeman in that sort of messianic "this guy can destroy ten thousand soldiers and there's nothing you can do to stop him" light. In Halo, I feel more like a generic shooter guy. When a Marine tells me that I (Master Chief) am awesome, I don't feel awesome, instead I feel more like the Marine telling me this just sucks.
Back more on the subject of Halo Wars, though, here is an environment where the war aspect of the Halo universe is unavoidable, and in that context, it feels sort of silly. There's just something about it that doesn't seem like it fits, to me. Maybe it's the CG used in the cutscenes themselves; they definitely look sort of like mannequins - their rendering is certainly detailed and realistic, but it's just not quite right. Some characters look too greasy, or move a little too stiffly every now and then (amusing aside: the AI lady in this one is wears fake clothes, suggesting that Cortana was actually nude for Halo 1, 2 and 3). What I think is really weird about all of this is how the Covenant Elites look. Because this is still back when they were the bad guys, it feels like Ensemble really tried to make them look menacing. There's a definite emphasis on their sharp teeth and beady eyes when they are shown in cutscenes, making them look much scarier than the wimps they eventually become in Halo 2 and 3.
All in all, though, based on the Demo, I don't really know whether what Halo Wars is doing is bad, or not. The RTS as a genre is one of those genres that has been around so long and has sort of drilled itself down to almost a niche level that I think taking a step back and making it a little more user friendly might be a good thing.