March 24, 2009

Halo Wars Triple Whammy pt. 2

A review of the game itself. How delightful! It's also 100% less crap!

Or, more specifically, the limited edition. The core game, of course, is exactly the same, but in addition to reviewing the game, I'll tell you if the extra dough is worth spending for the special edition.

The first thing I noticed was how damn heavy the thing was. I must say, though, it's probably the nicest tin case I've ever seen. Seriously, it's got some great artwork on both sides and even more on the inside. The Halo Wars logo is embossed on both the front and the back. Also in the plastic slip that houses everything (that's what the Xbox and Halo Wars logos are printed on) is this awesome envelope box thing with an official looking Spirit of Fire seal on it. Inside you'll find the patch (awesome), six leader cards, and the graphic novel. The leader cards have artwork for the six leaders as well as bios. Pretty pointless as far as I'm concerned. The graphic novel, on the other hand, is pretty sweet. It was written by Eric Nylund, author of three of the six Halo novels. It's basically a prequel to this prequel and tells the story of what happened at Harvest after the initial attack, how the Spirit got involved, and gives backstories on the major characters. It's a nice piece of a work and a definite collectors item. My one gripe is that there was no sort of 'making of' DVD that has become so standard in special editions these days. This is a game that I was really interested in learning more about, then Microsoft or Ensemble or whoever was responsible crushed my dreams. I could have done without the leader cards and with a DVD. Still, it's a nice collection that I think any fan should go for. On a side note, I appreciate that the plastic slip has a bottom to keep everything neatly inside.

Now to the game itself. I won't go into the controls at all because I've already talked about them at length in my preview of the game. Simply know this: the game controls and plays beautifully. End of story. Moving on.

One of the game's greatest strengths is also its greatest flaw. The campaign. It's great and yet it's not so great. It's great because it's fun, challenging (sometimes almost too challenging), and varied. I appreciate that each mission isn't simply "destroy enemy base" like a bunch of skirmish matches strung together. UT3, I'm looking at you. Anyway, missions are varied and fun and most of all strategic. Sometimes you'll have to escort someone or something, sometimes you'll battle your way through Covenant forces, and sometimes you must simply survive. I will say that difficulty is inconsistent. Some missions are brain dead easy, while others are mind numbingly hard. Seriously, when you send that many Flood at me I'm bound to fail! Anyway, the campaign plays nicely and, before I get into the negatives, looks superb. Ensemble outsourced the CGI animation to s third party and it shows. In a good way. I don't understand why more people don't make their game's cinematics look this good. Seriously. I understand that companies think it "detracts from the experience" because it looks so vastly different but, the truth is, nobody cares. I sure as hell doesn't detract from my experience. All games should try to achieve what Halo Wars has accomplished. I can't stress it enough. It's the best CGI anywhere ever. And I mean that. Show me computer animate that looks better than this! Go on, I dare you! That's right, you can't!

The downside is that Halo Wars tells a somewhat convoluted and sloppy story. While it has the potential to be one of the grandest and most epic of Halo's tales, it falls short due to incongruities and vagueness in story telling. In typical Halo fashion you start out on Harvest and stay there for about three missions. Where you end up is any one's guess. Really, I played through the game and I can't even figure it out. Then there's that unnecessary forced trip to Arcadia. What the hell? At least the characters are well developed. Well, at least if you read all the supplementing fiction they are.

That brings me to Halo Wars' hidden treats: skulls and black boxes. Both are surprisingly well hidden and add something unique to the game. Skulls serve the same purpose they did in Halo 2 and 3. Some make the game more challenging and some are just for fun. Wouldn't you love your Scarab to shoot rainbows? Black boxes add events the the Halo timeline. This feature is awesome. It recounts important events in the Halo timeline through at least 100 years of fiction. While we're on the subject of awesome additions, Ensemble also included a theater to watch those delicious cutscenes. Praise the Forerunners!

Multiplayer is there too, of course. There's co op on line as well as skirmish in standard and deathmatch over 14 or so maps. I have to say, it's pretty fun stuff. Just what you'd expect, but fun nonetheless. Things get pretty hectic on large maps when there's more people playing (up to 6 total). The leaders actually provide a decent amount of gameplay variety and strategy.

Overall, Halo Wars is a pretty great game. It has it's flaws, but what game doesn't? It's not only a great game, more importantly it's a great Halo game. Ensemble has done the series proud- as their final effort, they have crafted the ultimate console RTS and they've done it with Halo. Halo, you've done it again. You've defined another console genre. Give yourself a pat on the armor. You deserve it.

Visuals: 9- Unit textures can get muddy up close. Everything else looks nice, especially the CGI.
Controls: 10- Perfect.
Gameplay: 9.5- Nearly perfect.
Sound: 9- Nice music and everything sounds as it should. Even the combat dialog.
Replay Value: 9- Game is damn fun, and there's lots of difficulty levels and stuff to find, but I can only play it for so long before I grow tired of it.
Overall: 9/10

Great addition to the Halo name. Probably the best console RTS ever.

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