the rantings and ravings of a not quite sane cow

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Demo Impressions: Halo Wars

As anyone who has even a passing interest in Halo knows, the demo for Halo Wars was released a few days ago on the XBLM.

I, however, have not even a passing interest in the Halo franchise, not having played any of the first 3 games for more than 5 minutes. With a free demo, however, I felt that it was worth a try.

If you're too lazy to read beyond the first 3 (short) paragraphs, you should take this away this: since this is Ensemble Studios' last game (thanks, penny pinching Microsoft!), they should be very proud of themselves. I just hope that wherever the developers go they can continue this level of quality.

That being said, it does suffer the problem of being an RTS on a console, and you can never really get the same level of control with a controller as you can with a keyboard and mouse. It also doesn't quite reach the depth some computer RTS's reach, but that's not to say it entirely lacks depth. I've seen RTS's on PC which have a lot less depth.

To get into a bit more depth with the controls, there are things I like and things I don't. This being the first RTS I've played on a console, it definitely seems like the controls were designed for a console. The left analog stick is used for both moving the camera and as a cursor for unit control (the cursor stays in the center of the screen). This is both good and bad, as while it makes it easy to center on what you're trying to hit (you don't really have a choice), you lose a view you may have on other things you may be trying to kill.

Units are selected with the A button, hold it down to select units over a larger area. LB selects all the units you have, RB selects all the units on screen. Each type of unit has a special ability mapped to the Y button. RT switches through different types of units, if you have more than one type of unit selected. The problem with that is that after cycling through the list, it doesn't select of all them again as I'd like, I have to select them manually. That's easy if I'm using all my units at once (my mind doesn't often consider more advanced tactics), but harder if I'm using multiple groups.
Edit: on a second run through I figured out that B will do exactly this. Thanks for telling me, game!

I can't really fault the game for this; it's really a limitation of being on a console and I don't think there's anything they could do to fix it. Now on to the other matters.

The graphics are highly impressive. Everything has plenty of polys and textures everywhere are very clear. Of special note are the prerendered cutscenes. To say they're stunning is a massive understatement. These guys could make a CGI movie if they wanted to.

I usually don't have that much to say about sound, so I'll just say the sound here is more than adequate, music is lovely, speech is clear and sound effects sound like what they're supposed to sound like.

My problem with the demo is how little there is in it. Two tutorial missions, two campaign missions and a skirmish on one map wth only one general from each side available (at least they're letting you play as the covenant). No multiplayer though, local or online.

I'd spend more time explaining the gameplay to you but that would defeat the overreaching point of this article: download them demo! Unless you don't have an Xbox 360, then buy one and download the demo.

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