It was always obvious that, despite the third instalment’s increasingly gratuitous pleas to “finish the fight,” the Halo franchise would run well until the date mankind really does enter into an intergalactic war against a nefarious confederation of alien species known as The Covenant. It’s rather nice, then, that Halo Wars sets a good precedent by not only successfully transferring the spirit of the series into an RTS game, but also making it a refreshingly accessible one at that.
Set 20 years before the first Halo game, players can command either UNSC or Covenant troops and manoeuvre them in epic battles across vast forgotten plains and exotic alien realms. Indeed, the Campaign mode specialises in this, and – though brief – is a thoroughly entertaining jaunt, the odd duff mission aside (one literally having you scrub the top deck of your space ship. Scrub. As in clean). Controls are simple, the whole affair obviously being geared towards the hollering masses of Halo fans who couldn’t tell a Zerg from an Orc. Seasoned veterans may clutch at their eyepatches and point towards war-won scars in fury and contempt, but for those of us who have never been in the line of (imaginary) duty this is a wonderful place to start.
Likewise, Ensemble Studios (God rest their soul) have been generous enough to include a meaty array of multiplayer pleasure, allowing you to either team up with or fend off human and AI players. It’s here where you encounter perhaps the game’s best novelty – jumping in the gibbering, chitinous shoes of the Covenant war machine and mauling human opponents until your race reigns supreme across the dusty expanse of Blood Gulch. Playing as these insectoid rotters makes a nice change of pace and provides some welcome variety.
It seems an odd analogy – and one wholly unsuitable for a mythology based around gunning down extraterrestrial species with faces closely resembling Jabba the Hutt’s withered genitals – but Halo Wars brings most strongly to mind Pokémon in that both games provided players with a simple, intuitive entry-level game for a genre which is often known for its imposing incomprehensibility for newcomers (the latter, of course, essentially being an RPG for kids). Bedecked with generous extra content and an addictive array of multiplayer modes, Halo Wars is exactly what it says on the tin and therein lies its innate but simple charm.