gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Halo Wars Mini Review

There are too many games to play, too many gadgets with which to tinker, but not enough time in the day. I’m sure there’s probably not enough time in yours, either, so I’ll keep this review brief and it’ll be all the better for both of us, okay?

Right, now that little whinge is over and done with, I’m afraid I’m going to have step away from a structured, critical review and switch into rampant fanboy mode. Halo Wars is, simply put, the best RTS I’ve played in a long time and, without a doubt, the best RTS ever to grace a games console… maybe I can append “since Red Alert on the PS1” to that in nostalgic memory of my “little” addiction (Okay, so someone probably still has a family movie on VHS of me glued to a TV continuously entering money cheats into Red Alert).

Halo Wars does away with a lot of the superfluous elements of classic PC RTS titles and focusses entirely on giving you unhindered access to the tools you need to ruthlessly steamroll your enemies. Throwing back to the classic and good old days of RTS titles before they took the “S” seriously and implemented the oft-boring and drawn out element of “Strategy” (which should be left to turn based strategy games!) Halo Wars adopts a dramatically simplified base construction system. This sees all of your buildings raised out of the ground through doors in an upgradable structure foundation, completely eliminating the need to strategically place buildings, turrets, walls and other paraphernalia that C&C players will be intimately familiar with.

The same simplification goes for resource gathering. If you want more resources, you build more landing pads at which they will arrive.

This eliminates a lot of the depth that drawn-out single player RTS battles typically rely on, skirmishes over outposts and resource gathering grounds are seriously mitigated with additional building sites, at which you can construct bases, being present in predictable (read: absolutely fixed) locations. Once a player has beaten you down and got a foothold in a base, it’s unlikely you’ll get it back until you’ve moved onto the rampant steam-rolling-with-10-of-the-same-fully-upgraded-armored-unit stage.

But this is not a bad thing. The lack of traditional gameplay variety and intricate base construction has been more than made up for with a solid and absorbing, although reasonably straight-forward, plot that gives Halo fans a little more insight into the universe and, to spoil only a tiny snippet of said plot, a brush with the Halos’ distant cousin; a dyson sphere.

The plot and varied single player missions are also available to play co-operatively over Xbox-live, and I’ve actually found it extremely entertaining to play through the missions again, immediately after completing them, with John.

Co-op play has a few quirks, however, when you have a limited number of units, or as events add new units the game tends to fail miserably to assign them in a logical manner. 3 Spartans may turn up and, instead of giving these to one player at random, you will almost invariably end up with one person having control over a single Spartan and the other over 2. It’s a minor complaint, but it’s irksome to have to constantly pass the Spartan straggler over so he can fight more effectively with his squad.

Production of units is a little more sane, you control what you build, but resources are shared so you’ll need to communicate strategy constantly with your partner so you don’t spend the savings for, for example, an advanced reactor upgrade. This could be a good thing, however, as rarely does co-operative play actually enforce any sort of co-operation.

I’m not a huge fan of versus multiplayer combat, I’ve never had quite the right temperament to face off against a human player unless slightly intoxicated, so I’ve yet to actually try Halo Wars online in any capacity other than co-operative. Skirmish should quench my thirst for playing as the Covenant forces but I’m unlikely to ever muster the time or willpower to try even that.

Halo Wars might be dumbed down, it might be simple, it might not contain an nth the elements that the hardcore strategist wants in his or her RTS games but, damnit, sometimes simplicity isn’t a bad thing and one grows weary of games that contain too much complexity and too little innately satisfying stream-rolling with absurdly over-powered and far-too-easily produced “uber” units.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009, Computer Gaming, Xbox 360.