'Halo Wars': Trying to Command In Order to Conquer

The Inlander | March 9, 2009
Rated Teen; Xbox 360

In videogames, killing someone is easy. Telling someone else to kill someone is hard. If I could just pull the trigger myself, I'm sure I could annihilate the invading alien horde. After all, I did it in Halo. But in Halo Wars I'm no longer on the battlefield. Instead, I'm in charge of the entire human army.

Halo Wars is a real-time strategy game that lifts me, god-like, far above the fray. As a commander, it's my job to recruit, rally and direct my forces across the model-sized landscape. On a computer, I could accomplish this with a simple click and a drag of the mouse. But on the Xbox 360, the task becomes more complex.

I would have thought that the 16 buttons on the 360's controller could manipulate an army. But in a misguided attempt to simplify things, Halo Wars' designers have given me only two primary ways to group units together. I can automatically select the entire army or the portion visible onscreen. It's possible, with some persnickety joysticking, to choose smaller groups. But most of the time, especially during the tension of combat, I'm forced to rely on the two broad-swath methods of selecting my forces.

This often results in me sending an entire army to do a smaller force's job. As soon as I click on their target, all my footsoldiers, tanks and airplanes swarm towards the same destination with no regard for formation or pacing. Arriving at their target at different times but from the same direction, they invariably end up cramming together in a giant, easy-to-obliterate mishmash of space marines.

I could avoid this problem if it were possible to divide my army into unique divisions, scrolling through them with a few thumbclicks and sending each in its own direction. Or I might command a squadron of planes to "follow" or "guard" simply by clicking on the slower tanks and footsoldiers. But these obvious, simple options are absent from the game.

Instead, I'm forced to steer my entire army all around the map at once, hoping that they'll be smart enough to take out any targets they see along the way. (They usually aren't.) It's tedious and cumbersome, and makes me wonder how I ever managed to beat the aliens in the first game. Maybe it was because I was only in charge of one gun.

THE GOOD: The cutscenes that play between each of the game's 15 missions are beautiful examples of computer-generated moviemaking. The characters move and speak without the overanimated hyperactivity so many CGI characters display. And the story they tell is an interesting—if miniscule—portion of the Halo mythos.

THE BAD: If only the Halo mythos figured into the actual gameplay. From the long-distance view of the battlefield, I could be commanding Warhammer 40,000 figures or plastic army men. Nothing in the environments, the units or the style of combat has anything to do with the unique franchise that gives this game its name.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Halo Wars attempts to expand the series' combat onto a full battlefield, but the controls are too small for such an epic job.

2/5 Stars

The Inlander

Founded in 1993, The Inlander has quickly become the most trusted source of news and entertainment information for the sprawling Inland Northwest. While the majority of our readership lives in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area -- a fast-growing part of the...
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