Ensemble Studios (the Age of Empires series) has completed Halo Wars and has sent it to be manufactured, and I ask, who, outside of the Halo fanboydom, honestly cares? Halo as a series has perpetually gone downhill; with Halo: Combat Evolved breaking onto the scene way back in 2001, gamers and media outlets across the world ranted and raved how it revolutionized console first-person-shooters through its sleek control scheme, engrossing story, balanced weaponry and superb AI. It was completely deserving of all the praise. With each new release, focus shifted from story to multiplayer, which I’m usually not one to complain about, however, with a story so enthralling introduced in the first installment, I couldn’t help but find myself wanting more at the end of the series. I know Bungie has it tucked away, waiting to let the beast out on the world.
Almost exactly three years after Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie released Halo 2, where almost no new changes were made, barring new weapons, a new playable character, and a less than lackluster story. Halo 3 regained some of the original’s former glory, with the best multiplayer the series had seen, yet, as with the second installment, the story faltered and provided a lukewarm end to an amazing beginning.
Now enter Halo Wars. With its release just about a month away, and the demo set to hit XBLA February 5th, Halo zealots are clamoring about this RTS set twenty years prior to the original game. Lets take a look at some problems with this game, problems that many gamers and media outlets seem to be forgetting. The first, and most obvious, is that an RTS very, very rarely happens to be designed well enough that the controls don’t feel clunky, slow, and unresponsive when made for a console. When your micromanaging multiple groups of allies across an expansive battlefield, not having a mouse is a severe disadvantage. Unless Ensemble has created a control scheme that will revolutionize the console RTS, then we’re going to be stuck with another Army Men game, though hopefully, the story won’t make you want to shove a pencil down your pee-hole . Which leads me to my second problem; Bungie has had relatively zero involvement in the game’s development, an aspect that bothers me as a fan of the series.
Although the story was not the greatest between Halo 2 and Halo 3, it still had an engrossing pull to it, a feature I believe lost without any input from Bungie, as their creative minds bestowed Halo onto the gaming community. My third, and last hangup with Halo Wars is that it resembles StarCraft, in terms of setting and the armies offered. If I’m going to play a futuristic RTS, I do not want to be reminded of a superior game that came out over a decade ago. I want innovation, not Age of Halo.
Yes, I know this game is on multiple lists of “the most highly anticipated games of 2009.” But how can you say that based on a brand? History has shows that the RTS genre does not translate well onto consoles, and with the absence of Bungie and any real innovation, Ensemble Studios better hope that this was the right time to go gold, because I’m afraid that history will repeat itself. This Halo fan will just have to wait for Halo: ODST.