The game that I knew little about other than a teaser trailer that I got on my Xbox 360 was Halo Wars. I knew I wanted to try it — remember, I’m a huge Halo dork — but I didn’t know anything about it other than A) it was based in the Halo universe, and B) it was a real time strategy game.
Heck, stupid me, I thought it was a PC game! Nope, this is an Xbox 360 game.
The game’s been in development for around two and a half years. The first six months, according to Ensemble Studios, were spent working solely on the controls. If you’ve ever tried to play a real-time strategy on a console, you can probably guess why, and the work they put into the game’s controls really showed. At one point, they said that if you wanted, you could play the entire game using just the left analog stick and the four main buttons (A, B, X, Y).
For instance, to select a squad, you point the cursor at the squad and click on A to select it, then X to pick where it moves to. If you double hit A, you get everyone, and if you hold down A, you can “paint” an area to select the units in that area. To jump around the map, you can use the d-pad.
The game takes place on a planet called Harvest in the year 2531, approximately 20 years before the events of the first Halo game. The UNSC Marines are liberating the planet from the Covenant. You’ve got the ship Spirit of Fire in orbit above Harvest, and the ship’s artificial intelligence Serena helped narrate the demo we saw.
Actually, following the demo is probably a good way to show the game ...
First they showed unit selection (as described above). We also looked around the base a bit; we saw the missile silos, airpad, the guys working on a Warthog at the vehicle depot, even a drill sergeant putting soldiers through some physical training by having them do pushups. The base looked and felt very human.
And one thing you won’t be doing during the game is resource-gathering. You’re not mining ore of some sort or anything like that. Instead, the resources you get are supplies from the Spirit of Fire.
After two Hawk gunships escorted a Pelican dropship down to the base, the developer selected the two six-man squads of Marines and moved them out. They encountered a number of Covenant — Grunts (the cowardly “foot soldiers” of the Covenant) with Needlers (that fire homing pink exploding rounds) and Elites (the tall officers, armed with plasma guns). The Covenant, though taking some casualties, killed the Marines. (The grunts did break and run around once, just like they do in the other games, but they eventually regrouped. The Marines did not fall back.)
OK, so the dev needed heavier firepower. He created two Warthogs (four-wheel drive jeeps with mini-guns) — selecting the build menu off the vehicle depot had given him a full screen menu with a choice between Warthogs, Scorpions and two new vehicles — Wolverines and Rhinos.
With the two Warthogs, he drove around a bit to show off their physics. They moved and acted just like the ones in the first-person shooter games. They raced off after the Covenant and wiped them out using their mini-guns, as well as running them over. Again, what amazed me was how accurately it looked compared to the first-person shooter. You could imagine the exact same battle almost in the other games.
There was a gap in the road, but Warthogs could easily jump it. They raced forward and encountered more Marines shooting it out with Covenant forces. The Warthogs went in to wipe out the Grunts and infantry, just to have Ghosts (the light flying vehicles) fly in and start bombarding them. That led them to break out the Wolverines, which are Warthog variants mounting anti-air missiles. The Covenant countered with Banshees, which started making a mess of things until a couple of Scorpion battle tanks showed up. The Scorpions cleaned up on the Banshees until the Covenant broke out the Scarab, the giant walking tank from Halo 2. It mounted what the developer called an “anti-everything” gun.
Fortunately for the UNSC, they had the Spirit of Fire in orbit above the battlefield and called in some MAC gun strikes on the Scarab. Down it went.
Some more notes from the showing: You’ll be able to play co-op campaigns over Xbox Live. Resources are (as I’ve said) via supply drop (combat is the focus of the game, not micromanaging), though you will need to research new technologies. You’ll be able to build your buildings anywhere, and the flourishes (such as the sergeant and soldiers doing PT) will follow. There was a mention of sergeants calling in ODST, and yes, you will be able to create Spartans.