Ensemble Studios might have gone the way of the dodo. However, its swan song RTS Halo Wars, veers ever closer to its March 3 launch date. The demo goes live tomorrow via Xbox Live Marketplace, but we had the chance to get our hands on this console RTS entry now. Here's some direct-feed footage featuring a cinematic, campaign gameplay, with UNSC cast members and the uber-awesome Grizzly tank unit. (Part 2 after the cut)
Bringing the real-time strategy genre to consoles is not an easy task. (Starcraft 64 anyone?) As of late, Tom Clancy's EndWar introduced voice-commands.Sega's upcoming Stormrise will also be touting frontline perspectives to change things up. Both attempt to pack something different into the console RTS table to find that elusive success the industry refuses to give this genre.
Halo Wars tries to climb that arduous summit, as well and will be backed by a rather impressive supporting entourage. As mentioned before, developer Ensemble Studios (Age of Empires series), led by the infusion of game-designing icon Graeme Devine (Quake III Arena, The 7th Guest, The 11th Hour), seems to really focus on what I thought was missing from recent offerings such as EndWar: the controls.
Halo Wars Direct-Feed Campaign Mission 3 Part 1
As a RTS fan, I'd shout for mouse and keyboard functionality off the bat. You'd figure with next-gen consoles being equipped with the latest peripheral interfaces (primarily USB), that the idea would come naturally. (At least the OPTION to would be nice). What Ensemble has done, however, has been the most seamless controller-based feeling, thus far.
Camera control, unit building and command issuing are suprisingly fluid, yet never fully replicate the "full" feeling of the mouse and keyboard. Menus are kept to a bare bones minimum with the brilliant use of the bumper buttons for unit selection. (LB = Select all global, RB = Select units on screen). The PC "control groups" use the console's D-Pad to select between your Hero units, army, and firebase which allows you to zip accross the battlefield multi-tasking like a demon. The TAB key, typical for cycling through sub-sets of units in a gathered mob, will be replaced by the right trigger for your selecting needs. Finally, the rudimentary basis for the selction, cancellation, unit powers, and attacking are all surprisingly functional via the X, Y, A, B setup. The culmination of the scheme works.
Although I must admit the inital gameplay felt like riding a bike while pedaling with my hands, after the two succinct tutorials and a couple of missions, I took to the waters of Halo Wars effortlessly. The last memorable experience I had from a console RTS was waaaay back on the Sega Genesis with Westwood Studios Grandfather of strategy, Dune: The Battle for Arrakis.
Call me crazy, but for a time, playing Halo Wars, I could almost hear the screams of the evil Harkonnen and the infamous words of "Death Hand approaching" and "Construction Complete." For now, I'm eager to play through the entire game for the full experience but until then, find out if I'm crazy and check the demo when it goes live tomorrow. Let me know what you think.
Halo Wars Direct-Feed Campaign Mission 3 Part 2