"An RTS title that was actually MADE for a console, not for a PC that was imported over with less effective results.
On another note: My review contains spoilers."
Plot / Concept: 6 / 10
Summary: Based off the Spirit of Fire, a colony ship refitted for combat support, you co-ordinate and lead your army into battle against the Covenant. Or you take on the role of the Covenant and fight against the unclean Humanity.
The campaign takes you to Harvest where you are attempting to find out why there are still elements of the Covenant on the planet. You first secure Alpha Base, a nearby encampment that was overrun and destroyed by the Covenant, re-build a base and use it to secure an ancient relic the Covenant found (Why Humanity never found when it is beside a military base is beyond me). Once in relic, you uncover it's secrets, then must fight you way out as the Covenant continue to assault from the place. (Even though you supposedly secured the area in the previous mission).
Your next destination is Arcadia, another planet the Covenant are busy at; going through more ancient ruins that the Humans managed to miss. Your tasks involve evacuating civilians, falling back then clearing the area to allow proper evacuation of your own men, dealing with a large domed shield and finally the Super Scarb that is blocking your access to what the Covenant are up to.
However, before you can learn what is going on, you have to quickly pack up camp and run towards another world as your critical scientist is kidnapped by the Covenant to be used against Humanity. This takes you to another artifact: A Forerunner shield world that is flooded with... Flood. Yes, Flood. The same creatures the having been trying to kill the Master Chief during the original Trilogy. Except now they have been re-made for RTS use, with buildings you cannot kill, only put to sleep, flying units and building killers. From there, you rescue Anders (After the flood supposedly know how to screw around with her transponder signal...?), find out what the Covenant are doing, then decide the smartest way to stop the Covenant is to blow everything up. Then without a means to get home, the ship sets course at a snail's pace, knowing it would years, if not forever to get back.
One of the big things in Wars that could have really ruined it's credibility as canon was the inclusion of the Flood in the game. Since the official known contact with the Flood was not to happen until 20 years after the game, this could have ruined the game's ability to include itself as part of the overall storyline. However, having the Spirit of Fire being declared missing and lost by the USNC since they sacrificed their slipstream engine to stop the Covenant makes it impossible for them for warn the UNSC about what they found. Still... no one ever heard of a radio (or the 25th century equivalent)? Or where they simply too far away to even get a signal out? It may have not been the best save for the game, but it was still a good one.
You also have a section that lets you access the Halo timeline, uncovering information leading up the Harvest campaign, what happens during it and afterward. It starts off a bit empty, but as you collect data boxes in the game, you can unlock more information.
Gameplay: 8 / 10
The game plays as a RTS, except actually made to work with a controller. The analog sticks control moving around the map, angle and how close you are. The directional pad serves as a hotkeys, allowing you flip to super power options (Humans), between bases and concentration of units. It can be a bit tricky to select specific units, but double-clicking on the A button lets you select all the units of one type in an area. You can also click for "Local Units" (Everything you see at that moment) and every unit on the entire map
as well. Useful for emergencies. So performing and executing commands are fairly simple.
Leader Powers and advantages are drastically different between not only the two races, but they change and create different strategy options for players.
- Human leaders offer a different attack power, base advantage, special unit and super unit. For instance, Professor Anders offers reduced cost research, allowing players to more easily pull off an early Warthog rush. Sgt. Forge has super-devastating Grizzlys that can become excessively overpowered when manned by Spartans.
- Covenant Leaders are physically on the field, offering their services as a powerful meat shield, damage giver and devastator with their special ability that costs resources as they used them, rather than a large sum with a recharge. With enough base support, these Leaders have the potential to use them with almost no limit.
Another difference worth noting: Humans have a lower maximum population cap than the Covenant do, but can also field 3 Spartans at any given time.
The two tutorials outlining how to play the game are a great idea. They allow players to 'literally' take all the time they want to learn the essentials in Wars.
The achievements are setup to encourage players to play through each level on most of the different difficulties; as some achievements are really only possible to pull off on the lower difficulties while others requires you play the levels on higher ones.
Multiplayer is setup as even-matched games (Is there even a free-for-all?). As with all non-campaign games, you can play was either Humanity or the Covenant, each with their different advantages and drawbacks.
The downloadable content adds on two features, but frankly I do not think they are worth the purchases. They only add a couple maps and different means of playing the game.
Controls: 8 / 10
With a PC game, you have a ton of keys for all your different options. It has the advantage of added flexibility in an RTS situation, but unless you are great with memorizing all the different shortcut keys, you will probably be stuck with the mouse for doing a lot of your work. With a game controller, you need to be far more careful. You have a limited number of buttons to work with, so every one of them must have a specific functions that allows for efficiency. While maybe more things could have been done to tweak the operation, there are far worse controller setups for RTS games than Wars. Overall, the layout makes it very possible to handle this RTS game well.
Music: 7 / 10
You would think it wouldn't work... But it does. The passive music that plays when you are gentle, yet sets the mood for where you are. Flood maps have their own special music, giving a feeling of uneasiness. Once you get into the action, the music changes, becoming more aggressive and upbeat. When attacking bases, the music changes into something positive and encouraging, giving you the feeling you can win the fight. Nice touches there.
The cinematic music tend to come out as very 'generic', but they work to setup what the story is trying to tell.
Sound Effects: 7 / 10
The voice acting was good for the most part. I was a bit disappointed with the on-field units, and they felt rather bland. The stuff in the cinematics, cutscenes and captions worked out fine. The mood was right (except for Forge's weird "What was that?!" during the opening of mission #7). It left me satisfied.
The game also includes the normal sound effects for explosions, weapons, building construction, etc. Nothing really stands out as disappointing, but nothing appealing.
One sound effect I always liked is on the flood maps. You could hear organic 'cracking' sounds and odd screams in the background, adding a level of intimidation to those maps. Nice touch! :)
Graphics: 7 / 10
Being an RTS game, there is a lot of stuff going on on your screen at any given time. The more detailed it is, the more risk of losing frame rate and creating slowdowns. For an RTS, the is unacceptable, as those critical seconds could cost you a battle. Ensemble chose to preserve frame rate and speed, so the RTS end of the graphics were a little simplified. Still, the backgrounds proved to look convincing and the units are still easily identifiable.
The cinematics are very beautiful and very detailed. They put a lot of work into making those look great. Excellent job with that.
Moderate-High. The campaign requires multiple attempts at levels to complete everything. The multiplayer requires people to learn that not everyone in the game is a total n00b.