Monday, June 15, 2009

Halo Wars: Some Things Right, Some Things Wrong

Alright, I think I'm a bit more through Halo Wars, enough to give a solid opinion about it. The game gets a lot of things right, and a lot of things wrong. It isn't a bad game, but it could be a better one.

Case in point: the game's soundtrack needs some serious help. I know that Ensemble Studios must have went through so many lengths to capture that 'Bungie' magic and put it in their game. And they've done a lot of other aspects right, which I'll get to in a moment. But I just have to bring this up....

They just overuse the whole 'slow, epic' orchestral soundtrack commonly associated with Halo. I've got nothing against the slower musical scores in the Halo universe. It's just that it seems they listened to that one track in the opening menu for Halo 1, and based the entire soundtrack of the game on that one track.

That, coupled with the droning 'ALL UNITS' voiceover from Cutter (the Commander of the Spirit of Fire, one of the ships in the game) just takes its toll and makes the game feel boring. Sound plays a huge factor in most games, and this is no exception. A bad soundtrack can make a game feel really tedious, and in this case, the soundtrack is the thing that hurts my impression of the game the most.

Another point that kept on bothering me with every mission is how it seems your unit count is just so small. You only get to have 30 'units' (and some units take up more than 1 'unit' when you build them). You can upgrade and get up to 40 'units' but that's it. It just seems awful small. I think they were going for a "Warcraft III" feel for the game, having heroes on the battlefield; but I wish they would have given me more units to have on the field.

And getting resources just feels like it takes forever. I'm not too sure how to speed things up, other than building more supply pads. Which also takes forever.

I dunno; something about Halo Wars just feels so slow.

It's not all negatives: the game has its shining moments. I really like how the Spartans can just kick ass all over the place and take over enemy units really easily. In many ways, their prescence in a lot of the levels is fan-service, but I think Ensemble did a great job in portraying them. I like the other little touches in the game, like the dialogue between soldiers while they're on the ground. These really put you in the Halo Universe. The explosion effects, the action when things get heated....the game for the most part actually works as a console RTS. I don't find myself having too much trouble micromanaging my units; though this game still doesn't dethrone the PC as the best platform for RTS (let's hope Project Natal solves that problem....)

The cutscenes in the game are also very beautiful (albeit prerendered CG). Nothing wrong with good CG as long as they're enjoyable to watch, and in this regard, Halo Wars succeeds and entertains.

So yeah, the controls are great. They're practically perfect. The special effects (explosions, gunfire, lasers everywhere) are awesome. This is a Halo RTS done right, because everything about the action itself is Halo through-and-through.

It's just that the soundtrack really hurts this game a lot. If I'm invading an enemy base, it would be nice to have the music change up to something more upbeat instead of being the usual slow orchestral theme that fits a much different setting or scenario. I guess that's what I'm trying to say....Halo Wars is a prime example of how in-game music, if chosen poorly, can actually have a nasty effect on a person's immersion in a game.

I haven't finished the game. Maybe the ending will redeem this one. But for the past 13 campaign missions, I've made up my mind about some things about it. Halo Wars does some things right, and some things wrong. For the Halo fan, I'd still recommend it; just be prepared for that horrific soundtrack. For other players, starting on the Halo universe with Halo Wars might be quite a confusing experience, since the storyline in the game doesn't explain a lot. It's best to try this game out after experiencing the earlier Halo titles (Halo 1, 2 or 3). Only after playing those games will the magic in Halo Wars become easily apparent.

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