There is a lot of reason to be skeptical of Microsoft's real-time strategy game, Halo Wars. For one thing this is the first new Halo game not developed by Bungie, the company that has spent the last decade doing nothing more than making games starring the Master Chief. And it's not just that, there's also the worry that Halo won't translate well to this brand new genre, a genre that hasn't exactly been perfected on the non-keyboard home consoles.
Yet as worried as I was, I was definitely excited to see what Ensemble Studios had in store for their first brand new console game. This is a company best known for PC classics like Age of Empires and Age of Mythology; they definitely know what they're doing when it comes to making real-time strategy games. Halo was one of the first games to prove that you could do an amazing first-person shooter on a home console, so it only seems fitting that Halo Wars will try and do the same thing for real-time strategy games. But does it succeed? After some initial doubt, I have come away convinced that Ensemble Studios is on to something big with this title.
Unfortunately playing Halo Wars at E3 was trickier than you may imagine. For whatever reason Microsoft decided not to feature the game on the show floor, limiting the amount of people who actually got hands-on time with the short demo. Instead journalists who wanted to try out Ensemble's upcoming game had to make an appointment and visit Microsoft's behind closed doors meeting area. Oddly enough, this was also the only way you could play the upcoming Banjo Kazooie game, Lips and a few other big holiday titles.
But this article isn't about some SingStar rip-off; this is a hands-on preview of Halo Wars. Before I could sit down with the game, Microsoft made us sit through a short tutorial hosted by one of the developers at Ensemble. He explained what we would be playing, the history of the title and what they hope to deliver. They also explained some of the nuance of the controls, which I'll get to a bit later. After rushing through his memorized tutorial and answering a few questions from a group of six or seven people, Microsoft told us to find a console, pick up the control and, most importantly, have fun. It was time to play Halo Wars.
Unfortunately the demo only allowed us to play the game as a two-player co-op game. Each person got their own comfy couch and large HDTV to stare into, as well as a second player who was working with you to defeat the dastardly Covenant. In my case I was teamed up with a fellow journalist, Patrick O'Connor, who currently works over at Defunct Games. Together we built up our base, trained an army of soldiers and kicked some alien ass.
The way the demo level was laid out made it so that my real life teammate and I never had to work together, he had his own battle to fight and I had my own. He top half of the screen, I took the bottom. For the first two-thirds of the game we barely spoke, only communicating at the end to devise a plan to rush the last remaining bad guys in spectacular fashion. The truth is, we could have gone the entire match without saying a word, our coordination was absolutely inconsequential.