Crispy Gamer

The Five: Halo Wars

Halo Wars has been in hibernation since E3 of last year. No showings, little news and practically nothing to get excited about. Even at Microsoft's press conference, one wondered if Halo Wars was still on anyone's radar ? except for Ensemble Studios, which is developing the real-time strategy game for the Xbox 360.

Graeme Devine, lead writer for the game at Ensemble, put the fears to rest by taking me on a guided tour of one of the game's multiplayer maps. As we played, I was able to gather some key nuggets:

1. The game is set 20 years before the first Halo. The book "Halo: Contact Harvest" offers clues that set up the events in the game. Devine said that if you read the book, many of the events in the game will fall into place.

2. Much as Cortana is an integral part of the Halo series, the artificial intelligence in this game is Serina, and Devine was emphatic in saying that "She is not Cortana." Serina and Capt. Cutter are the team aboard the spaceship Spirit of Fire, which provides you the necessary support for your battles on the ground.

3. The game will have 15 to 18 multiplayer maps where players can battle against each other. Devine said more maps will be available as downloadable content, as will more units.

4. The game went through internal alpha testing at Ensemble and Microsoft in May and performed well, leading to the decision for the showing at E3.

5. The game offers a simple radial controlled by the analog stick for making build selections at your base. Up to eight selections are available for any building or unit. Units and building can be upgraded with the appropriate power, supplies and population, fairly standard fare for an RTS, and a formula with which Ensemble's Age of Empires games have been quite successful.

I'm an admitted PC RTS geek, so the thought of playing an RTS on the Xbox 360 and its controller was a bit disconcerting, but the controls were fairly intuitive, and by the end of the demo I had the hang of the simplest commands and controls. The artificial intelligence in the demo was fairly simplistic in Easy mode, and a movement bug made for a spectacular flip of a Scorpion tank. The developers still have some work to go, but seeing the game come out again makes its Spring 2009 release date seem all the more realistic.

This preview was based on a hands-on demo of the multiplayer version of the game at E3.