First Play: Halo Wars

Set twenty years before the original Halo trilogy and with Master Chief nowhere in sight, Microsoft’s new Xbox title, Halo Wars, is already risking fanboy disapproval, but it’s not the absence of everybody’s favourite Spartan that makes things dicey, it’s the attempt to bring real-time strategy to the Xbox.

RTS games, with their detailed, fiddly interfaces, deep menus and intricate micro-management have long been an anathema to consoles, with their focus on action and inability to match the fine control of a mouseclick. Creating an RTS for the Xbox would seem like a fools errand if it were any property other than the mighty Halo.

Microsoft has brought in Ensemble, developers of the benchmark RTS series, Age of Empires, to assist them in turning the game’s Warthogs, Banshees and Scorpions from FPS vehicles into top-down armies, and the results are impressive. Halo Wars maps have a sense of breadth and perspective that lets you supervise large numbers of units whilst still marvelling at the brilliantly modelled and animated individual units.

The game’s economy system is a simple one of building the right buildings on the right spots in order to automatically produce all the supplies you need, a fact that will free players from all the tedious harvesting and mining associated with the genre and let them concentrate on fling troops into battle at the earliest opportunity, while the controls and innovative circular menu design do a good job of making selection and control almost as easy as they would be with a mouse. You can read our full Halo Wars preview and watch game footage by visiting The Leisure Lab.