Note: The Afro Samurai review was finished on Sunday, and now merely awaits posting. Hopefully it'll be up sometime today.
So, I was bored yesterday and decided, since I couldn't decide what to play, to check out the Halo Wars demo. I've gone on record before as saying I'm not the biggest Halo fan, as the universe is pretty generic and lacks much depth to anyone who reads a lot of (quality) science fiction. Added to that, I'm just not impressed with Bungie's storytelling capabilities. However, I'm still itching for a truly good console RTS game, so I'll give anything a try. C&C3 was OK, Warhammer controlled horribly, and EndWar's voice controls won't work for me at all. Could Halo Wars finally be the game to get it right?
Obviously, I came to the demo as a skeptic, and came away completely surprised by the quality here. The visuals (animations in particular) make Halo 3 look like a bad joke. While the RTS action here is noticeably less complex than the C&C titles or Starcraft, there's still some pretty decent unit variety, and the tech tree is easy to understand and work through.
Base construction is simple, as bases are a hub surrounded by multiple slots you can fit a building into. There's no need to think about where a building should go like there is in the C&C games. All units pour out of the same opening in the base, making finding them easy, and setting rally points is a breeze. With the bumpers, players can quickly select all units on screen, or all units they've built, allowing for quick commands. The d-pad allows for rapid switching from your base to the units doing the fighting, so multitasking combat with production is as easy as its ever been. Armies are limited in their size to about 30-40 units, which I found to be a nice and manageably small number, while keeping the action feeling intense. And with the possibility of 6 players in full battles, competition should get very intense. They even thought to include nice touches, like having groups of units move at the speed of their slowest member, so units stay together, unlike in C&C, where it was tough to keep everyone together. Resource management is incredibly simple, so players can spend more time focusing on climbing up the tech tree, building units, and managing a battle.
If tutorial length can say anything about the quality of the controls, Halo Wars fares very well. It took my about a half hour (if I remember right) to get the controls for C&C3 down. Warhammer took over 3 hours (1.5 in tutorial) to get down, and I still never mastered them. I was through everything in Halo Wars, and confident in my commanding abilities, in no more than 15 minutes.
After playing the first two missions of the campaign, and a couple skirmish missions (and DESTROYING the AI on normal... I should probably play on Heroic), I'm completely sold on Halo Wars. Ensemble Studios has finally make THE console RTS game. You can even play through the whole campaign in co-op. When my brother gets back from Spain, I'm forcing him to download the demo and try it out himself. Perhaps I can finally get him interested in an RTS, and we can co-op the campaign... or at least he can ride on the Grand Admiral's coattails lol =)
I'm picking up this game, the only question now is when. Do I get it now and play it on my bench weeks in the GSL? Do I wait until after the GSL and get it as a celebration that KOTOR lost? (to my team or any other) I'll have to think about it, especially with RE5 coming soon.
I encourage people to download the Halo Wars demo and try it for themselves. I was extremely impressed.