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E3 08: Halo Wars In Depth Hands On

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One of the games that kind of fell off the radar for a while has been Halo Wars. Its absence at May’s gamer showcase began to stir wonder as to the state of the project. At E3, Halo Wars was playable behind closed doors at the Microsoft meeting room. Halo Wars takes place 20 years before Halo: Combat Evolved. Thus far the announced races are the UNSC and the Covenant. I played for about 30 minutes as the UNSC on the map Labyrinth in a co-op game which you will also be able to experience online. Of all the recent console RTS’ I feel as though Halo Wars gets it done right in terms of the console.

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For starters, the multiplayer game launch screens and menus look exactly like Bungie’s which will instantly give the player the familiar feel of playing a Halo game. Game play wise, Ensemble has gone with the very wise design choice of no free base building. You start out with a standard pad and plots on which to build. You can click on a plot by pressing A to start building a supply pad, a barracks, or a generator. You will only really need to keep track on your money in game generated by supply pads. However, in order to build advanced units you need to possess at least 2 generators to have the power required to build them.

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Once structures are built and you’re ready to produce units or purchase upgrades you can click on the bumper to bring up the 8 directional wheel. Available units will be on your right and upgrades to the structure on the left. Once in the wheel you can use the left thumbstick to select the unit and how many you want to build. The pacing of the structure and unit building lends itself toward a faster paced RTS. There are also very useful shortcuts placed on the d pad. Tap the D pad down to quickly be zoomed back to your main base or to the right to cycle to your greatest concentration of troops and so on. This lends itself to the micro experience of a traditional PC RTS.

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Hero units include the ability to build 3 Spartans for the humans, but none of which is master chief. Cortana is also currently not in the game. The Covenant can field the Prophet of Regret and each of these hero units contain a special ability that can change the tide of a game. The Spartans have the ability to jack vehicles as they do in the FPS games. So for example, I saw two Spartans go head on into a group of covenent troops and wraiths and a few moments later the Spartans had taken control of the Wraths and were mowing down Covenant. On the flip side the Prophet of Regret can unleashed a long lasting attack on a vehicle or a certain spot. It essentially looked like a large plasma blast tunnel onto a a Scorpion.

The game play on Labyrinth was pretty frantic as it seemed like a large map with a lot of spare bases to capture. Mobilizing and getting to the point of a battle seemed very quick. However, because of the size of the map it would take forever going from base to base to defeat the enemy. Labyrinth almost seemed like a map that could support more like 6 players well instead of 4. I was able to easily take down Covenant bases with 5 squads of Marines, 2 Spartans, 2 Scorpions. As you kill enemies you also unlock super powers for the UNSC which include the ability to call in carpet bombs. The neat thing with the carpet bomb is that once selected you can choose not only the location but also the direction in which the carpet bomb is unleashed. I was able in my play time to precisely place a carpet bomb such that it took down the entire covenant base.

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The visuals in the game are shaping up extremely well and as you can see from the shots throughout this piece are true to the Halo universe. The game is still a bit away from completion but is due out in the first half of 2009.

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