Tag Archive: halo


For me, Age of Empires on PC was my gateway into the world of real-time strategy games. Then, just a couple of years later, Command & Conquer on the N64 almost did the exact opposite, making me recoil from the genre. It wasn’t the games themselves, but the method in which I played them. Although I became more engrossed in consoles over the years, the RTS genre always held a special place in my heart from those early PC days, but I could never find one that captured what made the genre great on a console. So, when I needed a fix, it would end up leading to a rare PC purchase for me. Then, in 2009, fittingly enough the studio that made Age of Empires figured it out with Halo Wars. It wasn’t just marrying one of my favorite shooter series to the genre, but they had figured out a way to make it control almost as well as on a PC. Ensemble Studios may now be gone, but Halo Wars lives on, and another stellar RTS developer in Creative Assembly has picked up the ball and run with the series in spectacular fashion in Halo Wars 2.

When last we saw the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire, they had immersed themselves in cryosleep, beaten, battered, and with heavy losses after emerging victorious in a grueling battle with both the Covenant and the Flood. Now, 28 years later (up to date now with the Halo timeline), the crew is woken up when the Spirit of Fire drifts within range of an Ark, and picks up a UNSC distress signal coming from its surface. Commander Cutter quickly dispatches a team, and everyone is shocked as all they find is a young AI named Isabel. She quickly gets the Spirit of Fire crew up to date on the last 28 years, and reveals a new enemy in The Banished, a Brute-led force so powerful they were able to splinter off and earn their freedom from the Covenant.

On the surface, Creative Assembly has only really made minor tweaks to the basic gameplay of the original Halo Wars, but that in and of itself is an accomplishment. It’s not easy to make an RTS game work on consoles, but maintaining a lot of the same controls—like using the A-button to sweep over and collect units, or double-tapping a bumper to select all the units—I never once felt hampered when commanding my UNSC or Banished armies in both campaign and multiplayer. One major addition was particularly handy, though.

Hunters1160

A feature long available on PC RTS games—and noticeably absent from the original Halo Wars—was the ability to assign units to groups so you could bounce back and forth easily between teams fighting on multiple fronts. Now, you can create four separate groups on the D-Pad by holding a direction and a bumper, making army management a lot simpler. It may not be as much as the 10 groups you can create on a keyboard, but it’s a start, and can go a long way to your enjoyment of the game—in particular when the campaign sets up several missions where fighting along multiple fronts is the necessary way to go if you are to achieve victory on harder difficulties.

The other major addition is how much more in-depth Creative Assembly has gone with the upgrade trees and units you can make. Following the story, the Banished won’t have many familiar Covenant faces like the Jackals, because they wouldn’t make sense (no spoilers!). A variety of different Elites, however, help fill in myriad roles of units like these that didn’t carry over from the first game. And this works on both sides of the war, with one example being retrofitted Cyclops replacing the Cobra tanks—the UNSC’s anti-vehicle units for the original Halo Wars.

One of Halo Wars 2’s best features, however, is how the campaign not only fits perfectly into the Halo universe with a tremendous story, but teaches you all about these new mechanics and units as you play. You’ll experience them all as the narrative unfolds, prepping you before you take the plunge into the multiplayer modes. There’s also some surprising replayability with four different difficulties (all also available in 2-player co-op), high scores, and the optional and bonus objectives, which is how you actually unlock skulls this time around instead of searching for them tucked away in corners of the battlefield.

Hellfighters1160

The campaign, however, is also where one of the biggest flaws with the game crops up: its length. A full playthrough on normal only clocks in at about 6-8 hours (depending on if and how often you fail a mission), and only consists of 12 missions—one of which is really a 5-minute tutorial. Looking back, this is three chapters shorter than the original game. While the length doesn’t detract from the great story, and it’s nice the campaign goes to such lengths to teach you about all the units and lower the bar of entry for those potentially new to the RTS genre like mentioned above, I also got the feeling that I was never about to truly cut loose until the very last mission.

That’s because right up until the end, I felt the game was still giving me tutorials and holding my hand for a bit too long, keeping certain units back behind a curtain—and when everything was finally at my disposal, the game was over. Limiting players with certain scenarios and stipulations is good some of the time in an RTS campaign, but doing it nearly every mission can get a bit stifling, and prevented me from learning as much on my own. Really, experimentation in an RTS is sometimes part of the fun.

I was also surprised that there were a couple of moments in the campaign where some precipitous frame rate drops occurred (in particular, many of them happened in Mission 7). There really weren’t any other technical issues to speak of in my time with the game, and these could’ve just been the occasional pre-launch hiccup which can easily be patched on day one—but it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for.

Sentinels160

While playing an RTS game in single-player is all well and good, as I alluded to before, it’s really just the appetizer before diving into the multiplayer. Halo Wars 2 really shines here if you’re any sort of an RTS fan. The multiplayer suite is larger than before, featuring new modes like Strongholds, where players are given infinite resources while racing to build the biggest army first while trying to control the most bases. The team with the most bases at the end—or the one that can wipe out their opponents—wins. It’s a nice complement to Team Deathmatch and Domination if you’re looking for something more casual and less centered on the all-important resource management of other RTS modes.

The shining jewel, though, is the brand new card-based Blitz mode. Yes, it’s really an easy way to add microtransactions to yet another game, but it is entirely unnecessary to spend any extra money. You can earn cards by playing the game’s other modes (including campaign), and by leveling up your overall rank. There are also daily and weekly challenges across all modes that can reward you with special cards, too.

The idea in Blitz is that every player has a 12-card deck, and can even customize 18 total decks if they want (three for each of the six starting commanders in the game). Each commander has special cards only they can wield, and really add some unique elements to each deck. When you play Blitz, you draw a four-card hand and can only call units onto the field by playing cards, which you do by collecting resources like in any other RTS game. If playing against others, it takes on a Domination-like feel, with each player or team vying for control of three different points. If you play against AI, Blitz turns into a wave-based survival mode.

Halo Wars 2 Campaign Deadly Skirmish

I hate to admit it, because it seems like so many games are trying to add trading card game elements somehow now, but Blitz was probably my favorite of the multiplayer modes. Each match was fast (8-10 minutes), deck building is easy, and there’s still the strategy element you’d expect from something featured in an RTS game. Knowing where and when to play cards is vital. And, since you will always have a limited amount of units, knowing when to break someone off from your main groups to go collect more resources is critical to being ready for the inevitable conflicts. My only complaint about the mode is it only features one map, but with no match ever playing the same—even when using the same deck—it’s really a minor annoyance at worst. Also, it should be mentioned that I noticed no problems with Halo Wars 2 servers, but these were pre-launch conditions only populated by devs and a few dozen other members of the press. Once the game is released into the wild, it could be an entirely different ballgame, so that’s also something else to keep an eye out for.

As a fan of the original Halo Wars and RTS titles in general, I almost couldn’t be happier with Halo Wars 2. It continues the story of some of my favorite characters in the expanded Halo universe in a fitting and fun way, while giving me the competitive, strategic gameplay I expect and crave from a game of this genre. I wish the campaign would’ve given me a bit more length and freedom in a lot of scenarios, but other than that, Halo Wars once again shows the right way to do real-time strategy experiences on a console.

Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: 343 Industries/Creative Assembly • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 02.21.17
9.0
Halo Wars 2 does a fantastic job building on the foundation laid out by the original game. New modes and new characters highlight what is a fun return to the Halo universe, even if the campaign is shorter than I’d prefer.
The Good Deeper upgrade trees, being able to assign units to groups, and Blitz mode are all fantastic additions to this stellar continuation of the first game.
The Bad The campaign is on the short side, and the occasional lag.
The Ugly The stream of expletives that one dude screamed on headset when I stole his Grizzly tank with my Spartan Alice in Blitz mode.
Halo Wars 2 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I had a chance to go hands-on with Halo Wars 2 at a recent Microsoft preview event, and there I played the new Blitz Mode. Blitz Mode offers elements of Survival, Domination, and Trading Card games in an interesting twist of players spending a different currency from the main game to call down units. You can only pick from one of four available at a time, before that unit is replaced in your “hand” with one of 12 cards in your “deck”. It’s a fast and frantic mode that offers unique gameplay for the RTS genre. Halo Wars 2 will be available on Xbox One and PC on February 21.

Ray Carsillo talks with Frank O’Connor, the franchise development director for Halo, during the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con. They discuss the amazing enhancements found in the upcoming Halo: The Master Chief Collection as well as some of the challenges that developer 343 Industries faced in bringing this remastered adventure to the Xbox One.

An assault on the senses

When I first got my hands on a Windows Surface demo featuring Halo: Spartan Assault at E3 last year, I knew I’d never review the game unless it had a controller. Playing a twin-stick shooter without, ya know, twin sticks made the entire experience utterly frustrating, and I just couldn’t get past the idea of the inferior controls.

So, when I heard the game was coming to consoles and PC, I figured I could just wait for that version, since Spartan Assault’s largest, most obvious problem would be solved. Oh, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Even though the input issues have been addressed with a traditional controller, there’s so much more disappointment lurking beneath the Surface.

Spartan Assault’s single-player campaign passes itself off as a training simulation where up-and-coming Spartans can relive and learn from historic battles—fought by Halo 4’s Sarah Palmer and a new Spartan named Edward Davis—that took place on Draetheus V and its moon. The game also features a separate online co-op campaign in which you and a friend can take on the Flood. In regards to enemies, locations, and general aesthetics, Spartan Assault looks and sounds very much like a Halo game, just from a different camera angle.

Single-player is broken down into 30 missions across six chapters, offering an intriguing slice of Palmer’s backstory in bite-sized chunks that shouldn’t take more than three to five hours (six to eight if you also do the co-op adventure) to get through. Unfortunately, beyond the superficial details and the possible appeal of learning more about Palmer, there’s really little else here to draw longtime Halo fans in. And while the game’s length may sound short, Spartan Assault still finds a way to feel like a drag.

Now, I understand that twin-stick shooters aren’t really known for their depth of gameplay, but in trying to impart a stronger Halo feel, Spartan Assault also removes any and all charm that usually comes with this genre. Typically in such offerings, you eventually come across opposition that you can’t overcome through brute force alone. You need to strategize, even if it just means running behind cover and letting your shields recover. I never had this feeling in any of the game’s 30 missions. I ran in guns a-blazin’ every time and walked away. In a traditional Halo title, this might make you feel like a badass. In Spartan Assault, it made me feel bored.

The game does try to make things a little difficult by giving you limited ammo on all your weapons, something you don’t normally see in twin-stick shooters. In most games of this genre, you always have one weapon, even if it’s a weak little pistol that has infinite ammo for the sake of aiming, since it’s not inherently the easiest thing with the three-quarters top-down view here. By not providing any traditional aim assists with a laser pointer or an infinite-ammo weapon, the developers want you to be careful about wasting ammo, since aiming remains an iffy prospect.

This point becomes moot, however, due to the fact that many of the weapons are overpowered, and there’s so much ammo littered about the battlefield that I couldn’t imagine ever running out. And the fact the game tries to create difficulty through the genre’s natural limitations—and does nothing to hide this—just comes across as lazy design.

But the frustration doesn’t stop there. You earn XP as you play to unlock weapons. But instead of fully unlocking the weapons, you’re only renting them for that particular task, meaning you have to buy the best weapons again and again and again.

Or, if you’re rich, you can spend real-world cash to rent the guns for each of the game’s 30 missions—because it’s not enough that Spartan Assault for consoles ($15) costs twice as much as its Surface and Windows Phone ($6.99) siblings. Even though you really don’t need to buy any of the weapons to beat the game, you can’t help but feel like you’re missing something without trying them all at least once. The game wants to charge you even further to have the best experience possible.

And therein lies the true issue with Halo: Spartan Assault. It’s still just a mobile game using the same tired nickel-and-dime tactics to squeeze a few more dollars out of you. It’s just been cheaply ported over so that you can use a controller—which, at least, does work much better than the touchscreen inputs ever did. Sarah Palmer’s story, as much as I like the character, isn’t enough to make this anywhere near a worthwhile purchase. The developers couldn’t even tack on local co-op, which I would’ve enjoyed when taking on the Flood (in what proved to be a slightly more interesting experience than the single player campaign, if only because I was playing with a friend).

Players won’t be missing anything by mercifically passing on this one–Halo: Spartan Assault is easily the worst experience to ever feature one of the most famous names in gaming.

Developer: 343 Industries/Vanguard Entertainment • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 12.23.13
3.5
A cheap port of a mobile game with glaring flaws at its very core that does a disservice to the Halo brand, Spartan Assault should be avoided like the Flood.
The Good Provides a bit more backstory to Spartan Sarah Palmer.
The Bad One of the worst twin-stick shooters I’ve ever played.
The Ugly The item rental/microtransaction system.
Halo: Spartan Assault is available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Windows 8-enabled devices (Windows Phone, SmartGlass). Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One.

Originally Published: April 18, 2011, on Comicvine.com

I normally would have a “Comics to Video Games” article ready for you folks right about now (and don’t worry I’m working on the next one), but I was reading an interview the other day with Ian Flynn, a writer best known for his current run on the Sonic the Hedgehog series published by Archie Comics, and found out he’s going to be the main writer behind a new monthly Mega Man comic book series.

This latest video game series from Archie Comics comes out in the beginning of May and it will chronicle the Blue Bomber’s run through his nearly dozen games, starting with Mega Man 1 playing out across the first four issues, and will answer the big questions, like how no one was able to figure out when Dr. Wily was up to no good. It’s not like he had ten giant skull shaped fortresses built. Oh, wait. Hmmm. Also, I wonder if there will be any mention of Mega Man Soccer in an annual or something.

Anyway, this got me thinking about the flood of both monthly and limited series comic books we’ve seen in recent years based on video games. City of Heroes, Halo, inFamous, Gears of War, Prototype, and even DCU Online, which of course is a comic based off a video game based off of comics. So what’s with this sudden influx of video game based comics at our local retailers?

Now, comics based off of video games are nothing new. After all, Sonic, has had his own ongoing series for nearly twenty years now. But to see so many new comics based on games is a little off putting. An idealist might say comics are simply being used as tools to help flesh out stories that can’t be fully told in a 15-hour game. But what if they are really being used just as promotional items to bolster game sales instead? Or are comic companies trying to jump on the bandwagon of a popular game franchise in the hopes of making a profit, knowing that the key comic book and video game demographics are one in the same? Or maybe it is a little of all of the above?

Can ongoing video game comics also hurt the base franchise as there could be unintentional limits placed on the game developers? There would have to be constant communication between both the game developers and the comic book writing and editorial teams in order to ensure that what is being done in the comics isn’t radically different from what is happening or going to happen in sequel video games upon their release.

If Josh Ortega kills off someone in the Gears of War comic, he had better let Cliff Bleszinski and Karen Traviss know so that person doesn’t show up in Gears of War 3, otherwise there are going to be some mighty ticked off Gearheads out there. And what if Cliff had planned on making that character a major player in the Gears universe? How much say does the original game creators have when it comes to forwarding the plot of a comic that is being looked at as canon? It just seems that adding more moving parts to such a complex and detailed story might come off as limiting from a creative standpoint, especially while the main series is still really ongoing and even while just trying to flesh out previously mentioned references from the original property (like the Pendulum Wars for Gears).

And this brings us back to my inspiration. Mega Man. Does doing a comic that follows, for the most part, a story we already know lessen the mass appeal of a comic? Why should I read something I’ve already played through several hundred times? Can you really flesh out a character that much with a few thought bubbles while it’s blasting another foe into oblivion? If anything, it might take away from those original gaming experiences, especially from the old NES days, where the player was left to their own devices to fill in gaps in a protagonist’s personality and whatnot. So are original stories that add to and build on top of already existing canon the only real option in that case to ensure a profit will be made and to protect a property?

Despite this, does every new video game need a comic book? I read the six-issue limited series for Prototype and I felt what I got from that comic was not worth the price I paid as a lead in to the actual game. In fact, the comic ruined the game experience some as it spoiled a lot of the game’s surprises. The same goes for the Gears of War comic. Some issues have been great, but I didn’t need a one-issue back-story on Tai. I don’t need a character that is dead to be fleshed out. It just reeks of trying to turn a quick buck if you ask me. It dilutes the potential of building the franchise naturally and feels very forced in some cases.

But I really don’t mind franchises diversifying, and actually enjoy seeing new adventures with my favorite characters that continue the story beyond the original product (you should see my Star Wars expanded universe novel collection). I do feel that there should be some sort of criteria before a franchise is expanded though like with a game based comic. Wait until the main story, in most cases nowadays the story being a trilogy, is complete before you start filling in the gaps. Imagine if a comic or novel like Shadows of the Empire in Star Wars, which takes places between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, had been released in 1981, right between Empire and Jedi. I think that it coming after the fact made it much more powerful and interesting. Similar to the games Halo: Reach and Halo 3: ODST. They were better stories because the universe had already been fully established and then writers went back to fill in the blanks.

So what do you guys think? Are you fans of video game based comics? Are there too many out there flooding the market? What should be the criteria for a game based comic to be published? And how much creative freedom should the writing and editorial teams have with long established characters like Mega Man? Will you buy the Mega Man monthly upon its release? Let us know with comments below!

Originally Published: March 21, 2011, on Original-Gamer.com

It’s always a big deal whenever a new map pack is released into the Halo universe, but the new Defiant Map Pack for Halo: Reach carries an extra bit of weight to it. Defiant marks the passing of a torch, as 343 Industries takes over Halo from Bungie. This is 343’s first major playable content for the franchise, made with the help of developer Certain Affinity.

With the slogan “Defy the Covenant” at its heart, you can download three new maps, Unearthed, Highlands, and Condemned now for 800 Microsoft points ($10). But except for the Halo hardcore, are three new maps worth the steep price?

MAP MAYHEM

Superb Level Layout – The biggest strong point for the Defiant Map Pack for Halo: Reach is the terrific layout and variety of the new maps. If you are a fan of Firefight, then you will love the multi-tiered desert base and scattered vehicles that Unearthed provides for you and three friends. If you are looking for a wide-open Slayer level with plenty of hiding spots, then Highlands might be a dream come true. My personal favorite was easily Condemned, which is set aboard a damaged Orbital Space Station. A circular map with clear landmarks at the compass points, Condemned also features a damaged zero gravity cross point in the middle that usually features a top tier weapon for whoever can fight to the top of the generator first. This can make for a lot of great matches from Oddball to your traditional Slayer.

Crisp Graphics – Each map is absolutely beautiful looking and has unique features, but they all fit in perfectly within Reach. Unearthed takes place in an abandoned base that provides an interesting dichotomy against the golden desert sand as grunts pour in from all angles. Highlands is the largest map in this new pack and also the most diverse looking. It features waterfalls, lush vegetation, dark caves, and this is all book-ended by a pair of marine bases with Covenant ships blasting away just over the horizon providing a previously unseen color palette all at once on your screen. And Condemned is the icing on the cake; the massive wall sized windows of the Orbital Space Station allow you beautiful looks into deep space and the planet Reach itself.

Vehicular Manslaughter – Compared to the other maps, Unearthed and Highlands provide some of the best opportunities for vehicular combat of any map due to there being plenty of vehicles and weapons to counteract those vehicles. In Highlands, Mongooses, Ghosts, and Warthogs are bountiful on one end of the map and used to cross the lush expanse to reach the other side. On that other side are laser cannons and missile launchers for the opposing team to use to counteract any blitzkrieg that their foes may try to unleash and is especially effective in Capture the Flag style matches. The Unearthed map features Rocket Warthogs and Ghosts. With no true corners for the Covenant to back you into, you can run rampant in the desert blasting away deep into Firefight mode with your buddies.

DEFY THE DLC

Unearthing a Flaw – One of the most interesting and risky aspects of this map pack is that the Unearthed map pack is exclusive to the Firefight mode. For a game where the majority of its online action deals in the versus elements instead of the cooperative, this was a huge risk and might turn off a lot Slayer and Invasion mode fans since this makes it seem more like two maps for $10 instead of three.

Steep Price to Pay – One of the biggest problems with DLC in general and not just this pack, is the over-inflated price you pay compared to the amount of content you receive. With three maps, one exclusive to Firefight, and only three achievements for 150 points, the Defiant Map Pack does not make me feel like I am getting the full bang for my buck. Ten dollars is a bit too much and will probably only be worth it to hardcore Halo: Reach players. Otherwise, I recommend waiting to see if it goes on sale or gets bundled with the Noble Map Pack.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to how long your Halo: Reach disc has been in your Xbox 360. If you haven’t played it since two weeks after the launch date, then you may not have even realized a new map pack was released. If Halo: Reach is your go to online multiplayer shooter right now and you’ve racked up enough credits where you could buy and sell every noob out there, then you will be very satisfied with these new maps even with its steeper than necessary price.

-Ray Carsillo

Originally Published: November 29, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed the Halo: Reach Noble Map Pack for Xbox 360 from Bungie.

Originally Published: September 18, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

I review Halo Wars from Microsoft for the Xbox 360 from February 2009. A new look for the Halo universe in this RTS (real-time strategy) video game set 20 years before the original Halo! This video game review features Halo Wars video game play footage and commentary.

Originally Published: September 13, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

I had a chance to give a full review of Halo: Reach set to some amazing game footage.

Originally Published: September 13, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

On August 24th, I had a chance to sit down with Halo: Reach’s Executive Producer Joe Tung to talk about one of the most anticipated titles of 2010!