Two things: one, a real-time strategy game based around the Halo Universe doesn't sound that exciting. And two, we know that there are certain members of the Halo community ( Mike! ) that would eat dog turd if it had the Halo arc printed on it. But here's the truth: Halo Wars, the new series offshoot announced at last month's X06, is set to be brilliant.
First up, Bungie haven't entrusted the job to some drooling chumps. They're producing it in collaboration with Ensemble Studios, the Dallas-based 'dudes' who are responsible for the seminal Age of Empires, the PC title that gave its contemporary competitors such as Civilisation II a real-time kicking in the face.
For those unfamiliar, Age of Empires saw you take control of one of a number of tribes, with your task being to guide them through the ages by means of micro-managing your resources, dividing your people's focus between exploration, construction and research. As technology in your camp progresses, you have to make decisions on which areas of research to concentrate on, decisions which should be based around the minerals available to you and the weaponry and strategy of your foes, who are also cramming in the research. Your goals can differ in scenario mode, but the most common goal - as still played online on PCs to this day - is to develop your militia to the point where you can wipe your opponents clean off the map. Since then, we've had two proper sequels and a troughful of add-on packs, and the series has proved so phenomenally popular that Microsoft swooped to buy Ensemble outright in 2001. But the Halo universe is a different proposition to a few Assyrians chucking twigs at each other - so how much can we read into Age of Empire's considerable success?
Back in 2001, Ensemble developed a game based on the Star Wars universe which used the Age of Empires II game engine. Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds was remarkably similar in execution to the Age series, but replaced wood with carbon, arrows with lasers and lumbering medieval vehicles suddenly morphed into ATATs. It worked so well, that we'd snog a squid if the Halo RTS didn't use a modified version of the stunning Age of Empires III engine, and went down a similar road, with gameplay heavily biased towards the many factions of the aforementioned universe gathering together intelligence and resources in preparation for the 27-year war.
RTS' can work on consoles, as Lord of the Rings: Battle of Middle-Earth II and its excellent control system proved just a few months ago. With a huge budget and a proven team behind it, we predict that Halo Wars will be the title to finally take RTS' into the mainstream, and with it, an online conquest mode, the key to the original game's longevity, which will have Halo fanatics wetting up to six pairs of pants per day. That's a lot of pants.
Expect more details in 2007 but until then? Mike's taken a super-close look at what we've seen on the record and been told off it, and looked into Halo Wars even further...