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Game Review

Halo is back. And it's rated T! Gaming fingers are twitching, allowances are being saved, and scores of cajoling teens are making their cases to still-reluctant parents.

I just had to find out what this new addition to the franchise has up its heavily armored sleeve.

No Triggers to Pull
The first thing I noticed after booting up my Xbox 360 was that this isn't a first-person shooter like all of its M-rated predecessors. This is a real-time strategy game—which softens the impact of the battler by eliminating all the up-close exploding goo and purple-tinged gore. Instead of romping through caverns and spaceship interiors as Master Chief with his various alien-pulverizing firearms, players take a more strategic, troop-movement-from-on-high position.

The series' overall Humans vs. Covenant storyline is still pretty much intact. Only this time we jump back 20 years before the first game of the original trilogy. Humankind shows up at a Covenant-colonized planet called Harvest in a United Nations Space Command battleship; hackles are raised.

It seems the alien hoard has been exploring and excavating parts of the planet in hopes of finding a superweapon left there by a long-extinct race. And they must keep it away from those hated Earth creatures, even if they have to blow the whole place up to do it. Humans, of course, don't want that to happen, so they let loose the hounds of war.

Halo From On High
This title's gameplay is pretty straightforward and introduced through two simple tutorials that explain the essentials of the RTS challenge—building things and using them to blow other things up. To achieve mission goals, for example, players need to construct human bases which include such things as supply pads (facilitating the flow of supplies to the front), reactors (used to raise your power levels), field armories (which allow you to research upgrades for better weapons), barracks (after all, you have to train your marines, flamethrower units and Spartans), vehicle depots (in which you build all-purpose vehicles and anti-vehicle, anti-aircraft artillery) and flight pads (on which you create light and heavy planes).

As these structures churn out troops, tanks and airships—represented as small groups of men and vehicles on a distant battlefield—players then move them around the field and order them into orchestrated attacks on the little groups of enemy forces.

Ready for My Uppercut
Sounds like a totally different animal than the other Halo games, doesn't it? It is. In fact, the only way you know Halo Wars isn't just some random RTS with a stolen Halo pic on its box cover is through the storyline cutscenes that tie the 15 different chapters and dozens of missions together. They give you a much more close and personal view of all that's been happening.

But it's these movie moments that usher in this game's messier moments. They hand deliver rough-and-tumble violence that isn't visible from your normal bird's-eye view. There's no real blood flow, but there's lots of pummeling, gunfire and impaling to be seen. This is where profanity ("d--n," "h---," "b--ch," "a--") shows up, as well. And though it's never explored, the Covenants' theocratic religious roots and worship of a group called "The Ancients" is also referenced.

So it seems that many family skirmishes over Halo Wars may come down to the cutscenes. Can you skip them? Most games won't let you. But we checked anyway. And the answer is yes. Just push X.

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Xbox 360


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Bob Hoose Trent Hoose

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