X06: Halo being turned into RTS

[UPDATE] Ensemble Studios making real-time strategy based on Bungie's money-making first-person shooter for Xbox 360 only; Web site now live.

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Earlier this month, Microsoft shut the door on Halogen, a real-time strategy game based on the Halo universe that was produced using a mod of Command & Conquer Generals: Zero Hour. At the time, gamers thought it was just another case of a big corporation keeping the modding community down.

It turns out the company had a good reason for closing the doors on Halogen--the RTS was a little too close to what Microsoft was already working on. Today at the X06 conference in Barcelona, Spain, the company announced that it has employed Ensemble Studios, the RTS gurus that created the Age of Empires franchise, to work on a real-time strategy game based on the Halo universe.

The game, named Halo Wars, will be exclusive to the Xbox 360, but has not yet been given a release date. Microsoft showed a trailer of the game during its press conference just moments ago.

It is so on!
It is so on!

In the opening, a fleet of Warthogs drive across a barren landscape, passing several Scorpion tanks along the way. Over a radio transmission, a space marine says his team is en route to a recon position. The view moves up ahead two marines screaming that they're under attack just before being taken down by plasma rifle fire. One of the corpses is picked up by a Covenant Elite, who is flanked by a dozen or so buddies who appear after uncloaking.

From there, all hell breaks loose as just about every vehicle from the Halo universe--Pelicans, Covenant dropships, Ghosts, Banshees--speed into action. As the battle begins, a Spartan soldier appears with his squad and says, "This is Spartan Group Omega. If they want war, we'll give them war."

[UPDATE] Moments after the conclusion of the conference, the Halo Wars Web site went live. The site has a Frequently Asked Questions section that delivers a few details about the game that weren't revealed at X06.

Concept art from Age of Empires: The Halo Edition.
Concept art from Age of Empires: The Halo Edition.

The game will be set before the original Halo, when the UNSC Marine forces first encountered the Covenant. Gamers will lead the human and Spartan forces of the UNSC's Spirit of Fire as they engange in "all out war" with the Covenant. When asked if the alien forces would be playable, Ensemble would only say "stay tuned." The company also confirmed that the trailer was prerendered, based on concept art, and not running on the game's engine.

Though longtime PC specialists, Ensemble is building the game from the ground up exclusively for the Xbox 360, and promises the controls won't meet the dismal fate of other console RTSes.

"...We didn't have to make compromises or shoe-horn in artifacts from a Windows PC game," reads the site. "We were able to take all the best aspects of RTS games, make them work perfectly on the Xbox 360, and exclude the rest."

Over at the Bungie.net site, the Halo maker says that the game is "awesome" and already playable. The developer also reports that an HD version of the Halo Wars trailer will be hitting Xbox Live Marketplace soon.

"Ensemble is applying their skills to deliver a great Halo experience in a whole new genre, which is ironically where Halo began in the first place," reads the post. "If you've seen some of the very early Halo videos out there, you might recall that before it ever became an FPS, it was in fact designed as an RTS (building off of Bungie's experience with the Myth franchise)."

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