Innovations in the beloved Halo franchise should be an instant home run, since fans are hungry for any piece of the Halo story. Still, Halo Wars is a pretty risky move. Zooming out from the gritty first-person fighting might appeal to armchair generals, but will it interest hardcore Master Chiefs?

Innovations in the beloved Halo franchise should be an instant home run, since fans are hungry for any piece of the Halo story. Still, Halo Wars is a pretty risky move. Zooming out from the gritty first-person fighting might appeal to armchair generals, but will it interest hardcore Master Chiefs?

Fans of the franchise and its paperback offshoots should be familiar with the game's setting. The planet of Harvest has come under Covenant assault and humanity strikes back, only to discover that the alien foes are searching for something on the colony world.

In concept, Halo Wars is about as far away from previous Halos as you can get. Set some 20 years before the original story, the new game puts a plethora of Spartan commando units under your leadership. Rather than fighting in the mud and ice, players must strategically build planetary bases and generate squads of units.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise - or strategy game concepts in general - Halo Wars extends a gentle hand. While there are numerous buildings to construct and units to upgrade, the game is really a pretty version of rock-paper-scissors. Understanding how best to arrange your forces to overcome foes is an important skill to master.

The narrative features some excellently animated CG cut scenes, but only players with a mind for strategy will see the story through. Online, combat between players is fixed to a limited number of skirmish maps, but the game does feature the excellent matchmaking of the earlier Halo titles.

Real-time strategy games traditionally haven't translated easily to console systems, as players are forced to move from the lightning-quick navigation of mouse and keyboard to a clunky, shooter-oriented controller.

For the most part, Halo Wars mitigates these problems by allowing a quick jump between grouped units in combat or at your base, and by keeping the battlefield maps fairly contained. Even the largest competitive maps feel a bit claustrophobic when compared to the average RTS offering on a PC.

Many franchise fans will pick up Halo Wars just to access the additional Halo 3 multiplayer maps included in the Collector's Edition. They'll find a good game overall, but it will take some work to convert them into tactical geniuses. Conversely, die-hard strategists will consider the name and its unfriendly player reputation and steer clear.

For the crossover gamer, one who likes both action and good strategy, you could do far worse.